A hot water heater is one of those things you don’t give a second thought until it stops working. Then, it’s all you can think about. There’s nothing worse than getting hit with ice-cold water when you’re expecting a nice warm, relaxing shower. And while you’re standing there freezing in a bathrobe wondering what the heck’s going wrong, an experienced plumber is sitting somewhere comfortably with all the answers.

In all seriousness though, it’s helpful for Boston homeowners to have a working knowledge of their hot water heater in the event that something goes awry and you need to call in a hot water heater professional. Here, we’ll take a look at some potential problems that might be to blame if your hot water heater is on the fritz.

Gas vs. Electric Heaters

Usually, the first step in identifying the cause of your hot water heater woes is to determine what kind of system you’re running. The vast majority of homes are either equipped with an electric or gas heater. While an electric system uses hot coils within the tank to heat water, gas systems heat the tank from below with a burner. So, how can you tell the difference between the two?

One of the quickest and easiest ways to determine your type of water heater is to see what the unit is hooked up to. Grab a flashlight and start looking around your system: above it, below it, and behind it. If you see a thick, black cord running to the unit, you have an electric water heater. On the other hand, if you notice a larger pipe, that’s a gas heater.

Potential Causes for Electric Heaters

1. There’s an issue with the circuit breaker.

Since electric water heaters are hooked up to your home’s circuit breaker, any malfunction in this system can cut off your hot water. When you notice a problem, open your breaker box to see if the breaker has been tripped. If the switch is off-kilter compared to the others, simply flip it off and turn it back on to reset it. If you are in Boston, you should call your local plumbing and electrical professional if the breaker immediately switches back off.

2. There’s an issue with the thermostat.

Electric water heaters have a built-in thermostat that controls the system’s heating elements. Units with a single heating element will fail to produce any hot water when the thermostat isn’t working properly. Some units that have an upper and lower thermostat for respective heating elements can encounter similar issues when the upper unit goes out. Since electric water heaters have a high-limit switch to prevent water from dangerously hot, a busted thermostat can trigger this switch even when it’s not necessary.

3. The heating elements aren’t working.

If you’re not getting any hot water with an electric water heater, the unit’s heating elements might be to blame. These coils are directly responsible for heating water within the tank. Although a heating element should work well for many years, it won’t outlive your electric heater. There should be a reset button on your tank you can hit to troubleshoot this problem. If you don’t have any luck, you might want to contact a professional.

Potential Causes for Gas Heaters

4. There’s no pilot light.

A gas water heater uses a small flame known as a pilot light to ignite its gas burner. If you don’t see this flame when inspecting your unit, it might be the cause of your problems. To fix it, all you have to do is follow the instructions on your system’s label to reignite the pilot light. If hot water isn’t restored after the pilot light returns or you aren’t able to reignite it, there might be another problem.

5. There’s a gas leak.

Since natural gas doesn’t have any natural odor, it’s mixed with mercaptan to make it easier to detect. That’s what gives gas its unpleasant, rotten egg smell. Whenever you can’t seem to get hot water in your home, be on alert for this distinct smell as it could be the sign of a gas leak. Although this could be the reason your hot water heater isn’t working properly, gas leaks are also incredibly dangerous. If you find yourself in this situation, exit the home and call emergency services. Then, when all is settled, reach out to a professional plumber to help solve the problem.

When you should think about calling a professional

Since homeowners only have so much time they can dedicate to troubleshooting potential hot water heater issues, it’s advisable to call an experienced Boston plumber if the problem persists. With years of experience offering professional services to homeowners throughout the Boston area, Boston Standard Plumbing is pleased to handle all of your plumbing needs. Feel free to contact us whenever an issue arises.

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