Do It Yourself: Troubleshooting Common Water Heater Problems

How to troubleshoot electric water heater problems and quick fixes to save you money.

Water heaters are fairly simple appliances to work with. The most common problem that occurs is that there is a buildup of sediment in the barrel. Most plumbers would tell you that you have to replace it, but there are ways of getting around it if need be. Water heaters can be flushed out of about 80 percent of their sediment.

Here's what you can do if you have the following problems:

Not enough hot water:

1. Water heater elements are going bad and need to be replaced. Cost $10-15.

These elements can be checked by an Ohm meter to check for continuity (to see if electricity is flowing)

2. Thermostat is wearing out and would need replacing. Cost $10-12. You turn off the breakers and simply disconnect wires to remove thermostat then install new thermostat and reconnect corresponding wires. (Thermostat comes with guide for colored wires in case you forget which wire goes where)

3. Main power connection is loose and needs to be tightened or reset. Be careful with this step because it could be dangerous if power is not shut off.

Crackling noises coming from water heater:

1. Elements are starting to go bad. There is no need to be worried. You will know when the elements go out because you will not have hot water.

2. Sediment is building up high enough to reach the lower element and the element is burning the sediment inside. This is when it needs to be flushed.

High-pitched hissing or squeal noise:

1. The pressure relief valve is going bad. Cost $20-25. This is a simple project that includes turning off power, draining the water and/or air and twisting off old valve.

The following is an instruction on how to flush the water heater:

Turn off main power source and take off the front panels of the water heater. Remove the insulation to expose the thermostats and wire connections. You can disconnect the wire connections to the element only. Next, you will need to find and turn off the water valve in your yard (the casing where your local water company reads the meter). After you have done that, turn on all of the shower faucets to remove any water pressure that is still in the water lines. When the pressure is gone you will have to get a regular garden hose and connect it to the bottom of the water heater where it allows and turn the valve on to let the water drain out to a tub or outside. This may take quite awhile because the sediment inside the water heater will be blocking the water from coming out.

Once the water is completely drained you can start by removing the top element. Make sure you have a large trash bag handy to put the old element in and any sediment crumbs. Slowly unscrew the bottom element because there still may be water trapped by the sediment. His is where the trash bag comes in handy. If any water comes out then let it drain into the bag. The bottom element will be more difficult to get out because it is covered with the sediment. You may need to wiggle it out any way you can.

Next, you will need a shop vacuum and a thin aluminum pipe about 2-3 feet in length (an old shower rod would be perfect). Attach this to the vacuum hose so it can fit into the water heater hole and vacuum all the sediment you can reach. You should be able to get the majority of the sediment out. With the aluminum pipe you can slightly shape it to bend around and get some of the sediment you can not see just inside the hole. When you are done flushing the water heater, replace with new elements, pressure relief valve and possibly water supply hose (copper). This will save some headaches when the water is turned back on. It never fails for problems to arise when everything is put back together! All that is left is to put everything back the same way it came off. This should solve the problem for about 1 year, but it will save you between $200-500 if done by a plumber.

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