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Troubleshooting The Cause Of Hot Water Loss

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When your morning shower goes from a soothing, warm start for the day to a shockingly cold experience, there's a good chance that your water heater is malfunctioning. There are several potential problems that can cause you to lose hot water, and you may even be able to fix some of them yourself. Here are a few things you can check to try to bring back the heat.

Is The Pilot Light Still Burning?

The pilot light controls the burner that heats the water in your tank. If you have a gas or propane hot water heater that isn't producing hot water, there's a good chance that the pilot light is out. The pilot light is often located somewhere near the base of the water tank. You can check the owner's manual for your water heater model to find out the precise location. If the pilot light is out, it could be because you've run out of fuel. Check your fuel tank. Schedule a fill if it's empty. If there's still fuel in there, try to relight it by following the owner's manual instructions. If it doesn't work, that's an indication that there's a clog in the fuel line. Call your water heater service technician first to rule out a problem with the line at the pilot light, then reach out to your fuel supply technician if you need to have the actual lines from the tank checked.

Is The Electrical Element Still Working?

When you have an electric water heater, there's no pilot light to check. In that case, you need to check the electrical heating element.

  1. Shut The Power Off - Turn the power switch on the water heater to the 'Off' setting. Locate the breaker that controls the water heater in the breaker panel and turn that off as well. This will ensure that there is no power to the heater, making it safe to test the element.

  2. Access The Heating Element - Remove the heating element from the mount to test it. Move the two wires aside enough to get to the mounting hardware. Remove the screws holding the element in the mount, then move the element out of the mount.

  3. Test The Wires - Set the multimeter so that it's reading ohms. Locate the two screws on the heating element that are securing the wires to the element body. Touch one probe of the multimeter to each of the elements screws. The meter should display a reading that falls within the wattage range that's printed on the element. If it doesn't show any reading or the reading reaches the max level of the meter, that's an indication that the heating element has failed.

  4. Check The Circuit - Touch one probe of the multimeter to one of the screws on the heating element. Put the other probe on a bare metal area of the water heater. There should be no reading on the multimeter when you do this. If there's any reading, it means that the heating element has shorted out and needs to be replaced. Repeat this same test with the second screw on the heating element.

  5. Evaluate The Heating Element Frame - Touch one of the multimeter probes to one screw on the heating element. Put the other probe on the metal frame of the element. Do this for both of the screws on the heating element. You shouldn't see any fluctuation in the reading on the multimeter. If there's any change in the reading, it means the element has shorted out and will need to be replaced. You can replace it by removing the screws from the assembly and pulling the old element out.

If you're not comfortable troubleshooting these issues on your own, your local hot water heater technician can help.