4 Tips on Troubleshooting a Broken Water Heater

– –

If your water heater isn’t working properly, you could find yourself facing a morning shower that is icier than a bath in Lake Ontario. Read 4 troubleshooting tips for a broken water heater.

But first, what exactly is a water heater and how does it work?

What is a water heater?

Your water heater is just that – a machine that heats your water. You take cold water from your community’s pipelines, heat it, and then distribute it around your home.

Tank water heaters that run on either electricity or natural gas often resemble large metal bottles. They collect, heat and store large amounts of water. Genadi Kahanovich, CEO of Smile HVAC in Toronto, explains that instantaneous water heaters look more like a large fuse box and heat water when needed rather than storing large amounts of it.

How does a water heater work?

Tank water heaters are a staple in Canadian households, also because of their smart design. Their inside-down and outside-up architecture allows science to do the heavy lifting as hot water naturally rises above cold water.

Water enters your tank through an interior Immersion tube at the top it flows down to the Heating mechanism at the bottom. When the water is heated, it rises above the cold water to the top of the tank until all of the water reaches the desired temperature, which is achieved by the set temperature thermostat. The water is kept warm and in the tank until it exits through the water Bakeout tube distributed to your hot water devices.

Some problems with water heaters arise when these or other parts work improperly. However, before you begin troubleshooting, Turn off the water heater to avoid personal injury.

4 common water heater problems and how to fix them

Whether your water is burning you or you hear strange rumbling noises coming from your basement, here are pointers to help you identify and fix 4 common water heater problems.

1. Smell Your water smells like rotten eggs or sewage.

What this means:

Bacteria have built up in your or your water tank Anode rod (which stops the tank from corroding) has started to deteriorate.


Rinse your tank to remove the bacteria, then clean it with chlorine bleach or fill it with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water.

After leaving the solution in your tank for 1-3 hours, rinse it with plain water.

If that does not work …

Your anode rod may deteriorate, releasing an odor in the process. Turn off the water heater, empty the tank, and see if the anode rod is normally on top of the water heater. If it is gutted or segments are missing, it must be replaced.

How to avoid this:

Flush your tank regularly to prevent bacteria from building up. Replacing your anode rod about every 5 years can help stop the tank from corroding.

2. Discoloration Your water is dirty or rust-colored.

What this means:

Minerals from your water supply may have corroded your anode rod or even the tank itself.


After turning off the water heart for the first time, empty the tank and then check your anode rod. Replace it if it shows signs of corrosion.

If that does not work …

The lining of your tank has most likely been corroded by the same minerals that corroded your anode rod. This means you’ll need to replace your tank before the corrosion causes a leak.

How to avoid this:

Replace your anode rod about every 5 years so that it continues to protect the lining of your water heater tank.

If your municipal water supply is particularly full of minerals (which makes it “hard”), consider installing a water softener to remove the minerals found in unprocessed water.

3. Scalding water Your water is too hot.

What this means:

Most likely, your water heater’s thermostat is set too high.


For electric water heaters, turn off the power to your water heater and then access the thermostat, which is usually located behind an exterior panel. Set the one or two temperature controls you’ll find there using a flathead screwdriver.

For gas water heaters, simply set the temperature control to a cooler setting!

If that does not work …

Your thermostat may need to be replaced or its wiring may be faulty requiring the attention of a professional installer or electrician.

Alternatively, the Pressure relief valve could be broken, causing the water to boil and make a noise instead of stopping the heating mechanism once the water reaches the desired temperature.

How to avoid this:

Regular inspections will detect faulty equipment and prevent your water from burning you. Also, make sure that your water heater’s thermostat is away from anything that may set it incorrectly.

4th Loud water heater Your water heater makes popping, rumbling or popping noises.

What this means:

Pipes usually make noise when they expand and contract from heat. However, a build-up of lime on your heat source or a build-up of sediment on the bottom of your tank can make strange noises.


Switch off the current flow of your heater and empty the tank. If you notice limescale or sediment build-up, clean the scales off any affected areas.

If that does not work …

Examine your heating element for signs of corrosion and make sure your pressure relief valve is preventing the pressure from getting too high as this can create unnecessary noise.

How to avoid this:

Rinse your water heater once a year to prevent the build-up of sediment and other destructive minerals.


This article can help you isolate your water heater problem with basic troubleshooting. Knowing how water heaters work can help you identify problems early and avoid more serious damage.

Call Smile HVAC

It can be satisfactory to self-diagnose and even fix the problem with your water heater. However, it is always best to use a professional for an official inspection or repair.

The competent team at Smile HVAC offers installation, repair and maintenance services for your water heater. Contact us at 437-777-4555 or click the Contact Us button below to fill out a question form.

– –

This content is brought to you by Raymond Cannon.

Photo: Shutterstock

You might also like

Comments are closed.