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Serving Carrboro, Chapel Hill & Durham
As Well As Pittsboro & Apex
919-942-5171
Serving Carrboro, Chapel Hill & Durham
As Well As Pittsboro & Apex
919-942-5171

Troubleshooting a Cold Shower: When Your Water Heater Doesn't Heat

It's troubling (and often uncomfortable) to find that your water heater has ceased to function properly. Don't be too alarmed, however. It's quite possible there will be an easy fix, either one that you can do yourself or one that you can have a plumbing company perform, rather than replacing the entire water heater.
Here are some troubleshooting steps to take when you discover that your water won't heat to the temperatures you're looking for.

Check for Leaks

A leaking tank is likely to mean that you need a new water heater, so rule this out first thing. Any leaks, other than those originating from the temperature/pressure relief valve, are likely to mean that you have a compromised tank. A leak originating from the relief valve, though, may just mean that you need a new relief valve or may simply mean that you need to turn down your water heater's temperature.

Check the Power Supply and Temperature Cutoff Switch

You've probably already checked to make sure the water heater is turned on. If you have an electric water heater, check the circuit breaker box to make sure power is available to the water heater, and check the cutoff switch as well. If this safety switch malfunctions, you'll need to have it replaced before you can access hot water normally (as a safety feature).
If you have a gas-powered water heater, you'll still need to check the power supply; it's just a different type of power supply. You'll need to inspect the function of the pilot flame to make sure the system is working properly; to do this, set the control to the pilot setting and then look inside to see if the pilot light is still lit. If not, there could be any one of a number of problems with the gas supply, such as:
If the gas control knob was set to "off" before you turned it to "pilot," that could be another reason why gas wasn't getting to the water heater; perhaps someone accidentally turned it off when working on the water heater and then forgot to turn it back on.

Look for a Water Heater Timer

If your water heater has a "timer" (to let you set your water heater to automatically turn off, for example, at night when you don't need hot water), this is another item you'll need to check. In addition to a dial that lets you set the times you want your water heater to be on, these timers can have an on/off switch as well. Check to make sure that it's switched to ON.

Test the Elements

If your water heater is electric and none of the things you've tried so far have helped, and you've waited a half-hour and the water still isn't getting hot, it's a good bet that you could have a problem with one or both of the elements that heat the water. There are two of these elements, and if one of them has failed, you may only be getting lukewarm water rather than hot water. If both are out, you'll just be getting cold water instead.
If you have plenty of DIY experience, basic electrical knowledge, good safety practices and a continuity tester, you can test for a malfunctioning element yourself. If not, this is the point where you'll want to get a professional involved.
Whether you've discovered that your water heater needs a new temperature cutoff switch or whether you've reached the limits of your troubleshooting abilities and would like some advice and professional assistance, feel free to call Sparrow & Sons Plumbing today, and we'll be happy to help.