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No Hot Water. What Can You Do?

Nobody likes a cold shower, so not having hot water can be a huge inconvenience and quite annoying. Depending on the type of water heater you have there are a number of issues that can cause you to run out of hot water, many of which you should be able to resolve yourself with minimal mechanical skill.

Water heaters are made in different sizes to accommodate both large and small households. 40 gallon and 50 gallon sizes are typical on Long Island, NY. While most are gas fired, some lonely ones operate on dirty and disgusting home heating oil. If you have an oil fired water heater, do you have an empty oil tank? Is that red switch at the top of the basement staircase ON? Did you just get an oil delivery with a fat bill in your mailbox? (Yes, gas is always cheaper than oil. BTU to BTU, oil can't match clean home heating natural gas)

It is also important to state that gas water heaters operate very differently than oil fired water heaters and electric models (the later rarely installed on Long Island), and although, some of the issues may be the same, I will discuss gas and electric heaters in this article as I am not professionally trained with oil models.

Please keep in mind, the following tips are geared for traditional tank style water heaters.

No Hot Water Tip #1: Wait For Your Water Heater to Re-Heat the Water

Most common: you will run out of hot water if you have company visiting and they are taking showers back to back. This can drain the hot water heater of the water it already heated, and leave you needing to wait while the water re-heats.

Before doing anything, try waiting an hour to see if the hot water returns. If after waiting you still don’t have any hot water, then you may have a more serious problem.

No Hot Water Tip #2: Is The Tank Big Enough?

If you are running out of hot water consistently, then you should address your hot water needs and consult a licensed local plumber. Typical rule of thumb 1 to 1 1/2 bath's = 40 gallon water heater. 1 1/2 to 3 bath's = 50 gallon. Need more hot water? Don't even think about a 75 gallon unless you are a real estate tycoon or a trust fund baby. They cost a fortune to operate. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. Burning fuel to maintain a temperate. Feel free to do the math. Trust me, it's expensive.

You can determine the size that best meets your needs, and then decide how you want to proceed. If feel you need to purchase a new water heater, one option may be to install a high efficiency tankless model. Most are installed on a wall and take up minimal space. But be forewarned, changing from a tank to a tankless model can become expensive since copper piping, gas piping, venting and fresh air intake piping, drain and electrical will all need to be modified to accommodate a tankless water heater. However the energy saving along with an endless supply of hot water will make a tankless model a very attractive solution.

Another option is to install a properly sized tank water heater. A licensed plumber can help you determine the correct size for your home and household.

Tips for Gas Water Heaters

No Hot Water Tip #1: No Gas Supply to the Water Heater

Check to see if your water heater is actually getting gas. Sometimes, inadvertently the gas supply can be turned off or interrupted. (Did you pay your gas bill? Is the emergency switch on top of the basement staircase on?) Follow these steps:

  • Turn the gas control knob to PILOT
  • Remove the cover where your burner and pilot light is located (at the bottom of the water heater)
  • There should be a flame lit inside.

No Hot Water Tip #2: Your Pilot Light Has Gone Out

If you did not see a flame, it may simply mean that your pilot light has gone out. If that is the case you will need to relight it, however, keep in mind that many of the newer water heaters no longer use pilot lights, and instead use a spark or hot surface ignition system.

If this is the case, check your owner’s manual for instructions.

If your water heater uses a pilot light, check to see if the instructions are printed on the tank. But if not, here’s how you relight a pilot light.

  • Turn the regulator to the "off" position and wait at least 5 minutes for the gas to disperse
  • Then, turn the regulator to "pilot"
  • If your water heater has the self-ignite feature, simply hold down the ignition button for about a minute, and then turn the regulator to "on"
  • If you need to light the pilot with a flame, use a long lighter and direct the flame near the pilot burner where the gas supply tube is located. Your pilot light should ignite.

If your pilot light does not ignite, or will not stay lit, it is also a possibility that the gas inlet valve has been closed. If this is the case, simply turn the handle parallel to the gas line and reattempt to light the pilot.

If you still are unable to get the pilot light lit, it could be that you have a defective pilot flame sensor, also known as a thermocouple. Alternatively, you can also have a more serious issues like a defective gas valve. If this is the case, you should call a licensed plumber. Do not attempt to replace control parts on any gas appliance unless you are qualified to do so. You risk the lives of the occupants of the home. Seriously.

No Hot Water Tip #3: Check if the Burner is Properly Working

This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but what we need to determine is if the problem is with the burner itself.

  • Begin this troubleshooting sequence when the burner is off
  • Set the dial to HOT or 120 degrees
  • Open a hot water faucet and allow it to run
  • Watch to see if the burner ignites
  • If the burner does not ignite: Continue to draw hot water, and adjust the thermostat higher

If the burner ignites – Replace the cover and reset the thermostat to its original position.

If the burner DOES NOT ignite – It is possible that your thermostat is not functioning properly. You should have it repaired by a licensed plumber.

No Hot Water Tip #4: Check for Gas Leaks

Natural gas, in its natural state, is both odorless and colorless. A product called mercaptan is added to help detect gas leaks. When mercaptan is added, the gas will smell like sulfur or rotten eggs.

If you detect the smell of gas, you should immediately turn off the gas valve control. These dials are often designed to be pushed down in order to shut them off. Use your best judgement as to if you want to attempt to relight the pilot light, or to contact your gas utility company immediately or licensed plumber.

Tips for Electric Water Heaters

No Hot Water Tip #1: The Breaker Has Been Tripped

Check to see if your water heater has a switch that may have been turned off. Then check your circuit breaker panel to see if any of the breakers have been tripped. A tripped breaker will not be in the "off" position, but rather, it will not be "in line" with the others. If the breaker has been tripped, simply flip the breaker to the "off" position, and then back to the "on" position. This will reset the breaker.

If after resetting the breaker it trips again, you should contact a licensed electrician. Water heaters demand their own dedicated circuit because they draw too much power to share. If you find your water heater is not on a dedicated circuit, you should contact a licensed electrician.

No Hot Water Tip #2: High-Temperature Cutoff Switch

It’s possible that your High-Temperature Cutoff Switch was tripped. You can reset this switch by opening the panel and pressing a button; you should hear a clicking sound. If the switch reset, the power should have been restored to the water heater.

If you still don’t have power, your high-temperature cutoff is probably defective and needs to be replaced.

No Hot Water Tip #3: Water Inside the Compartment

If you find any water inside the compartment it is very likely that your tank is leaking and will need to be replaced. When the water came into contact with the thermostat it may have caused it to short or malfunction.

No Hot Water Tip #4: Heating Elements

There’s a good chance that the problem is the heating elements. Keep in mind, that water heaters generally have a life span of no more than 10 years, and depending on the age, it may make more since for you to replace the water heater than to repair the heating elements.

However, should you choose to replace the defective heating element(s) it is a simple and inexpensive task. But be very careful that your water heater is turned off at the circuit breaker, AND that there isn’t any electricity coming to the unit – even after the circuit breaker has been turned off. Use a volt meter or contactless current checker before proceeding.

Checking Your Water Heater for Leaks

It’s a good idea to check if your water heater is leaking. Leaks often start with a slight amount of moisture before they become a serious problem. It is not typical or normal for any water heater to leak or discharge water (except condensing units that discharge condensate into a neutralizer then safely into a drain). Any leak must be corrected as soon as possible.

This article is for informational purposes only. We assume no risk, written or implied, if you follow these steps which results in property damage or personal injury.

If you do not have hot water you should call a local licensed plumber. Do reside in the Long Island, New York City area? Then give us an opportunity to service your property! One our our trucks will arrive at your property equipped with thousands of replacement parts along with a uniformed, experienced and professional technician who will diagnose the issue, discuss your options and give you a price up front for your review before we do any work! Additionally, all repairs are guaranteed for 24 months.

We are conveniently located in Valley Stream and can be reached at 516-348-6300. Comments, questions or complaints? I love them all.