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Yikes, No Hot Water in the House? 5 Causes and How To Fix Them, According to Plumbers

Address this annoying pain point ASAP with helpful tips from the pros.

<p>Kledge/Getty Images</p>

Kledge/Getty Images

Out of all the common household essentials we often take for granted, hot water quickly rises to the top of the list. It offers a refuge when we just want to soak the day’s worries away in a steamy shower, dissolves stubborn stains from our laundry, and tackles greasy pots and pans. When our hot water stops working, this seemingly small inconvenience ends up causing some major upheaval in the house.

If you’re currently dealing with no hot water in the house, the good news is that there are some troubleshooting steps you can take to quickly remedy the issue. With expert insights, we’re diving into reasons why your hot water isn’t working—along with some quick fixes—so you can pinpoint the cause and get back to life. 

Related: 10 Home Repairs You Can DIY—and 10 Where You Need to Hire a Pro

Common Reasons Your Hot Water Isn't Working

Let’s explore some common scenarios for why your hot water suddenly stops flowing.

The Thermostat Requires Readjustment

Just like your home’s HVAC system, water heaters are equipped with a built-in thermostat that controls the water’s temperature. Adjusting the setting slightly can either make your hot water run hotter or cooler.

“To adjust the thermostat of a water heater, first, locate the thermostat panel on the water heater. It’s typically found near the bottom,” says Matt Kunz, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly company. “Use a screwdriver or pliers to remove the cover, and inside you’ll find a temperature dial or knob. Gradually turn it clockwise to increase the temperature or counterclockwise to lower it to your preferred setting.”

Wait a few hours between the adjustments for the temperature to re-stabilize, and make sure you don’t turn it on too hot. Once you’re good to go with the new temperature, re-attach the thermostat cover.

Sediment Buildup

One of the most common reasons why hot water stops working is sediment buildup at the bottom of the tank. This makes it harder for the burner to heat the water, which in turns causes the water to run cooler, fluctuate temperatures, or not heat up at all, explains Alan Soukup, owner of Bluefrog Plumbing + Drain of North Dallas. He says that just one-fourth inch of sediment can reduce water heater efficiency by 40 percent, which is basically like throwing away $4 every time  you spend $10.

Fortunately, this one’s got a relatively easy fix as long as you’re willing to roll up your sleeves. As a bonus, learning this simple skill can help you maintain your water heater for years to come.

“Flush the system one to two times a year by using air to blow off the burner tray. Also vacuum the combustion chamber, which is the space at the bottom of the water heater,” Soukup says. You can also try a vinegar soak, which can further help clear out the sediment.

Clogged Burner or Pilot Light

If you have a gas water heater, a clogged burner or pilot light may be the culprit. Kunz says that soot buildup on the burner can clog it over time, which ultimately reduces its function and compromises your hot water flow.

“Regular cleaning maintains heater efficiency. Likewise, keep the pilot light feeding opening clean for better performance,” Kunz says. “To prevent future soot buildup, clean the burner and pilot light periodically as part of your regular maintenance routine.”

Your Hot Water Tank is Too Small

Hot water is stored in a tank and then used as-needed. When you use up all your hot water quickly, you’re left with only cold water. If your water tank is too small and/or your family uses quite a bit of hot water all at once, your tank simply can’t keep up with the demand.

In this case, you need to check your water heater’s capacity, says Jeff Palla, president of Mr. Handyman. He says, “If you have more than four people using the hot water in your home, you will need to increase the capacity by 10 gallons per person. You can then upgrade your water heater tank or get a tankless water heater if that is what’s best for your household.”

It’s Time to Replace Your Water Heater

Like many features of your home, your water heater will need to be replaced after it’s run its course. “If your water heater is over a decade old, it could just be run down and not working how it should, causing you to have only cold water,” says Palla. “The older the heater, the easier it is for it to malfunction. Older heaters are also less efficient and cost you more to operate.”

He adds that it’s important to inspect your tank regularly and perform routine maintenance, which can help prolong your heater’s life, address any potential issues, and help you know when it’s finally time to get a new one.

Safety Precautions to Keep In Mind

While some of the troubleshooting tips above are fairly straightforward, it’s important to practice safety when trying to fix your hot water heater. When not done properly, these tasks can turn dangerous since they involve gas, electricity, and hot water.

Before starting, make sure to turn off the power and gas supply when working on your hot water heater, and ensure proper ventilation. Keep small pets and children away while working, and wear appropriate gear such as protective glasses, face masks, or gloves. Kunz adds, “Always refer to your heater’s manual for specific instructions and safety precautions, as the cleaning process may vary depending on the type and model of your heater.”

When To Call a Pro

If you’re too busy or feeling unsure about performing any of the above tasks, it’s smart to ring up a professional handyman to tackle the task. It’s also in your best interest to hire a pro if you’ve tried the troubleshooting tips above and they haven’t remedied the issue. They’ll be able to assess any other issues and get your water heater back in tip-top shape.

Related: How to Prevent Frozen Pipes in Cold Weather

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