Water Heater Repair Basics

Many homeowners neglect their water heater until something goes wrong. At that point, lukewarm showers and discolored laundry become very inconvenient.

If the pilot light goes out, there may be air in the gas line. Hold down the ignitor button for one minute to purge the air and relight the pilot light.


Whether at home or in the office, water heaters provide vital services to us all. So it’s not a good thing when they stop working.

This is especially true if the unit leaks and can cause water damage in your home or business. This is one of the most common water heater problems, and it usually happens to gas units.

If this is the case, there are a couple of things you can try before calling in a professional. First, make sure the gas valve on the pipe is open. If it is, it’s likely filled with air and needs to be purged.

Second, you’ll want to check the circuit breaker or fuse that feeds the water heater. If either has tripped, this can be an indicator of an electrical problem, which is the most likely culprit. Also, you should press the reset button located down by the viewing door at the bottom of the tank. This is designed to release excessive pressure from steam buildup and is a safety measure.


The heating element in an electric hot water heater is one of the most common problems that customers experience. When the heating element fails it can cause an immediate loss of hot water. The good news is that most of the time, it is not a costly fix.

First, check the thermostat for power. Make sure that it is getting power and that the reset button has been pushed. If the thermostat has no power, it is time to replace it. The process is simple. Just turn off the power at the electrical service panel and post a sign that says, “Do Not Re-Turn On”. Drain the heater, remove the access panel, disconnect the element wires from their terminals, and test it with a multimeter set to RX1000 (resistance times 1,000). If the tester displays anything other than infinity, then it is time to replace the heating element.

Generally speaking, it is best to replace your water heater before the sediment builds up too much and causes rust fractures or leaks. However, not every problem is an emergency that requires replacement and it is important to consider the overall lifespan of a hot water tank when making this decision.

Dip Tube

You may not even realize it, but your dip tube can also play a big part in your hot water heater repair process. It is a short piece of galvanized pipe attached to the top of the tank and serves as both a sacrificial anode and a drain for the tank. It is a good idea to check and replace the dip tube regularly as it can rust out.

Dip tubes made between 1993 and 1997 are notorious for breaking and disintegrating, leaving small white plastic pieces behind that can clog strainers and filter screens on faucets. If you notice your water is starting out hot and then changing to cold, your dip tube is probably a problem.

Turn off the power to your water heater and open a hot water faucet to relieve pressure in the tank. You’ll need to drain the water from the nipple (short piece of pipe with threaded ends) and then screw out the old dip tube. Replace with a new one, such as a crosslinked polyethylene (PEX) one.

Pressure Valve

A properly functioning temperature and pressure relief valve (also called a T&P valve) is essential to water heater safety. It opens when the temperature and pressure in a hot water heater tank rises above safe thresholds, releasing excess heat and pressure through a discharge tube that extends no more than six inches above the structural floor of the storage unit.

When it’s working correctly, the metal spring lever should snap back into place after the discharge and a hissing noise should be heard. However, if the lever sticks or does not return to its original position after the discharge, this indicates that it is stuck or leaking.

A small leak from the pressure release valve is normal and a sign that it is doing its job, but if the leaking persists, it should be repaired immediately. A professional plumber can check your water heater’s pressure valve and determine the best course of action. Then they can clean, repair or replace it as needed.