What To Do If Your Gas Water Heater Keeps Shutting Off

One of the worst feelings in the world is walking into your shower expecting nice, hot water only to be greeted by the icy embrace of cold water. We all dread this problem, and the first place to look for answers is your water heater. The only thing that could possibly be worse is if your gas water heater keeps shutting off.

If your gas water heater continues to shut off after you have tried to restart it, it is likely that the gas water heater has not been maintained properly and requires cleaning. To clean your water heater, make sure that it is off at the breaker and that the gas is off before you inspect the individual components.

It is fortunate that the majority of issues are easy to fix, even by someone without experience in doing so. We will go over the more common problems with gas water heaters, what to look for, and how to go about resolving the issues that you find on your own.

Why is Your Gas Water Heater Shutting Off? 

Gas water heater shut offs are normally due to poor maintenance and cleaning of your water heater unit. Regular maintenance will prevent most of these problems from occurring. So if you have neglected your water heaters upkeep (or simply want to be thorough in your checks), here are some common reasons why a gas water heater will shut off.

You’ve Run Out Of Gas

One of the most simple explanations for why your gas water heater is shutting off is simply that you’ve run out of gas. This is actually a fairly common culprit to your gas water heater shutting off. The good news is that if this is the only issue, nothing has broken and you will not have to pay for expensive repairs. 

You will still have to identify exactly why you are out of gas. Check the heater’s shutoff valve and the control knob to see if there is any gas flowing. Another problem is that gas could be shut off to your house.  

You Have Gas Supply Problems 

If your gas is on in your house and everything is on, then the problem may lie in a leak or a problem with your gas valve. If there are leaks, the gas needs to be shut off immediately, as it presents a health hazard. Call a professional to help you fix the problem.

The reason you may have a leak is that the valve and the seals around it wear down over time. moisture in the air can also cause the metals to corrode. If not inspected regularly, the corrosion can cause tiny leaks to form, and eventually turn it into a bigger leak.

The Thermopile is Dirty

The thermopile is the part of your water heater that turns on the gas controls.  The pilot light heats up the thermopile and this creates electrical energy, which powers your gas control’s electrical components. This means that if the thermopile is dirty, no electricity is flowing.  

If you are curious as to what the thermopile looks like, it is a metal rod that is next to the pilot flame. The fact that the pilot light is burning creates soot, and dirt in the air can also make its way to your thermopile. If this part is dirty or broken, you’ll want to call someone to take care of the issue. 

The Pilot Light is Dirty 

The pilot light is what burns the gas that comes out of the gas valve. The pilot light is always on while your gas water heater is running. You’ll normally find it at the base of your water heater near your gas control valve. 

Soot, dust, and other particulates make their way onto the pilot light.  Over time, this can make your pilot light dirty, which restricts the amount of oxygen that is reaching the flame.  Since oxygen is necessary for combustion, the accumulation of dust and dirt will make the pilot light flicker and perform less optimally than it should.

Your Air Inlet is Clogged 

At the bottom of your water heater system is an air inlet. This air inlet lets in air to keep gas burning. Most modern systems today have screens in front of the air inlet to prevent gunk and dust from getting inside, and these screens can get clogged if not cleaned regularly.

If your air inlet gets clogged, oxygen will not be able to reach lamps. And since air is required for combustion, your gas water heater will not be able to run correctly. 

If your air Inlet is clogged, call a professional. They will either replace or clean the screen. 

Short Circuit

You may be surprised to learn that even if you have a gas water heater it will still have a circuit for it on the circuit breaker. This is because your hot water heater can still pull a lot of power in order to run. The good news is that no other appliances will be on this circuit, since your water heater draws so much power. 

If there is a short in the circuit, the pilot light will not ignite and the system will not turn on. Where your circuit is actually located depends upon your circuit box, but it is usually labeled. 

Breaker Malfunction

If you have gone through all the other potential issues but have not uncovered the problem, it may be that your breaker is malfunctioning rather than your water heater. There are a number of reasons why it can malfunction, including ground faults, circuit overloads, and short circuits. 

There should be nothing else on the circuit that your water heater is on, which rules out circuit overloads, so there may be a wiring issue somewhere causing your breaker to malfunction. If you believe you have a breaker malfunction, then you should leave the circuit off and call an electrician to correct the problem.

What To Do When Your Gas Water Heater Keeps Shutting Off? 

When there’s an issue with your gas water heater, take care as you examine it. The gas that is used to power your water heater can cause you health issues if it is leaking. 

Moreover, the gas can also ignite. If your gas water heater is not working correctly, you should seek professional help. 

Call Your Plumber 

It may be tempting to try to fix some of these problems yourself, but unless you are a professional your first step should be to call a plumber. This will accomplish several things. 

First of all, a plumber can diagnose your issue and have your water heater working quickly. Whatever issues there are, you can be assured they will be repaired correctly. 

Secondly, as indicated above, if you are dealing with a gas leak it can be dangerous. If you call in a plumber, they are better equipped to handle this issue.

Finally, the problem may be more serious than one of the common problems listed here. In this case, the plumber will be on hand to find the problem and fix it. 

Clean Your Air Inlet 

In order to clean your air inlet, first turn off the gas and the pilot light. You don’t want either one of them on while you are cleaning any part of the gas water heater. 

Next, remove the screen on your air inlet. There should be a kind of catching mechanism that you have to undo to remove the screen. 

Carefully clean the filter. You can use compressed air for water to have the dust removed. If you use water, allow the screen to dry. 

Finally, put the screen back in place, and make sure you secure it. Make sure that the screen is positioned correctly and that there are no gaps. 

Clean Your Pilot Light

With the proper precautions, you can clean the pilot light yourself.  As before, make sure that the pilot light is off and that the gas is not turned on. You can turn off the circuit and turn the gas valve off for this.

The first step is to clean any dirt and debris from the pilot light. Take a wire brush and run it over the mouth of the pilot light, clearing away any buildup. There should be nothing sticking to the metal. 

Use compressed air blowing inside the pilot light to get rid of soot. Then use a vacuum with a nozzle attachment to suck out the remaining debris.

Replace Your Thermopile

Before you replace your thermopile, you may want to check it to see if it is faulty.  A visual test is often not enough to determine whether there is an issue with the thermopile. In order to test it, you will need a multimeter.

Take the thermopile out and set up the multi-meter for direct current and the range to millivolts. Connect the positive to the red wire and the negative to the white wire.  

Set your pilot lighting setting to light, and wait for three minutes for the voltage to register. The reading should be between 650 to 850 millivolts. If it is not in this range, you will need to replace your thermopile.  

Check Your Wires

Since a more in-depth look at your electrical wiring may require the services of a professional electrician, you will probably be limited to what you can see.  If you are going to touch any wiring directly, make sure that you shut off the power, or you are going to be in for a nasty (if not deadly) shock.

You will be looking for exposed wiring or loose connections. Corrosion along the wires can also be a sign of problems with your wiring. Also look for other tell-tale signs that could indicate wildlife chewing on your wires, such as mouse droppings or rat holes.

Replace the Breaker

If your problem is at the circuit breaker, or you simply wish to eliminate it as a potential issue, you can replace the breaker itself. The breakers are cheap and easy to replace, but you should still be careful when working with electricity. Wear safety glasses and keep your eyes away from the panel as much as possible.

First, make sure that you know the make and model of your breaker, as you will need to replace it with the exact same type. The specifications are near the reset lever and will have the specs that you need.

Turn off the power by switching the main breaker off. You’ll likely be in the dark, so keep a flashlight nearby.  

Remove the cover plate, then remove the breaker itself and disconnect the wire attached to it. Connect and insert the new breaker, then replace the cover and turn the power on.

Check For Leaks

If you suspect a gas leak in your home, you should call a professional immediately – this is not a DIY matter.  But if you aren’t certain, there are a few signs that you may have a leak to look for.

The best way would be to take a reading with a gas detector. However, since this is not a common household tool, you can use your nose and ears.  

Stand near your water heater with as much noise blocked off as possible, then listen and take a breath in through your nose. Natural gas has elements of sulfur in it, which smells a little bit like rotten eggs. And if it is leaking, you are likely to hear a hiss.

How Expensive is it to Fix Your Gas Water Heater? 

Depending on the type of repairs that your gas water heater needs, the range of repair costs by a professional is anywhere between $218 to $960, with the average cost being just shy of $600. Most of this is the cost of labor, which will run between $45 to $150 per hour.

This may encourage you to try your hand at a DIY replacement. After all, replacing a heater element can cost between $10 to $80 for the part while you may wind up spending between $200 to $300 for a professional to do it.  

Most heater parts cost less than $50, so if you want to save yourself some money, just make sure that you are taking proper safety precautions.


By taking the right precautions, you can save yourself some money and give your water heater some of the tender love and care that it needs. Regular cleanings will not only ensure that your water heater will not suddenly go out on you, but it also will extend the life of your water heater and keep it working for you efficiently for years.

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