6 Reasons Your Water Heater Isn’t Working (& How To Fix It)

A malfunctioning water heater is one of the most frustrating issues to deal with. We need hot water every day and when it doesn’t work properly it’s normal to feel frustrated. Once you experience the signs, understanding why it doesn’t work will help you deal with the situation. 

The most common reasons your water heater is not working are bad igniter, faulty valves,damaged thermocouple or a bad heating element. Signs of bad of not working or failing hot water heater include no or not enough hot water, discolored water, slowly heated water, or tank leaks.

Fxinng water heater

Now let’s take a look at the few signs that your water heater is not working and the reasons. Your water heater can be dangerous so be careful when you inspect it or decide to fix anything. Generally, calling a professional is the safest way to fix your water heater.

What are signs that my water heater isn’t working properly?

1. No Hot Water

The first sign that your water heater is not working is when you turn any of your faucets to hot and the water does not get hot. If you have waited more than five minutes and the water is not hot then your water heater may not be working properly.

Water Heater Switch

2. Not enough Hot Water

When your water heater is not heating the water enough this is a sign your water heater is going to fail. The burner which transfers heat to the water may be blocked. Since the burner has to use up more energy this can lead to a higher utility bill. If you notice your utility bill is getting unexpectedly higher, this may be your issue.

Shower releasing water
Shower releasing water

3. Discolored Water

If you notice discolored water, look out for two types. The first is a reddish color. This indicates that there is a damaged anode rod or tank. To fix this you will need to call a professional.

Discolored Water

The second color the water may be is a dirty color with no red. This means that the water heater has a build-up of heavy minerals. To fix this you should flush out your water heater or install a water softener system.

4. Takes too long to get hot water

If you go to turn on your hot water and it takes too long, then this is a sign your water heater isn’t working properly. This could be because of sediment build-up. Sediments are minerals that will cause your burners to not work properly. Likely this means your water is not getting hot enough either.

 sediment build-up.

Look out for tank leaks in your home. Tank leaks are dangerous. Water will be under the tank and you may be able to see a crack or see where the leak is coming from. This issue should be taken care of quickly. If the water tank bursts, it could flood your home.

What are the reasons my water heater isn’t working?

5. Tank leaks

1. Pilot light is out

Pilot lights can go out due to carbon deposits. These carbon deposits will prevent the pilot from lighting. Your gas water heaters have a pilot light. When the pilot light goes out it causes the water to drop. Without the pilot light, there is nothing to heat the water.

You should try to clean the pilot first before you try to reignite it. You can clean the pilot with compressed air or a brush. It is possible that the pilot has gone bad as well you need to replace it with a new one. To replace a pilot light you will have to call for professional help.

2. Bad Igniter

A bad igniter will cause the water not to heat if it does not work properly. It will also stall the ignition process. The igniter lights the pilot in a gas water heater. This issue could be caused by old wiring or broken wires. Without the flow of electricity to the ignitor, it will not work.

You can take the ignitor out of the water heater and check the electrical currency with a digital multimeter. A digital multimeter will tell you if the continuity has failed. If this happens to be the case then you will need to replace the ignitor. Replacing the ignitor is something you can do on your own.

3. Bad Valves

Bad valves prevent gas from entering a burner of a water heater. This can occur in both gas and electric water heaters. The valve’s job is to open when gas needs to flow to the burner so that it can be ignited. Then it closes when there is no need for the flow of gas. 

You should first check to see if the ignition source is working properly. Check the ignitor and pilot light first. Then check your valve you should check to see if there is pressure from the gas valve. When you are dealing with gas be careful not to take out any parts unless the gas has been turned off. This will prevent gas leaks. To fix these you should call a professional for help.

4. Damaged Thermocouple

A damaged thermocouple will stop the pilot from staying lit or igniting. A thermocouple is used on a gas water heater. These monitor the pilot. When the water heater does not need heat then the thermocouple will close. This blocks the flow of gas. 

It is likely that you will have to replace your damaged thermocouple. You can try to clean the thermocouple as it may only be dirty. However, if you do need to fix it you should turn off the water heart and gas. Give it time to cool down to prevent burns. You will need a wrench to unscrew the thermocouple and install a new one.

5. Bad Heating Element

Check your circuit breaker to see if it has blown or tripped. This can cause your eclectic water heater to have a bad heating element. Your electric water heater has two heating elements. There is one towards the middle of the tank and one towards the bottom of the tank. These are what heats the water. If those are malfunctioning then the water will not get hot.

To check this you should flip the breaker switch. Then go to see if the reset button on the water heaters has tripped. You can also use a multimeter to check the two elements for continuity. If you try the multimeter and there is no continuity then you need to replace the element.

6. Faulty Thermostat

Faulty thermostats will not turn on a heating element or a pilot light. Faulty thermostats can happen in both electrical and gas water heaters. The thermostat is there to turn on the heating elements of the pilot. It will turn them on when the water temperature begins to get too low.

You should go over and check the reset button to see if it has tripped. You can also check the breaker and reset that. Then you can check for the continuity of the thermostat using a multimeter. If there is no continuity then you will have to replace the thermostat

Tank Leaking

Are there ways to prevent problems with my water heater?

1. Keep the water heater area clean

Clean the area around your water heater so it is clear. This goes for both electric and gas water heaters. Most water heaters will have a spot in an apartment and will have their own space. Try to not put anything in the space. If you live in a home try to keep it clear where ever it is.  

2. Insulate your water heater

Insulating your water heater will help it run more efficiently. It will keep out the cold and keep the water inside warmer than without it. To insulate the water heater you should ask for professional advice or hire a professional to insulate it.

3. Monitor gas water heaters for leaks

The easiest way to monitor a gas water heater for a leak or backdraft is by having a CO detector installed in your home. If there is a leak of poisonous gas at all the alarm will go off. If you do not have a CO detector you can check the vent to see if there are any issues with it.

4. Check for rust

To check for rust you need to look at the anode rode. The water tank should not rust until the anode rod is completely rusted. To ensure the anode rod lasts as long as possible you should ask your water company about what water level is best for the tank. Hard water or water softeners can decrease the life of an anode rod.

5. Flush the system

Flushing the system out will extend the life of your water heater. Flushing the system will get rid of sediment build-up and prevent corrosion. To flush the system, change the sediment filter or call a professional for help.

When should I call a professional for help?

Water heaters are difficult to work with. If you have no experience with trying to fix a water heater you should call a professional. Professionals have experience, are equipped, and have expert knowledge of water heaters. 

The most beneficial part about calling a professional is that you know you will be safe. Water heaters can burst, causing a gas leak, or electrocute you if you do not know what you’re doing. Calling a professional will be quicker than fixing it yourself and a quick fix is important.


Learning the ins and outs of a water heater is important when there is an issue. Knowing what is wrong will allow you to find just where the issue is occurring. You will also be able to use the knowledge you have gained to take action quickly. 

Water heaters can be dangerous when they are damaged and when their lifespan is coming to an end. It can burst, have a gas leak, or flood your home. Fixing the issue as quickly as possible is important. You don’t want it to harm your family or home. Calling a professional is the safest way to fix your water heater properly and fast.

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