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No Hot Water- Troubleshooting Your Water Heater

Updated on February 21, 2014
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Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Gas Water Heater
Gas Water Heater | Source

No hot water? Here are some quick troubleshooting tips to get hot water again. Learn how to handle common problems with electric, gas, and tankless water heaters to get hot water working. You may be able to restore hot water yourself.

Determine Your Type of Water Heater

You'll need to determine whether you have a gas or electric water heater. These types of water heaters have different troubleshooting steps. It can be a bit confusing to determine the type of water heater since they do look similar.

Gas Water Heater

A gas water heater will have a gas line connected to it- this is usually a yellow tube. If you have a gas furnace, a similar supply line will be connected to your furnace. A gas water heater will have a control knob with PILOT setting for a pilot light. The water heater may also have warning stickers about combustion chamber. Another sign is that the gas water heaters will have an exhaust vent on top, electric water heaters do not have this.

Electric Water Heater

An electric water heater is powered by electricity instead of gas. It will not have gas lines connected to it, and it will not have an exhaust vent on top. An electric water heater will have an electrical cable coming into it to supply electricity.

Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters are a special type of water heaters that uses a heat exchanger to heat water as it moves through the unit without the need for a tank to store hot water. These are usually a type of gas water heater.

Electric Water Heater- No Hot Water

Check the Circuit Breaker

The first step to troubleshoot an electric water heater that is not producing hot water is to check the breaker in the circuit panel box. You will need to locate the circuit breaker panel box and open the door.

The breaker for the water heater will be large, likely 30A. If you're lucky, the breaker for the water heater will be labeled and easy to find. Check to see if it is tripped. The breaker switches should be firmly in the ON position. If there is on in the off position and it is a large one (30A), that's probably the problem. Resetting this breaker should bring your water heater back to life. Monitor the breaker and water heater for a few days- if it trips again, you'll want to have a professional check it out.

Circuit Breaker Panel
Circuit Breaker Panel | Source

Reset the Control Unit

If the breaker has not tripped, the problem could be a trip switch on the water heater itself. Check on the temperature control unit attached to the water heater tank. There may be a button labeled RESET that has popped out. If so, try pressing this button in to bring your water heater back to life. Your water heater may need repair if this button keeps tripping. It may indicate that you need to replace the heating element.

Note that if the water in your tank is cold, it will take about 30 minutes to heat up after power to the water heater is restored.

Gas Water Heater- No Hot Water

Check the Gas Supply

The first step to troubleshoot a gas water heater is to check the gas supply. It is possible that it has been inadvertently shut off. Follow the gas line starting at the water heater. You will likely find a shut-off valve in the gas line nearby. If the lever on the shut-off is pointing along the gas line, then the gas valve is turned ON. If the lever is turned 90 degrees to the gas line, then the gas supply is turned OFF. If the supply line is turned off, you'll need to turn it on to restore hot water.

Gas Supply Valve in ON Position
Gas Supply Valve in ON Position | Source

Check for Utility Outage

The gas utility may be shut off in your area- for example if road work or construction is going on in your neighborhood. If possible, verify that another gas appliance such as gas oven, fireplace, or furnace in your house operates properly. If this is not possible, try to check with a neighbor to see if they have a working gas supply. If you find that your house is not receiving gas, you will need to contact the utility company to restore gas service.

Check the Pilot Light

The gas water heater uses a pilot light to ignite the burner. If this has gone out, the burner will not ignite and you will be without hot water. There are likely instruction for checking and re-lighting your pilot light on the side of the water tank. This usually involves rotating the control knob to the PILOT position and then back to the ON position.

Note that if the water in your tank is cold, it will take about 30 minutes to heat up after the burner starts heating the water.

Tankless Water Heater- No Hot Water

Most tankless water heaters are gas. If your tankless water heater is a gas unit, follow the troubleshooting steps for gas water heaters in the sections above.

Since tankless water heaters produce a lot of heat quickly, the air intake and exhaust venting is critical. Check for any obstructions to the vent at the outside of the house. One time my tankless water heater was not working. I tried to run hot water and could only get cold water. This was disappointing since the water heater was fairly new. Investigation revealed that a snow drift was blocking the vent almost completely. After clearing the vent, I had hot water again.

When to Call a Professional

Some indications to call a professional to service your water heater:

  • Gas smell
  • Burning smell of any kind
  • Electrical arcing or sparking of any kind
  • Leaking water
  • Circuit breaker trips more than rarely
  • Pilot light goes out more than rarely
  • Water heater does not reliably produce hot water- failure should be rare

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


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    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 11 months ago from USA

      Alright nice job on this Hub! More here about water heaters than I ever thought I would know. Thanks and I hope you get lots of traffic!

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 4 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Some models of gas water heater are rated for high altitude environments. The air at high altitude contains less oxygen and this affects combustion in the burner. You need the right fuel-air mixture for optimal operation of your water heater. If you live at high altitude, I would think the local stores would carry gas models that can be adjusted for your altitude.

    • profile image

      kikidistiles 4 years ago

      Do they make a different kind of water heater for people in Denver.