What to Do When Your Home Water Heater Stops Working

Man adjusting settings on a water heater

Experiencing a malfunctioning water heater can disrupt your daily routine significantly. From cold showers to insufficient hot water for cleaning, the impact is immediately noticeable. Understanding the steps to diagnose and address common issues can help you decide whether a DIY fix is possible or if it’s time to call in the professionals.

Initial Checks and Simple Fixes

When your water heater stops working, start with the basics. First, ensure that the unit is receiving power. For electric water heaters, check your home’s circuit breaker box: a tripped circuit breaker is a common issue that can be quickly fixed by flipping the breaker back to the “on” position. For gas water heaters, check to see if the pilot light is out. If it is, the owner’s manual should have instructions on how to safely relight it, following precise steps to avoid any hazardous situations.

Next, examine the thermostat on the water heater. Sometimes the settings might have been accidentally adjusted or the thermostat itself could be malfunctioning. For electric heaters, resetting the thermostat can sometimes resolve the issue. Adjust the temperature settings to ensure they are at an appropriate level – typically around 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended for both safety and efficiency.

Common Issues and DIY Troubleshooting

Water temperature inconsistencies can often be resolved by checking the thermostat, but what if the water heater is leaking? A leak from the tank is an indicator of a potentially serious problem. If you notice pooling water around the base of the tank or moisture dripping from it, check the fittings and connections first. Tightening these may solve the problem if the leak is minor. However, if the tank itself is leaking, this usually signifies internal damage, which often requires replacement of the entire unit.

Another issue could be sediment build-up, especially in areas with hard water. Over time, sediment can accumulate at the bottom of the tank, causing the water heater to work harder, become less efficient, and more prone to damage. Flushing the tank annually can prevent this build-up. This involves shutting off the power or gas to the unit, connecting a hose to the drainage bib, and letting the water run until it’s clear.

When to Call a Professional Water Heater Repair Service

There are several scenarios where professional repair services are necessary. First, if you’ve attempted the basic troubleshooting steps without success, the issue may be more complex, such as a faulty heating element or a broken dip tube, and professional tools and expertise will be required.

Safety is another major consideration. For example, if the issue involves gas lines or electrical connections and you’re not experienced with these systems, attempting water heater repairs could be hazardous. Professionals have the tools and training to handle these elements safely.

Complex problems, like a malfunctioning pressure relief valve, can pose serious risks. This valve is designed to open if the pressure or temperature inside the tank gets too high, preventing the tank from exploding. If you suspect this valve is not working correctly, it’s crucial to get professional help immediately.

Furthermore, if your water heater is still under warranty, DIY repairs could void the warranty terms. In this case, it’s best to contact a certified professional who can provide service that complies with the warranty requirements.


Understanding your home’s water heater and being able to perform basic troubleshooting are valuable skills that can save you time and inconvenience. However, recognizing the limits of your expertise and when to call in a professional is just as important. Regular maintenance by a professional can extend the life of your water heater and help avoid unexpected breakdowns. When faced with complex issues, or when safety is a concern, professional assistance is not just a convenience—it’s a necessity. This approach ensures that your water heater is repaired safely and efficiently, restoring your home’s hot water supply with minimal disruption.

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