How to Repair Hot Water Tanks

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A cold shower during summer might feel great, but in the middle of the winter, it's probably the last thing you want. Although today's hot water heaters, be they electric or gas, are built to give you years of piping-hot water, sometimes problems arise. Before you spend money calling a plumber, perform a few troubleshooting tips to see if you can repair your hot water tank on your own.

Things You'll Need

  • Matches/lighter
  • Screwdriver
  • Crescent/plumbing wrench
  • Voltmeter

Natural Gas Heaters

  • Remove the access plate at the bottom of the tank and check to see if the pilot is lit, if your tank has a pilot light. If the pilot light is not lit, relight it according to the manufacturer's instructions. This is usually done by turning the gas knob to the "Light" position and holding a source of flame near the gas tubing. Turn the knob to the "On" or "Normal" setting.

  • Check for a draft in the area if the pilot light does not stay lit. If you are sure that an open wind isn't putting out the light, you will have to remove the gas tube and clean it.

  • Turn off the gas supply to the heater.

  • Remove the thermocouple, gas line and gas pilot supply tube. This is usually done with a crescent or pipe wrench.

  • Clean off the tip of the pilot supply tube with a wire brush. Make sure the gas supply opening is clear and free of any obstructions.

  • Replace all the tubing. Turn the gas supply back on.

  • Relight the pilot. If all goes well, you should have hot water in about half an hour.

Electric Hot Water Tanks

  • Make sure that the power supply to the tank is turned on at the circuit.

  • Check the thermostat on the tank to make sure that it is in the "On" position.

  • Locate the panel where the electricity from the main circuit is wired into the heater. Using a voltmeter, check the terminals to see if they are getting power from the main circuit. If not, the problem lies between the heater and the main circuit breaker.

  • Feel the tank. Most tanks come with upper and lower heaters. If the top of the tank is warm, the problem lies with the bottom heating element or thermostat. Likewise, if the bottom of the tank is cold, the problem is down in this area. These heaters usually consist of two elements: the voltage regulator and the heating element.

  • Using the voltmeter check for proper voltage on the voltage regulator terminals and on the heating element terminals. If either one indicates a break in voltage, you will have to replace this part.

  • Turn off the electricity to the water heater circuit if you need to replace the voltage regulator. Remove the regulator with a new part.

  • Drain the tank to replace the heating element. Then remove the heating element and replace it with a new one.

  • Turn the power back on to the circuit and check the operation of your electric hot water heater.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use an insulation jacket around your water heater to cut down on heating costs and keep your water hot longer.
  • If you are unsure or unfamiliar working with electricity, call a certified professional. If you smell natural gas, do not attempt any repairs. Leave the area and call a professional.

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