Water heaters are important throughout the year, but especially in the winter when temperatures fall and hot water is more necessary than ever. Water heaters are designed to do their jobs very quietly, and they’re usually located in out-of-the-way parts of the home like your basement or garage. They can last for many years without a fuss, but as they get older, they suffer from wear and tear like any other appliance. When trouble comes, it tends to come so fast that you can hardly see it coming.
The best way to prevent trouble with your water heater is to schedule a maintenance session for it once a year. The technician can flush the tank, check the fittings, change the anode rod (which prevents rust) if necessary, and perform other little tasks to keep the wear and tear at bay. More importantly, the technician can spot the signs of more serious trouble and move on them before they shut your water heater down.
Even so, it helps if you the homeowner can notice when things go wrong. Signs of damage only tend to appear when the problem is considerable, so the sooner you notice, the better. Generally speaking, anything out of the ordinary is cause for concern: any symptom you don’t automatically associate with the normal functioning of your water heater. More specifically, the following signs usually indicate something seriously amiss:
- Strange noises. Again, this usually entails anything out of the ordinary. Gurgles, hums, clanging noises, shudders. It could mean anything from a little build-up in the tank to an imminent breakdown.
- Puddles around the base of the water heater. Breaches in the water tank itself can sometimes seal shut again when the water is cooled, making them hard to spot. A puddle around the base of the tank is usually the sign of a serious problem.
- Rusty water. When the sides of the water tank get rusty — usually when the anode rod needs replacing — flakes of rust and other detritus will appear in your water. That gives it a brownish or reddish hue, and it usually indicates a serious problem. Unfortunately, a rusty tank means that your entire water heater likely needs replacing.
- Shortened periods of hot water. No one likes that feeling when the hot water in the tank runs out in the middle of a luxurious shower or bath. If there are problems with the water heater, that loss of hot water will likely come more and more quickly.
- Lower levels of heat. If the water never really heats up, it creates a lot of waste and inconvenience. A lack of hot water can stem from a problem with the burner, sediment in the tank, or sometimes an issue with the gas lines.
- Higher bills. Faulty water tanks will often use more energy than they should and/or you’ll need to waste more water to get what you need. Either way, that means higher bills, usually appearing for no obviously discernible reason.