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Home and Garden

How To Check Your Hot Water System by Yourself

If you’re keen on DIY and have the correct tools available, you can save a considerable amount of money on plumbing fees if your hot water heater decides to give up the ghost.

There are various telltale signs that a heating unit is due for repairs. The sooner you’re able to sort out the problem, the less money it will likely cost you in the long run. 

Replacing a hot water system can become quite costly, so it’s worth trying to prolong its lifespan as much as possible with regular servicing and maintenance. Most hot water heaters need to be replaced with a new unit after around 10 years.

We’ll discuss different problems you might encounter with your hot water system, and recommend strategies to solve them.

Are You Unable To Get Any Hot Water at All?

A cold shower in the summer can be refreshing, but not having any hot water to wash clothes or dishes can be a nuisance. 

Here’s what you can do to reset the thermostat:

  • Step one: In the service panel, turn off the breaker to the water unit’s circuit.
  • Step two: Take off the access panel of the upper heating element.
  • Step three: Carefully remove the plastic safety guard and the insulation without touching any of the wires or electrical terminals.
  • Step four: Press the red button above the upper thermostat to reset the high-temperature cutoff.
  • Step five: Replace all items removed from the hot water heater.
  • Step six: Turn on the circuit breaker.

If this doesn’t suffice and you remain without hot water, the individual heating elements may need to be tested independently. This can be dangerous, so engage the services of a professional plumber.

Is Your Unit No Longer Producing Enough Hot Water for Your Household?

Before going to fetch your tools from the garage, have a think about this for a minute: has your family grown bigger? If your hot water system sufficed when it was just you and your wife, but you’ve since had a baby and your parents have moved into the granny flat, it’s not surprising that your hot water isn’t lasting through everyone’s showers.

In this case, it’s probably best to consult a plumber and upgrade to a new hot water system that’s a suitable size for your family. Until then, here are some things that you can do to make the hot water stretch:

  • limit shower length, 
  • install low-flow showerheads, 
  • wash dishes and laundry at different times of the day rather than doing them all at once.

If your household size hasn’t increased but your hot water heater isn’t coping with making enough hot water as it once used to, the heating elements could have failed. 

If your water is only reaching a lukewarm temperature, it’s likely a sign of a defective upper heating element. If you do have hot water but it runs out quickly whilst running, it’s probably a defective lower heating element.

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Is Your Water Temperature Just Unbearably Hot?

This might not seem like a big problem since hot water is meant to be hot – but it can be a dangerous scalding hazard. 

You will probably find that either one or both the water heater’s thermostats have been set too high.

You can check the thermostat settings by:

  • Step one: Shut off the power to the hot water heater system.
  • Step two: Carefully remove the plastic access panel, safety guard and the insulation from each heating element without touching any of the wires or electrical terminals. 
  • Step three: Perform a test on the wires to double check that the power is off with a non-contact voltage tester. Take care during this step because it could potentially be dangerous.
  • Step Four: Check that the heat settings on both of the thermostats are between 49°C and 60°C.
  • Step five: If the temperature is too high, you can adjust it using a flathead screwdriver.
  • Step five: Replace all items removed from the hot water heater.
  • Step six: Turn on the circuit breaker.

Cause for Greater Concern

Water damage in a home thanks to a leaking hot water unit is something that no-one wants to deal with. Therefore, leaks must be seen to as soon as possible. 

If your hot water heater leaks, it can be from the valves and connections, loose heating elements or corrosion in the tank. 

You can inspect the elements to see if they’re loose and you can tighten them up with an element wrench.

Unfortunately, a corroded tank won’t be able to be repaired and will have to be replaced. Until you’re able to do so, turn its power and water supply off and drain the tank to stop the leaking.

If the water coming out of your taps has a brown, yellow or red tinge, it could mean that there’s corrosion either inside the water heater tank or in your pipes. If the water smells bad, bacteria is possibly growing inside the tank. 

These signs indicate that the anode rod could need replacing, which generally needs to be done by a professional plumber.

Excessive sediment buildup at the bottom of your hot water tank can cause the base to overheat and boil the water. This can lead to funny noises coming from the hot water heater, like rumbling, popping, or high-pitched whining.

You can drain the tank so that the sediment can be removed, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll probably need a new hot water system altogether.

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Key Takeaways

If you’re capable and willing, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go ahead and check out the problems with your hot water system yourself.

If you’re experiencing certain problems, such as your hot water unit not producing any hot water whatsoever, not producing enough hot water, or producing water that’s scorching hot – you will probably be able to fix it yourself. 

On the contrary, leaking, discoloured or smelly water could indicate a bigger and more expensive problem that will require the skills of an experienced and professional plumber.

Whatever you do, whether it’s DIY or phone a friend (or plumber), do it as soon as possible so that the problem doesn’t get more severe. 


Andrew Skipper

Andrew is the owner of Canberra Plumbing, a local family-owned business that has been supplying the Canberra, Jerrabomberra, and Queanbeyan areas for over 15 years. Their entire team of staff is qualified and accredited, so you know that they’ve done the job correctly and in a timely manner.

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