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6 Winter Water Heater Problems

Plumber installs Tank Booster on hot water heater.

Wake up, shower, brush your teeth, drink some water from the sink. Everyone’s morning routine consistently uses a mixture of cold and hot water, but homeowners don’t often stop to think about the water heater behind the scenes making it possible until they start to experience a problem. Issues can pop up year-round, but cold weather can sneak up on hot water heaters, exacerbating issues and causing a lack of hot water, higher energy bills or leaky pipes.  

Winter Hot Water Heater Problems 

When your customers are targets of a loud or leaky water heater, you’ll be the first they call. Here are some common water heater issues that might indicate a larger problem.  

1. Sediment and Mineral Buildup 

This is the main cause of most water heater malfunctions and can contribute to other issues such as leaky pipes, noisy operation or changes in temperature. Buildup occurs throughout the year, but it causes the most issues in wintertime. Sediment extracts heat from the water heater, reducing the temperature of the water inside the tank. This can cause the unit to work harder to warm water, increasing energy bills or even causing breakage. Make sure you’re recommending that your homeowners flush their tanks yearly to avoid buildup that can be dangerous to their water heater.  

Sediment buildup in water heaters often clings to the anode rod inside the water heater, deteriorating it over time. And eventually, sediment will start wearing down other parts of the water heater, which can cause bigger issues like rust or corrosion. While servicing a water heater, make sure to encourage anode rod replacement every 3-5 years.   

2. Water Heater Temperature 

Cold showers in the wintertime aren’t ideal for most, so when the hot water is inconsistent, it may be time for a water heater checkup. Changes in water temperature can happen for a lot of reasons, including:  

  • Water heater leaks.
  • Damaged water heater parts.
  • Mineral deposits.
  • Temperature and pressure valve problems.

In these cases, you may need to replace a damaged part or even the water heater itself.

Changes in water temperature are not the only warning signs to look out for. The temperature of the hot water heater tank itself can be a cause for concern. The unit should never rise above 120°F. This indicates that the water heater is working at a higher capacity than it's meant to, leading to higher energy bills or even water heater damage in the long run. Keeping this on your customers’ radars is a great way to maintain a yearly appointment and prevent larger, more costly issues down the line.  

With winter comes the holiday season and visits from family. If customers find themselves running low on hot water, you can recommend incorporating a Cash Acme Tank Booster PRO mixing valve into their system. It’s designed to double a household’s usable hot water while delivering water at a safe temperature. Or if a customer complains about the length of time they’re required to wait for hot water, they might be interested in installing an Eastman recirculating pump. This pump conserves water and allows ready access to hot water.  

Close look at tank booster product

3. Leaky Pipes 

Leaky pipes on water heaters can happen for several reasons.

  • Freezing. In the winter, leaks from frozen pipes are not uncommon. Insulating the water heater and pipes should be a priority during a pre-winter checkup. 
  • Age. Over time, pipes wear down. All plumbing systems, no matter their materials, will need to be replaced eventually.  
  • Poor installation or service. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen. Small errors on the job site can require a repair days or years down the road.
  • Loose drain valves. Leaks can be caused by loose parts, which can be repaired by tightening or replacing the part.
  • Improper pressure in the tank. Cash Acme temperature and pressure relief valves are a great way to protect a water heater from excess pressures and temperatures by discharging water.

Encourage your customers to schedule yearly check-ups on their water heaters to prevent these issues.  

4. Lack of Insulation 

Just like with pipes, water heaters need to be insulated for cold weather, especially when they aren’t enclosed in a water heater shed or sheltered space like a garage. It’s important to insulate water heaters to help with their efficiency, reducing the wait for hot water and conserving energy to lower power bills. Neoprene foam is a common material for insulating electric water heaters, and fiberglass wrap secured by aluminum foil tape or wire is common for gas. Encourage your customers to call you to empty their tanks and insulate them, especially if their home will be unoccupied for any length of time during the cooler months. 

5. Noisy Water Heaters 

Water heaters can be loud, but there’s usually no cause for concern. However, if there is banging or loud noises that are out of the ordinary, customers may call you to see if there’s a problem. Noisy water heaters can happen year-round but are still a notable issue to look out for in winter. Typically, this sound is caused by sediment buildup inside the tank, which you can find more of during cold weather. Another indicator of this might be discolored water. You should flush the water heater and check all the parts to make sure everything is in working order.  

6. Faulty Parts 

Often, water heater issues are as simple as a malfunctioning part. Drops in temperature can cause your unit to work harder and wear down certain parts. For gas units, keep an eye on the pilot, thermocouple and the pilot control valve. For electric tanks, you may want to check the thermostat and heating elements. Any malfunctioning parts may need to be replaced. No one wants to be stuck with cold water due to a broken part in the wintertime.  

Get Winter Ready 

Reach out to your clients and give them a heads-up on water heater issues that can arise during the winter. Offer a water heater check-up so that they’re ready to provide hot water for their visiting family during the holiday season. RWC is here to help with a complete offering of hot water heater solutions.