This usually happens unexpectedly. You discover that hot water turns into cold 10 minutes after you stepped into the shower. Probably, it was a bad idea to wash your hair today… So here you are standing with your shampooed hair, thinking about what could go wrong and how to wash your hair now. It comes to your mind that it isn’t the first time the hot water ends on you whether you wash dishes or hair. You used to blame it on your teenage daughter who supposedly used too much of hot water before you. But today you are the first one to take a shower…
As busy homeowners, we always desire a quick, simple fix. That could be possible, but in some cases there is more serious problem. There are all kinds of reasons why hot water at your home might be running out faster than normal: power supply problems, rusty pipes, a pilot light out, sediment build-up, a broken dip tube—and that’s not all of them!
Before you read further, consider the type of the water heater you have at your household, most importantly whether it uses a tank-type storage system or is tankless, because this is the major factor. Here are some of the reasons your hot water isn’t getting hot at your home:
- You’re overusing hot water. You sometimes forget that other domestic appliances use hot water as well. And you expect a certain amount of hot water from your water heater but it just can’t provide that much due to overuse of hot water by other appliances.
- The water heater tank size is too small for your family. Maybe your family has grown in recent years but you didn’t take it into consideration. And the water heater that used to be ok for two people, cannot supply enough hot water for four family members now.
- Sediment or minerals have built up in your water heater tank.
- Individual parts inside the hot water heater unit are damaged or worn.
- The heating element has burned out.
In this article we will look at the three most common culprits why you might be running out of hot water faster than usual. They are a faulty heating element, a broken dip tube and sediment build-up.
Faulty heating elements
Electric water heaters have 2 heating elements (upper and lower) to heat water in your tank. Since the coldest water is on the bottom of your tank, the lower heating element does most of the work.
If you are running out of hot water really fast, the most probable cause is the lower heating element burning out. Less likely, either of the thermostats could be defective, which could be keeping the lower element from turning on.
Contact a professional plumber to examine your heating elements. They will replace the heating element, if it is broken.
If the dip tube is a problem.
What’s a dip tube?
A dip tube is a long tube that connects to the cold water inlet of the water heater and stops about 8 inches above the bottom of the tank (pictured below).
The purpose of the dip tube is to push cold water that enters the water heater to the bottom of the tank, where the water is then heated by a gas burner or electric heating element (depending on whether you have a gas or electric water heater).
But, if your dip tube is damaged for some reason, the incoming cold water will mix with the heated water near the top, which means you’ll feel colder water a lot faster than usual.
Two main reasons why the dip tube malfunctions
- Regular wear and tear over time
The dip tubes in contemporary water heaters should serve for the lifecycle of the unit (8–12 years). However, some dip tubes also operate as a “sacrificial anode rod”, designed to attract all the corrosive elements in the water, ultimately protecting the water heater tank from corrosion. Because such dip tubes “sacrifice” themselves, they usually have a shorter lifecycle than the unit itself and will need to be replaced.
- It’s faulty
Some dip tubes are more prone to break down than others. Most water heaters that were manufactured between 1993–1997 have faulty dip tubes because during that period of time many manufacturers bought and installed tubes with lower quality polypropylene plastic.
If you have a tank-type storage water heater, over time the sediment can build up inside the tank. It happens due to many factors, some of them being hard water, overuse of the water heater capacities and low energy-efficient water heater. In this case it would be best to call a plumber, who would flush your water heater or offer other possible solutions depending on your specific situation.
In any case, water heater repair is a delicate task. It requires high levels of skill and expertise. Make a trivial mistake by undertaking a DIY project and it can easily turn into a costly disaster. The moment you face seemingly common plumbing problems, get in touch with Orange County Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning and schedule an appointment with one of our licensed professional plumbers to save you time and make sure repairs are done right. Do not worry, we take all the necessary precautions before coming to your home.