No Hot Water: Tips for Gas and Electric Water Heaters

No Hot Water

Having no hot water can drastically affect your daily routine. Although several issues may contribute to a lack of hot water within your home, many of them can be fixed without the need for a professional plumber. If you decide to do the repairs yourself, consider that not all water heaters are created equal. 

In this article, we’ll troubleshoot electric and gas water heaters. Although they both produce hot water, they actually operate quite differently from one another. 

No Hot Water Tips

Tips for Gas and Electric Water Heaters

Tip #1: Wait

Excessive usage can drain all the hot water from your tank. If you find that you have no hot water, there's a good chance that your water heater just needs time to recover.

Before doing anything else simply wait for your water heater to reheat the water within the tank. If after a few hours you still have no hot water, you may have a more serious problem.

Tip #2: Consider the Size of Your Tank

If you are consistently running out of hot water, you may want to consider purchasing a larger tank. A family's household hot water demands change over time and your heater may no longer be able to meet your current needs.

Determine the tank size that best suits your household and budgetary needs. This is a good time to spend a little extra time researching your options. You may want to consider switching to a tankless model. You'll be able to take advantage of the energy efficiency and superior service life they are designed to deliver.​

In some cases, you may want to consider switching fuel sources. Many times this isn't possible or practical, but sometimes it makes sense. ​

Another option is to reduce the demand on your primary unit by installing a Point-of-Use water heater in a bathroom. These are relatively inexpensive units and they can easily solve the problem of a lukewarm or cold shower!​

Tips for Gas Water Heaters

Tip #1: Check the Gas

Having no hot water can sometimes be as easy as the gas supply to your water heater being unintentionally turned off.  

Check the power to your heater by following these steps:
  • Turn the gas control knob to PILOT.
  • At the bottom of your water heater, remove the cover where the pilot light and burner are located.
  • Visually check for a flame.
  • If you have a flame, your heater is supplied with gas. 
  • If you don't have a flame, move to Tip #2.

Tip #2: No Pilot Light

The pilot light may be out if you didn't see a flame. Keep in mind that many of the newer water heaters use a glow plug or a spark ignitor instead of a traditional pilot light. Frequently this information is printed on the side of the tank, but it will also be available in your owners manual. 

The following are instructions on how to light a pilot light:
  • Turn the knob on the regulator to OFF. 
  • Wait at least 5 minutes to allow the gas to disperse.
  • Turn the knob on the regulator to PILOT.
    • Self-ignite feature: If your water heater has this feature, hold down the ignition button for about 60 seconds. Then turn the regulator knob to ON.
    • Flame: If your water heater needs to be lit with a flame, use a long lighter or match. Direct the flame where the gas supply tube is located near the pilot burner while holding the knob down. Your pilot light should ignite.

If your pilot light fails to light or it will not stay lit, the problem may be the gas inlet valve. If this valve is closed your water heater will not receive gas.

Follow the gas line from the water heater to the wall and locate the valve handle. The handle should be parallel (inline) to the gas line. If the valve handle isn't parallel the valve is either closed or partially closed. After the valve is fully opened, you can reattempt to light the pilot. ​

If the pilot light remains unlit after checking the gas inlet valve, a defective thermocouple might be the cause. 

Tip #3: Check the Burner

A faulty burner within the water heater could leave you with no hot water. To check if the burner is working properly follow these steps:

  • Wait until the burner is OFF.
  • Set the thermostat to 120 degrees.
  • Open a hot water faucet.
  • Watch the burner to see if it ignites.
  • Burner Ignites: The problem is not the burner. Replace the cover and return the thermostat to its original setting.
  • Burner does not ignite: Allow the faucet to run hot water and increase the thermostat temperature. If the burner still does not ignite, contact a professional for repairs, your thermostat may not be functioning properly.

Tip #4: Gas Leak

​Mercaptan, a harmless chemical, is added to natural gas in order to make it easier to detect leaks. Natural gas, in its natural state, is both odorless and colorless, but with the addition of mercaptan, gas smells like sulfur or rotten eggs. Check out this resource regarding gas safety. 

If you suspect a gas leak you can use a gas leak detector solution or simply spray soapy water on the gas lines and fittings. Both methods will bubble if there is a leak. One thing to keep in mind is if your water heater is leaking enough gas that it's struggling to deliver hot water, there's a good chance you'll smell gas. 

If You Smell Gas

  • ​CLOSE the valve on the gas supply line leading to your water heater. 
  • Turn OFF the gas valve control on the regulator. These dials frequently need to be pushed down in order to turn them off. 
  • Use your best judgement if you should contact the gas utility company immediately. Particularly if the gas smell is strong.
  • Wait 5 minutes and if you still smell gas, you should contact the gas utility company. If you no longer smell gas, you could attempt to relight the pilot. But always use your best judgment. A gas leak isn't anything to play around with!

Tips for Electric Water Heaters

Tip #1: Tripped Breaker

Check your water heater, to see if any switches have been turned off inadvertently. Then check your circuit breaker panel. A tripped breaker will not be in the OFF position; rather, it will be out of alignment with the other breakers. Flip the tripped breaker OFF and then ON to reset.

Water heaters draw too much electricity to share circuits with other appliances. They demand their own dedicated circuit breaker on your electrical panel. If your water heater is not assigned a dedicated circuit, or after resetting the breaker it continues to trip, you should contact a qualified electrician. 

Tip #2: High-Temperature Cutoff Switch

If you find yourself in a situation with no hot water, the cause could be a tripped or defective high-temperature cutoff switch.

To reset the high-temperature cutoff switch, turn OFF the electricity to your heater. Open the top front panel and press the button inside (check your owner’s manual). You may hear a click when the button is pressed.

​If the switch reset, your water heater will have power once you turn the circuit breaker ON. 

If your heater still doesn’t have power, your high-temperature cutoff switch might need to be replaced, or you could have a defective thermostat. Both issues require the services of a qualified professional.

Tip #3: Water Inside the Panel

When you opened your front panel to check the high-temperature cutoff switch, there should not have been any moisture inside. If you found any water inside the compartment, there's a good chance that your tank has a leak.

A water heater tank cannot be repaired once they begin to leak and you'll need to purchase a new unit.

If you found the source of the water came from somewhere other than the tank itself you may be able to repair the leak. However, the thermostat will likely need to be replaced. When the thermostat came into contact with the water it most likely caused it to malfunction or short. ​

Tip #4: Heating Elements

Having no hot water during your shower could easily be caused by an issue with a heating element. Elements can burn out, dry-fire and break, or they can be coated with limescale and are no longer working efficiently. 

Replacing a heating element is relatively simple and inexpensive. However, you should consider if your water heater is worth the repair. Water heaters generally don't last longer than 10 years, and if your unit is rapidly approaching old age, this might be a good time to invest in a newer model and save on utility costs.

If you choose to replace your heating elements, be very careful that no power is reaching your water heater. It should be turned off at the circuit breaker and checked with a voltage tester to make sure that no electricity is reaching the unit.

Click HERE to read our article on how to change your heating elements. 

When Hot Water Demand Exceeds Supply

If you’ve followed this troubleshooting guide and determined that your heater works properly, but you still find you have times with no hot water, your water heater simply may not be able to keep up with the demand.

One solution to the problem is to purchase a larger water heater. However, if that's not in your budget or you want to wait until later, there are ways to manage your hot water usage.

 The following tips should help you keep the hot water flowing:

Tip #1: Know When to Stop

Knowing your limits can keep you in hot water. The average shower uses 2-gallons of water every minute.

If you have a 50-gallon tank, you might think you can enjoy a 25-minute​ shower, but in reality your tank will only be able to deliver 33-gallons of hot water! This is because as the tank draws hot water it receives cold water, and the incoming cold water dilutes the heated water within the tank.

Expect to draw approximately two-thirds of your tank's capacity of  hot water at any given time – regardless of your tank’s size. Therefore, a 50-gallon tank would allow you to take a 17 minute hot shower. 

Tip #2: Know Your Recovery Time

If your water heater drains entirely, you’ll have to wait for water to refill the tank, and then heat sufficiently. A 50-gallon tank takes approximately 20 minutes to refill, and could require another 20 minutes to heat the water.

Avoid using any hot water during the recovery process. When you use hot water, cold water will fill the tank and dilute the water that was heating. This only increases the amount of time necessary for the water to fully heat.