Unless you’re an especially on-top-of-things Salt Lake City homeowner, you probably don’t think much about your water heater—until that fateful winter morning when you’re treated to a freezing cold shower. Fortunately, water heaters rarely fail suddenly; typically, they’ll offer up some advanced notice of their coming demise.
Learn to recognize these signs of a cranky water heater:
Sign #1 Old age.
If your water heater is more than 10 years old, there’s a good chance it needs attention. Some heaters may last up to 15 years, but that’s assuming they’ve received ongoing preventive maintenance.
To determine the age of your unit, look at the first four digits of the serial number. Usually, those numbers indicate the month and year it was manufactured (e.g., 0604 is June 2004). When in doubt, look up the serial number on the manufacturer’s website.
Sign #2 Noise.
Water heaters collect mineral deposits on the heating element and sediment at the bottom of the tank. As the water warms up, you may hear popping, crackling, or rumbling. These noises are a good indication that your water heater is working too hard and/or the sediment is causing damage to the inside of your tank.
Tip: It’s helpful to flush your water heater tank at least yearly to prevent sediment build-up.
Sign #3 No hot water.
Clearly, if your water heater’s not, well, heating water, something’s wrong. If you have a gas unit, you may simply need to relight the pilot. If it’s electric, check the circuit breaker. But if you have power or fuel and it’s still not functioning properly, the unit may have a worn heating element, faulty thermostat, or sediment build-up.
Tip: If it’s been particularly cold outside, your water heater may simply be having trouble keeping up. Try insulating your pipes and tank.
Sign #4 Reddish-brown water.
If your water starts to look a bit rusty, there are two possibilities: The inside of your water heater is rusted or your pipes are corroded. Either way, you’ll need some help from a [city identifier] plumber to determine the cause and make necessary repairs or replacements.
Tip: Water heaters have a magnesium or aluminum rod at the top, called an anode, that protects the inside of the unit from rust. You should inspect the anode at least annually, and replace it if it appears corroded.
Sign #5 Leaks.
If you find water around your unit, first check for leaks around the fittings, connections, and temperature-pressure-relief (TPR) valve. If one of those isn’t the culprit, the tank itself may have developed a crack.
Tip: The TPR valve prevents your water heater from exploding if it over-pressurizes. Test it at least annually to make sure it’s in good working condition.
Sign #6 Odd smell or taste.
If your water begins to smell or taste metallic, the coating on the inside of your tank may be flaking off.
Tip: If your home is new, your water may have a metallic taste simply because the pipes are new. Still, it’s wise to have your water tested anytime it tastes or smells “off.”