Have you ever gotten in the shower only to be greeted by water that feels like it’s come directly from the Arctic ocean? We have, and we know how inconvenient and totally day-ruining it can be. As it turns out, there could be several reasons why your house may be lacking hot water.
We’re going to go through the most common causes and let you know what to do when it happens. This way, you’ll be able to decide when it’s time to call a professional instead of wasting time and money.
Common Causes of Hot Water Loss
While we may not realize it, we use a lot of hot water. It’s just one of those things that we take for granted until it’s no longer available. If you’ve experienced hot water loss, it can be chalked up to one of many causes.
1. Frozen Pipes
If you live in a climate that experiences freezing temperatures, your pipes are at risk of freezing. Burst pipes due to freezing are an extremely common occurrence during the winter (1).
There are ways to avoid a burst pipe before the freezing gets to that point. Here are some simple preventative measures you can take if you’re concerned.
- Invest in pipe insulation: You can typically find it for just 50 cents per foot.
- Keep your garage doors closed: If you have pipes running through your uninsulated garage, keeping doors closed will prevent the cold from seeping in.
- Open your cabinets: When cabinets are closed, the heat from your vents can’t get to the pipes. By leaving the doors open, you’re allowing your main heat source to help keep the pipes running.
- Let your cold water drip: This seems like it’ll cost you a fortune but it’ll only tack on a few dollars to your bill at most. Those few dollars are nothing compared to what you’d spend repairing a burst pipe.
- Leave the thermostat alone: Keep your thermostat constantly at your regular day time temperature. This also means leaving your heat on while you aren’t home.
What happens if your pipes do end up freezing? How can you tell if a pipe is frozen? It won’t always be obvious because sometimes it’s your wall pipes that fall victim to the weather.
A handy indicator that you have frozen pipes is if you turn your faucet on and little to no water trickles out. Be careful doing this, though. If you have a burst pipe, leaving the water on can cause flooding in your home.
If you’ve determined the pipe is only frozen and there isn’t a burst anywhere, here’s what you can do.
- Turn your faucet on: Even cold water can help melt the ice blocking water flow.
- Apply heat to the frozen pipe section: You can use a heating pad, heater, or blow dryer to do this. Some people even wrap towels soaked in hot water around the pipes.
- Keep the heat on until full water flow is restored: This will ensure you’ve broken up the entirety of the ice blockage.
If you cannot locate the frozen pipe or thaw the pipe fully, call a licensed plumber.
2. Water Usage Levels
Whether you have a traditional tank or a demand-type/tankless water heater, you should know your water usage levels.
There’s only so much you can do before your hot water tank runs out of hot water. If it seems like you never have enough hot water or your hot water lasts five minutes, it’s possible you’re using too much.
In the case of demand-type/tankless water heaters, the size may not be adequate. For instance, one small heater will probably only work for a home of one. If you don’t live alone, it’s likely that someone will end up taking a cold shower.
The problem can also come from using too many appliances at once. If you’re running your dishwasher, washing machine, and shower at the same time, your water heater will need to work extra hard.
The average person uses between 8 and 100 gallons of water per day (2). The most usage comes from flushing the toilet. This is followed closely by taking showers or baths. If you find this is your issue, consider reducing your shower time.
3. Age of Unit
Another common issue is that your water heating unit is getting old. Like any appliance, the older water heaters get, the less efficient they become. Most water heaters tend to last around 10 years, but how can you tell if it’s nearing its end?
Newer models will have their age clearly printed on the equipment. If the age isn’t listed or visible, you’ll need the manufacturer name and the serial number of your unit. These should be clearly printed on the label stuck on the equipment.
Manufacturers all have different date listing formats. Usually, they just use the first four digits of the serial number or the first two letters depending on the format.
4. Poor Maintenance
A poorly maintained water heater can result in a need to replace the unit altogether. So, here are the best ways to maintain your water heater (3).
- Flush it: out twice a year.
- Inspect it: Check for leaks twice a year.
- Keep your faucets maintained: Take care of any leaks that come your way. Dual handle faucets are also recommended because they’re more efficient.
- Valve check: Raise and lower TP valve lever once a year.
- Air intake: If you have a gas water heater, clean the air intake regularly.
- Deterioration: Look for any damaged or broken pieces.
- Water pressure: Test your water pressure regularly.
- Read the manual: The manual will give you any additional maintenance suggestions made by the company.
5. Unit Size Is too Small
There may also be a chance that your water heater simply isn’t big enough to power your home. In this case, you’ll need to replace it or buy additional ones to keep up with your usage.
If this is the issue, you have a few options. Whether you choose to go tankless, solar-powered, or traditional tank, there are different ways to resize each system (4).
Sizing a Tankless Water Heater
When determining the size needed for tankless water heaters, you’ll first need to decide what its use will be. Do you want one to power the entire house or just one room? If you aren’t sure how to answer that, ask yourself this:
- How many appliances will be using hot water at the same time? Once you determine this, figure out their flow rate in gallons per minute. The flow rate will tell you what size water heater you’ll need.
Some tankless water heaters can be temperature controlled via thermostat as well.
Sizing a Solar Water Heater
The right size solar water heater should meet 90-100 percent of your household needs during the summer time. To find the one, you’ll need to determine a few things:
- Collector area: A general guideline for this is to account 20 square feet for the first two family members. For each additional person, you just tack on an extra eight square feet if you live in the U.S. Sunbelt Area. Add 12-14 if you live in the Northern U.S.
- Storage volume: 50-60 gallon tanks are usually good for between one and three people. 80 gallons is best for 3-4 people and a bigger tank again for larger families.
- Additional calculations: You’ll also need to evaluate the area’s solar resource and determine the proper orientation and tilt of the solar collector.
Sizing a Traditional Tank
If you’re just going with a traditional tank, you’ll need to know its first-hour rating. The first-hour rating is the number of gallons of hot water it can supply per hour. You’ll want to buy a size that can meet or is within one to two gallons of your peak hot water usage.
To determine your peak water usage, figure out what time of day you use the most hot water in your home. The number of people living with you will also factor into this. Compare it to the following chart.
|Activity||Average usage in gallons||Times used in 1 hour||= Gallons used per hour|
|Showers and baths||10|
|Hand washing and food prep||4|
Once you’ve filled that out, add up the total number of gallons used per hour and you’ll have your answer.
6. Damaged Parts
The most obvious reason for a lack of hot water is damaged parts or burnt out heating elements. When parts aren’t working, the heater isn’t going to be able to do its job correctly.
The unit’s dip tube is one of the most common pieces to get worn down over time. This is because it spends a majority of its time dispersed in water. The dip tube is what runs cold water down to the bottom of the system.
Damaged thermostats can also contribute to no hot water. When the thermostat isn’t working properly, it can confuse hot water with cold. Thus, giving you cold water rather than hot.
You should also be on the alert for the smell of rotten eggs. If you smell this, it could be the magnesium rod that’s damaged (5).
When to Call a Professional
A professional isn’t always needed if you’re experiencing a lack of hot water. We suggest trying to limit your hot water usage first to see if it’s possible you were just using too much.
If you found that it helped but you aren’t ready to give up your long showers, consider hiring a professional. They’ll be able to install a second or bigger water heater to keep up.
If your water heater is making loud noises or you smell gas, you should call a professional plumber to look. These signs can indicate bigger issues than an amateur should try handling.
No More Arctic Waters
Having no hot water in your house can happen for any number of reasons. While some are minor, like too much usage, there are times when a professional is necessary. As much as we like saving money where we can, leaks and broken hardware aren’t things to mess around with.
Have you dealt with a situation like this before? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments.