It always seems to happen at the worst possible time. You’re in the midst of a winter storm; the wind is howling and the roads are slick to impassable. You’re trying to bundle up and keep warm. Someone tries to run a bath—and there is no hot water. Your water heater has failed. Even if you find a plumber willing to risk life and limb to come to you in the storm, it could be hours before he can get to you. What can you do in the meantime?
Check the Power Supply First
In many cases, the problem isn’t the water heater itself. Storms have a way of affecting the power supply, and even if you’re not experiencing a power outage or loss of heat, something may have stopped power from coming to the water heater. So let’s start there.
For electric water heaters:
Check the unit to see if it has power (often there’s an indicator light that shows it has electricity). If there’s no power, take the following steps in order:
- If your unit has a reset button, try resetting the unit.
- Check your circuit breaker box to see whether the breaker to the water heater has been activated. If so, reset it.
- If neither of the above solves the problem, check the wiring for signs of a short circuit.
For gas-powered water heaters:
Water heaters that run on natural gas can be trickier to troubleshoot because gas leaks can be dangerous. If you feel confident enough, carefully check the following:
- Check the pilot light. The pilot light may simply need to be relit.
- Check to see whether the gas supply has been turned off. If not, something externally may have disrupted your gas supply. Turn off the gas valveso you don’t have raw gas flooding the room when the gas comes back on.
- IMPORTANT: If you smell a strong natural gas smell (like rotten eggs), do NOT try to light the pilot light as you could cause an explosion. Turn off the gas (if possible), vacate the premises and call 911.
If You Can’t Restart the Water Heater
If there appears to be nothing wrong with the power supply but you still have no hot water, the water heater itself has likely experienced a failure. Take the following steps until it’s feasible for the plumber to come out:
- If you see signs of a water leak around the heater, turn off the water supply. (The last thing you need is a flood on top of everything else.)
- If you have power elsewhere in the house, boil water on the stove for your hot water needs until the storm passes.
Losing hot water is an inconvenience at any time, but even more so during a winter storm. Even so, don’t panic. If the troubleshooting steps above don’t help solve the problem, you’ll be fine as long as there are no signs of water or gas leaks. Stay calm, boil some water if you need to, and call the plumber as soon as it’s convenient.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Palady, RMP is the President and co-owner of Budget Rooter Plumbing & Drain Cleaning. This family owned plumbing company has been serving their customers for more than 25 years, and makes customer service and quality of work their priority.
Jeff started working in the field at the age of fifteen under the tutelage of his father, who owned a Philadelphia-based plumbing and drain cleaning company. At the age of eighteen, Jeff and his mother decided to open their own shop in their home state of Delaware. For the first few years, Jeff was Budget Rooter’s only field technician, and was often out on calls until late at night while going to school to earn his Master’s License. As Budget Rooter grew, Jeff trained new technicians, researched and purchased the best equipment, and today he manages the operations of the company.
Known for being dedicated to Budget Rooter, Jeff is one of the first to arrive in the morning and is usually the last to leave. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys fishing, modifying his truck, and spending time with his wife and two sons.