When your water heater breaks down, you may not be able to get hot water, or any water at all. If you want to avoid being left high and dry due to a malfunctioning heater, it's important to know how you can diagnose sudden problems quickly.
Water Is Not Heated At All
First, you'll need to check that your electric heater's circuit breaker is functioning like it should be, and that it is on. If it's off, turn it on and give your heater an hour to warm up before trying to draw hot water again. You should also check to make sure the fuse isn't blown if your heater is connected to one. If it is, replace it and try turning your heater on again.
If your heater is receiving power but you can't get any hot water, turn it back off and shut off the circuit breaker. Give it an hour or so to cool down, and then carefully remove the heating elements and test them with a multimeter. Test the bottom one first, as it works harder than the one up top. If it shows 0 ohms of resistance, then you know that your element has failed and no longer conducts electricity.
If both elements conduct electricity, you'll need to have an expert come and examine your heater closely. Likely the problem is not something easy to diagnose or fix on your own.
"Hot" Water Is Only Lukewarm
One of the most common causes of lukewarm water is running your heater too hard. The average electric heater can only heat about 75% of its water capacity. If you suspect you may be overworking your heater, try monitoring your hot water usage. You may find that you need to either cut your hot water consumption or upgrade your heater to meet your needs.
If your consumption is below 75% of the heater's capacity at all times, then you should follow the above mentioned procedure for testing your machine's heating elements. If one element fails, warm or lukewarm water is often the result.
Improperly heated water can also be a result of a crossed plumbing connection somewhere in your home. If you only have trouble getting hot water through one fixture or in one room, you almost certainly have a crossed connection. Shut off the water line to your heater and turn the hot water handle of the faucet in the affected area. If water comes out, you'll need to call a plumber to locate the crossed lines.
Rotten Egg Smell Comes From Hot Water
When your hot water begins to stink terribly like rotten eggs, it's due to a bacteria bloom in your water heater. The first step is to immediately switch off your home's water and manually flush your heater to remove the majority of the affected water.
Next, you'll need one pint of peroxide at a 3% solution for every 40 gallons of water your tank holds. Pour this into the tank and fill it up the rest of the way with water. You should also pour peroxide in your pipelines as well. Let your home's plumbing sit for around 2 hours to kill off any remaining bacteria. Once it's done sitting, there is no need to flush the system: simply use your water as normal.
Parts of your heater may be damaged and need professional attention. If the smell returns or persists despite cleaning, you should avoid drinking the tap water and contact a plumber to find out whether or not heater or boiler repairs can be done, or if they need replacing entirely.
Don't let a broken water heater put you in a tight spot. Know how to diagnose problems when they arise and you'll be drinking hot cocoa and taking luxurious baths again in no time.