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In summer, everything just gets hotter.
Your car is hot to the touch and stifling inside. The pool, with its formerly cool and refreshing water, feels like a bathtub.
And sometimes, your water heater starts to overheat.
There could be a link between the hot weather outside and the hotter water inside (especially if you happen to have a solar hot water heater). Or it could just be overheating.
In either case, a quick fix is in order, both for your family’s safety and the sake of your summer energy bill!
Warning Signs: How to Know When Your Water Heater is Overheating
An overheating water heater can be especially difficult to diagnose in the summertime, when you will often naturally cut back on your use of hot water anyway. But if you look closely, you can still spot the warning signs.
The first sign that your water heater is starting to overheat is when the hot water is now scalding. If steam begins to appear, you should avoid touching it, even as a test.
Another common sign of a water heater that has begun to do its job a little too well is when your energy bill starts to creep upwards and you can’t figure out why.
Yet another sign is when your faucets begin to spit and sputter when turned on—this can indicate too-hot water is flowing through the pipes.
When your water heater shuts off altogether, this usually means the heating element has completely burned itself out and needs to be replaced.
Troubleshooting: Common Causes for an Overheating Water Heater
NOTE: For your and your family’s safety, unless you feel completely comfortable inspecting your water heater on your own, it can be a wise idea to have a professional service technician come out to take a look.
There are any number of possible reasons why your water heater has begun to overheat. These are some of the more common culprits you can look for:
The thermostat is like the water heater’s boss. The thermostat tells the water heater how hot to keep the water and then controls the on/off cycles to ensure the water stays at that temperature.
Sometimes the thermostat itself begins to malfunction. It may get stuck or the reset button may not work properly after a power outage. Sometimes the thermostat just gets old and worn out and begins to break down.
Possible fixes: When this happens, the water heater will heat the water until it becomes dangerously hot. In these cases, a thermostat replacement is usually in order.
Mineral sediment buildup
Unless your house has its own standalone water purification system installed (most homes do not), it is likely you are drawing in minerals along with the water from your city, county, or well.
These minerals have a tendency to collect along the bottom and sides of your water heater. Over time, they can build up to the point at which they cover or coat the water heater’s heating elements.
This means your water heater has to work ever harder and draw more and more energy to do its job. At some point, the heating elements may begin transferring excess heat to the water itself, which can result in your water feeling hotter.
Possible fixes: Once the water heating elements get hot enough to burn out completely, you will have to clean out the deposits and replace the heating elements to restore function to your water heater.
Stuck pressure relief valve
As its name implies, the pressure relief valve has one job to do: it relieves pressure from the steam that can build up inside the water heater. This valve is also the safety mechanism that is designed to keep your water heater from overheating.
If the valve gets stuck or breaks down, the steam will continue to build inside the water heater tank.
Possible fixes: If your hot water is accompanied by steam as it comes out of faucets and fixtures, or if you hear the telltale sign of boiling water when you stand next to your water heater, your valve may need a repair or a total replacement.
Save Money by Preventing Water Heater Overheating Issues
Summer can be a great to do this maintenance, since typically you won’t using your water heater as much.
Here are some tips for preventative maintenance on your hot water heater—these can potentially save you on both energy costs and maintenance/repair or replacement costs:
Insulate your hot water heater and pipes
In many cases, you can find pre-cut insulation sleeves that will fit your hot water heater and pipes. If your hot water heater feels warm when you touch the outside of it, you may need a higher R-value insulation type. You may also qualify for energy saving rebates—check with your province to find out.
Check thermostat function
You can use a cooking thermometer to check that the thermostat temperature reading is accurate.
Check the pressure relief valve function
Here, you want to be sure the handle moves freely. It should drip or emit free-flowing water when turned to the open position, and the water flow should cease completely in the closed position.
Check and clean the vents
If the vents get covered in dust or debris or are accidentally closed or blocked for any reason, this can be a fire hazard as well as an indoor safety hazard. Be sure the vents are double-walled, wide open, clear of obstacles, and free of dust or debris.