Most homeowners are unaware that there of their failing water heater or if it is nearing the end of its serviceable life. We rarely consider looking at our water heater because it is “out of sight out of mind.” A failing water heater is no fun and can leave you up a creek if you ignore any of the tell-tale signs.

When was the last time you looked at your water heater? Or flushed and drained it? More often than not a failing water heater can be avoided and spotted before it’s too late. But if you leave it alone for too long you may be helping your water to fail earlier than normal.

Read below for how to read your water heater like a plumbing mind ninja!

Weird noises or sounds

If you have a failing water heater it will make abnormal or weird noises. Sometimes these noises and sounds can be consistent or irregular. Many failing water heaters begin to gurgle and make bubbling noises. Some of our customers have described popping noises. How can you better determine if these noises are normal or not? Simply go to your water heater before running a load of laundry with hot water or before taking a shower. Take note of any sounds. After your shower or laundry load, go listen to your water heater again and take note of any changes in the noises or sounds.

Why does your water heater do this? Because it is starting to “cook” the sediment and crud that usually sits at the bottom of the tank. Now that you have used enough hot water, that sediment is getting stirred up.
This is sediment and minerals usually from the lack of proper draining techniques and annual maintenance.

Pro tip: Your water heater needs maintenance consistently because it gets frequent use and is a major mechanical component in your home.

Murky or muddy water

This is another sign of a failing water heater. As your water heater ages, the metal tank begins to rust and will fluff off. This will get inside your water heater and eventually settle to the bottom of the tank. It is common to begin thinking of a water softener or treating the water with something, but this will often to unsatisfactory results.

Murky or muddy water is a sign that you need to drain and flush your water heater before assessing all that needs to be done. If you think you have a failing water heater, now is the time to hire a professional.

Ask for a water heater service which will usually include a flush and draining of the tank. This will certainly help to clear any sediment or minerals that have built up along the bottom of the tank. Ask for the opinion of your service technician working on your water heater. If your water heater is failing, he will be able to give you an assessment of the next steps needed and several options to consider when replacing your water heater.


This is the most important factor to take into consideration if you think you have a failing water heater. Most water heaters are designed to last around 10-15 years before they begin needing additional work. If your water heater is older than 15 years have a licensed professional come to give you an assessment of what shape your water heater is in. If it is beginning to fail or on its last leg, start saving for a new water heater.

There are many options available now designed for safety, longevity, and efficiency. In some instances, there may even be a tax credit available for the purchase and installation of a new water heater.

Costly Repairs

As a water heater ages and needs more parts to stay safe and not leak, repairs can quickly add up to more than what a new water heater would cost. Take an assessment of prior repairs or history. If you are unsure of what has been done before looking at the water heater for a service sticker. Call the last plumbing company that looked at it and see if you can find out why they were out there.
They may even be able to tell you how old your water heater is. If you are stuck with no hot water because you have a failing water heater, the plumbing professional can advise you are some viable options and the next steps moving forward. The age is important to take into account during this process because it may be so old that today repair is just the tip of the iceberg before other things begin failing.

Lack of Hot Water

A failing water heater will always have either insufficient hot water or the water will be lukewarm during normal use. A normal operating 40- or 50-gallon water heater will have no difficulty supplying 2-3 showers back-to-back.

“Hurry and take a quick shower so everyone else can get one too!” Does this sound familiar in your home? If so, then your water heater can be too full of sediment and minerals that it no longer delivers the full gallon capacity it was first built for. Or, there can be a potential fault in the gas valve.

The best way to test if the gas valve is delivering the hot water properly to your home is to test it with a thermometer. Simply use a cooking thermometer at the kitchen faucet. Visibly check that your water heater temperature valve is at the “normal” setting- this is where 120 degrees is set. If you are getting hotter than 120 degrees at your kitchen sink this is a failsafe sign of a failing water heater. Cooler than 120 degrees can also help diagnose a failing water heater but there may be a few other things causing that.

Leaks or Rust Around the Tank or Fittings

Water leaks are never a good sign. If you see a water leak call a professional immediately to come out and diagnose the issues with your failing water heater. By the way, Access Heating & Air Conditioning provides water heater service, repair, and replacement options.
Don’t throw in the towel just yet! Do some visual checks around the base of the tank and around the fittings that enter into the wall towards the top of the water heater.

The fittings that come out of the water heater are usually an alloy that can cause premature corrosion with the copper or brass fittings. This is where you’ll want to visually check for any signs of rust or corrosion.

PRO TIP: Utilize a camera or smartphone to take pictures of any water leaks. This can help expedite service with repairs or replacement.

Sometimes a water leak can go on for a long time before even notice. If it appears that your water heater has been leaking for some time, you will want to inspect the framing and floor right behind where the water heater is currently installed. If the damage is significant enough it may be time to call your homeowners insurance.

The pressure and temperature relief valve is also incredibly important to inspect and test for proper operation because this is the main safety mechanism to help the water heater not fail prematurely. If the hot water is getting too hot it will increase the temperature in the hot water tank and is designed to “trip” the temperature & safety device. Better known as a T&P valve. If this valve fails, the water heater no longer has a safety mechanism to avoid other types of failures.

In addition to the above tips to look at, take some other factors into account. The condition of your local water supply is really important. If your water is really hard or has a lot of minerals (from a well-delivery application) it can age a lot quicker.

Water softeners and water filtration systems can certainly help extend the life of the water heater. However, water softeners need to be built and customized to the specific needs of your home and family.

Also, if the number of people in your home is larger than 6, your water heater may fail at a quicker rate due to the higher usage over time. Routine maintenance will assist in your water heater lasting a longer time.

Often an outdated water heater is not even up to current building codes. Codes that prevent damage from happening in the event of a failing water heater.

Access Heating & Air Conditioning can take care of your failing water heater and assist you in getting the right solution for you and your home. If you are worried that your water heater is on its last leg drip, give us a call and we can diagnose your water heater.

We provide service, maintenance, and installation of all water heating systems.

Call the licensed Boise water heater experts today if you’re looking for a company you can trust and rely on.


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