Have you noticed that something is off with the water in your house? Did it start slowly, almost intermittently at first?
Perhaps some sputtering occurred every now and then when first turning on the tap, almost as if water had gotten trapped inside your pipes.
Maybe everything is fine as long as you use cold water but as soon as you need it there’s a hot water smell that causes you to forgo your morning shower.
Peculiar hot water smell is a pretty major sign that something is not right with your indoor plumbing system, and the culprit is most likely your hot water heater.
Whether it smells like rotten eggs, rust, or something altogether unidentifiable, your water’s odor is a clear indication of the health of the heating system.
Read on to learn about six signs that your hot water heater needs to be inspected, and potentially replaced.
1. Discoloration in the Water
If the water coming out of your faucet either takes a moment to turn clear, or never turns clear at all, there may be a problem with your water heater.
Water color can provide a major window into what’s going on with your plumbing.
For instance, the most common type of water discoloration is a yellowish-brown or a red coloration. This almost definitely means that there is rust in the water.
Depending on the severity of the rust-level and length of time exposed to it, this doesn’t have to be cause for immediate alarm. It’s best not to drink this water, but the worst that it will do is potentially stain dishes and clothing.
Pay attention to the smell when you examine the color. If the hot water smell is like rotten eggs, then rust is not the culprit. More on that soon.
It’s best not to drink this water, but the worst it will do is potentially stain dishes and clothing.
Blue, green, and black water, on the other hand, has the ability to be very dangerous; especially if it’s used as drinking water.
Blue and green water usually point to eroding copper piping. This can be extremely toxic, even just upon repeated skin contact.
Black-tinted water can mean the presence of black mold in your plumbing system, which often indicates the presence of black mold in your home at large.
This has the potential to be very dangerous and an emergency plumbing service ought to be contacted as soon as possible.
2. Peculiar Hot Water Smell
Next to color, hot water smell is the strongest indicator of problems with your water heater.
And much like color, the type of hot water smell can indicate the issue that’s occurring.
For instance, if there is a strong rust smell when the spigot is turned to hot, this is a clear indication. you guessed it, there is some kind of rust build-up somewhere in your plumbing system – often in the water heater itself.
Often with age, the hot water heater will begin to break down. This is not an indication of a poorly constructed water heater, it is a natural occurrence that happens over time.
As the water heater gets used its interior begins to break down, often due to rusting, and results in sediment that (when paired with heat) produces a rusty hot water smell.
An unusual hot water smell can be completely benign. However, it sometimes ought to be treated like a flashing “danger” sign. This is particularly true of the rotten egg hot water smell.
Usually associated with sulfur (which is why firework shows often leave the smell of eggs in the air), sulfur itself is not necessarily harmful.
It has a variety of causes, including the breakdown of common entities found in water sources like sulfur-containing minerals and rock-beds, as well as decaying organic matter.
At this stage, the water is generally harmless. Sulfur acts as a natural deterrent because it smells and tastes so bad that it prevents people from drinking it.
However, a faulty water heater creates what’s called hydrogen sulfide gas by heating up the sulfur particles in the water. This is when things start to get dangerous. Prolonged exposure may cause nausea, tearing of the eyes, headaches,” and in higher doses “Possible fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, irritability, poor memory, and dizziness
To summarize, it is natural for water to contain sulfur. But if you are experiencing a sulfuric hot water smell, that is a sign that your hot-water heater can be creating hydrogen sulfide gas, which is no laughing matter.
3. Strange Sounds from the Pipes
The first two warning signs discuss the notion of a build-up of sediment. An easy way for early detection of this problem is the presence of any kind of abnormal noises.
Noisy pipes kind of come with the territory as houses age. However, loud ticks and pops should always be investigated, particularly if they’re coming from the actual hot water heater itself and not just the pipes.
This is often caused by the interaction between the heating mechanism and any kind of build-up. Common types of build-up include the aforementioned rust and sulfur-based compounds as well as calcium and lime residue.
Additionally, this is often a warning sign of further problems to come. Unusual sounds paired with a rotten-egg hot water smell indicate that the problem with your water heater will likely get worse. Here’s how:
As the heater attempts to heat the water, the mineral deposits and build-up actually act as a sort of insulation for the water, which causes the hot water heater to have to work even harder to heat the water.
This causes the water heater to overheat, which causes further damage. As this process continues and the hot water heater continuously overheats it causes metal fatigue.
The ticking and popping sounds that can be heard throughout the house are very likely due to this process.
Finally, (and leading to our next warning sign), this can cause the metal to weaken so much that the water heater begins to leak, or outright burst.
4. Water Build-Up Around the Heater
If you have noticed any kind of water build-up around your hot water heater, it is likely time to call for an inspection. That being said, it’s worth going into the reasons why there may be water there in the first place.
Unless the entire space containing heater is flooded (or if you’re using a tankless heater), it is most likely that your hot water heater has sustained minor fractures.
This is potentially due to stress, often from the tank’s age, and is sometimes due to the overheating problem explained above.
There is also a natural scientific explanation for leakage. As metal is heated, it expands. This means that any kind of crack or fissure, no matter how small, has the ability to become a leak that is sizable enough to become a leak large enough for water to escape from while the tank is hot.
Upon cooling, any cracks will most likely become unidentifiable, as the metal has contracted. This is something to keep in mind if a professional is coming to assess the damage to the hot water heater.
It should be noted that cracks are a worst-case scenario. Often when there are leaks, it is simply because a fitting has come loose between two pipes. Consider examining the different fittings and connections
Consider examining the different fittings and connections as well as the overflow pipe to be certain that nothing is loose. Once certain of that, it’s most likely the problem lies with the hot water heater itself.
At this point, it is probably time to contact a professional. Be sure to tell them of any other issues beyond leaking, like discoloration or an unpleasant hot water smell.
5. Hot Water Lasts for Less and Less Time
Large families or people with roommates know the drill when it comes to shower time: The early bird catches the hot water. At least this is the case with a malfunctioning hot water heater.
While the size of a home’s hot water heater tank certainly impacts how many showers it takes before there is no longer any hot water, a sufficient supply of heated showers ought to be relatively easy to achieve.
Popular water heaters traditionally use a tank that spans anywhere from thirty to fifty gallons in size. Electricity or gas is used to heat the water, which is then piped to the various output devices in your home.
A fifty-gallon tank ought to be enough for a large family to shower with hot water. The problem, though, goes back to much of what has already been discussed: sediment.
Much like strange hot water smell, a hot water heater’s steadily declining ability to heat water sufficiently has to do with a build-up of sediment in the tank.
Effectively creating a layer of insulation, sediment gathers at the bottom of the tank and prevents the heat source from reaching the water. As discussed, this causes the heater to overwork itself, which results in leaks.
Other factors to keep in mind are that, if a steady use of the heater creates sediment build-up, the more the hot water heater is used the more likely it is to give out on a shorter timeframe.
With that in mind, you may consider washing dishes with warm instead of scalding hot water if replacing a heater isn’t a possibility right now.
That being said, the ultimate goal is to have a hot water heater that allows for an entire family to take a hot shower and the dishes to be cleaned with hot water.
These problems are all very clearly related to each other and often have no remedy besides replacement.
6. Your Hot Water Heater Is Older Than You
Most water heaters are designed to last between 10-15 years. As noted, this lifespan varies based on the frequency of use.
Like any appliance, though, it’s important to keep in mind that routine maintenance and proper care can prolong its life. There are packages companies offer to assist with maintenance and inspection.
If moving into a new home, you may consider asking the previous owners how old the water heater is.
If you missed the opportunity to do that, no problem. There are other ways to identify the age of your heater.
All water heaters have what’s called a “rating plate” on the back. This list of information includes mechanical data that will be more helpful to a repair person than to you and some info that will be very helpful indeed.
The make and model, for example, can help to determine the age of the heater. Additionally, the rating plate will have the device’s serial number listed.
Using these pieces of information and the website linked to above, determining the age of your hot water heater is a relatively straightforward process.
Even if none of the above warning signs have presented themselves, if you determine that your hot water heater is more than fifteen years old it may be time to consider getting a new one.
At the very least, reach out for some advice from a pro.
Time to Call a Professional
If at least three of the above issues are true about your water, it’s probably time to call a professional.
If your hot water heater has created a sustained sulfuric hot water smell, the urgency of contacting a professional cannot be overstated.
One of the main reasons to bring in a professional (despite whatever it is that has been engrained into the DNA of the human man that causes him to think he can fix any and all plumbing issues) is it’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint the source of the problem.
It’s very possible, especially in the case of a nasty hot water smell, that the water heater is to blame and it needs replacing.
It’s also possible that it’s the piping. Now, most homes have a surprisingly large network of pipes, and it’s possible that patches of the insides of some of the pipes are causing the problem. Something like this can’t be identified from the outside.
The third possibility is that there’s something wrong with the water source itself. Studies show that the country draws its water from vastly different supplies.
It takes a professional to identify if the problem lies with the water source itself and, if so, whether that water source is a well, a cistern, a pond, or a public supplier.
So rather than taking on what can amount to a significant health risk by yourself, why not work with a professional to remedy a problem that requires a professional solution?
Get out from under the sink and contact a professional today.