6 hot water emergencies - and how to deal with them

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The first and most important rule you should obey when your hot water system is damaged is to never attempt to repair it unless you are qualified to do so!

A quick reminder, if it's needed: most hot water systems are either connected to gas mains or electricity mains, and most of them contain large volumes of scalding hot water. Always contact a qualified water heating technician to do your repairs, and consult your owner’s manual for detailed troubleshooting and maintenance advice. Nobody wants to be electrocuted, or to have the contents of their tank flood out and cause water damage to their home.

Having said that, there are several general steps you can take to make sure your system is set up to run properly, and to reduce the risk of further damage.

 

Symptom:

 

The hot water tank is leaking

If your tank is leaking, this is not something you can fix yourself – but you can take steps to shut down the hot water system until a technician arrives.

Turn off gas, water and electricity 
If you have a gas system, turn off the gas cock and the water cock. If you have an electric hot water system, make sure you turn off the electricity at the switchboard first.

For a gas system, start by turning off the gas. A gas cock (a small tap) should be located close by - turn it to shut it off. Check carefully to see where the water is coming from. If it is coming from the T&P valve (temperature and pressure valve), see below. Turn off the water cock to reduce the flow, then call a licensed repairer.

If you have an electric system, switch off the power at your house’s switchboard before you do anything else, and then follow the other steps above.

 

Water is running from the tap, but I have no hot water

If you have a gas system, check other gas appliances in the house (e.g. a gas heater or cooktop) to see if they have a gas supply. If there is no gas, contact your gas supplier or change the LPG bottle.

Check your hot water system to see if the pilot light is on. If it is not, follow the instructions on the water heater or in the hot water system’s instruction manual to relight it. If you still can’t see any obvious reason why there is no hot water, contact a hot water technician.

If you have an electric system, check to see if the circuit breaker has been tripped. Replace the fuse or reset the circuit breaker if required. Note the pace that electricity is being used on your electricity meter; if there is an increase in pace, the water should be heating again. Leave the water heater on for about an hour, and then test the temperature of the water by turning on the closest hot water outlet to the water heater. If there has been no obvious rise in temperature, contact a technician.

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No water at all is coming from the hot tap

First, check other hot taps to see if the problem is isolated to a single tap or to your hot water in general. Then check to see if your cold water is working.

If it’s only hot water that isn’t coming out, check to see if your tank is leaking or if your pipes are damaged. If your tank is leaking, follow the instructions provided above, otherwise contact a hot water repair technician.

If you don’t have hot or cold water, check that the mains supply tap to your house is on. If it is and there is still no water, contact your water supplier. If you live in a cold area, your pipes may be frozen.

 

Water is flowing from the outlet valve

It’s normal for some water to be expelled from time to time from the T&P valve, but the flow should not be constant, and nor should it expel water frequently. There is a lever on the valve which allows it to flush – lift the lever 3-4 times to clear any obstacles. If this does not resolve the problem, follow the steps above for a leaking tank.

 

I have a broken solar collector

This issue may arise whether you are using evacuated tubes or flat panels for your solar hot water system. It is far more costly if it happens to a flat panel collector, because this usually involves the replacement of the entire panel. Evacuated tubes, on the other hand, can be individually replaced. Either way, you will need to contact your solar hot water system supplier. An evacuated tube collector can still function with several broken tubes, but this affects its capacity greatly so you should replace them as soon as possible when they do break.

 

Strange noises coming from the tank

This could be caused by a number of things, but is often the result of sediment build up, which can sometimes be fixed by flushing the tank. Typically, this is a job for a qualified technician, but you can check the owner’s manual for your hot water system to see if any safe instructions are provided. If not, call a qualified hot water technician.

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