Troubleshooting Gas And Electric Water Heaters Without A Technician

You want everything in your home to work perfectly. So when you hop in the shower ahead of a busy day of work, you expect the water to come out at a comfortable temperature. But what happens if the water is too cold—and refuses to heat up? 

At Frontdoor®, we aim to provide every homeowner with the tools, knowledge, and resources to tackle problems on their own. 

In the situation we described above, you probably have a faulty water heater—which is something you can likely resolve without calling on a local service technician.

1. Troubleshooting Your Electric Water Heater

If you have an electric water heater, follow these steps:

Step 1: Check the circuit breaker. 

A tripped circuit will prevent power from reaching your water heater. If the breaker was tripped, turn it back on. Your electric water heater should start working again! 

If that doesn’t work, head to step two. 

Step 2: Turn off the breaker to the water heater. 

If you didn’t trip the breaker, you have a different problem with the water heater. 

Turn off the breaker to the water heater so you can safely work on the appliance. 

Step 3: Check the limit switch. 

Your limit switch is critical in helping your water heater reach an appropriate temperature. 

Remove the upper heating element’s access panel, then remove the plastic safety guard and insulation. Note: If you find fiberglass insulation inside, wear safety goggles and gloves before removing it. 

Next, look for the high-temperature cut-off reset button, which should be a red button located right above the upper thermostat. Press the button. 

Afterward, work backward: Replace the insulation, then the safety guard, and then the access panel. Finally, flip the breaker! 

If your water heater still doesn’t heat up, move on to step four:

Step 4: Replace the heating elements. 

At this point, one or more of your heating elements likely need to be replaced. 

You can use our app to video chat with an expert.

2. Troubleshooting Your Gas Water Heater

In most cases when a gas water heater stops working, the pilot light has gone out. 

Checking the Pilot Light

Here’s how to check the pilot light in your gas water heater: Remove the access panel at the bottom of your water heater. Once this is removed, you should find a viewing window where the pilot light is housed. It may be located close to the floor, so you might need to lie down to view the window properly. If the pilot light is off, you need to turn it on. 

Turning the Pilot Light On Again

Most gas water heaters have instructions printed on the side explaining how to turn your pilot light back on, But here’s a general summary of how to do it:

  1. Turn the gas knob to “pilot.”
  2. Press the knob and hold it down. Note: If you have a second knob just for the pilot light, use that one instead. 
  3. Press the igniter button. This should be done while holding the gas button. Note: Pressing the igniter button should produce a spark that ignites the gas. If necessary, watch through the viewing window so you can see when the pilot light comes on. 
  4. Hold the gas knob down for a full minute. This is a critical step, as it heats the thermocouple and allows it to produce electricity to operate the valve.
  5. Release the gas knob and pilot switch. 
  6. Look through the viewing window to confirm the pilot light is lit. 

Troubleshooting Your Pilot Light

It’s possible that your pilot light won’t turn on with your first try. Don’t fret!

First, repeat the process. Once it stays lit, turn the gas knob to your desired temperature. 

If the pilot light refuses to stay lit, there could be debris in the orifice. Here’s how to clean it:

  1. Turn the gas knob to “off.” 
  2. Remove the bracket that holds the pilot orifice and thermocouple tubes. 
  3. Clean with a stiff wire brush. 
  4. Replace the bracket. 
  5. Try lighting the pilot light again. 

If you pilot light still won’t light, there is an extra step to take:

  1. Make sure the gas valve on the main gas supply line into your home is open. 

If these steps fail, it’s time to call on a technician, as you might need a new thermocouple or gas control valve, or your gas company, as you may have low gas pressure. 

Find Expert Support for Water Heaters And More

If you still need help with your water heater, download the Frontdoor App to talk to an expert in real-time! 

Download our app today!

To dig into more topics, explore the rest of our How-to Tips for time-saving home repair and maintenance checklists.

Frontdoor assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.