It’s so uncomfortable to go without a functioning hot water heater in the winter. What do you do if your hot water heater isn’t working? Often, the solution is as simple as resetting the system. Choose one of the following methods for fixing your problem, depending on the type of water heater (gas, electric, or even tankless).
How to Reset an Electric Water Heater
What happened to create the issue is the switch was tripped, and it just needs to be reset. If you do not know how to reset a water heater, it’s pretty easy to do. All it requires is a little know-how, no skill necessary. The first place to look is the reset button!
Where Is the Water Heater Reset Button?
Do you know where your water heater is (attic, garage, basement)? Once you’ve found the water heater, the reset button is typically located on the upper thermostat. If it’s not there, it’s likely somewhere on the lower part of the water heater. Some units have a button in each location. If you need further direction, try this helpful Homeowner Repair video.
Reset Button on Water Heater Doesn’t Click
What do you do if the water heater reset button doesn’t reset? You might have a faulty thermostat. If the hot water heater keeps tripping the reset button, the cause may be the high limit switch. What’s happening is that the thermostat is not properly managing the heat.
The high limit switch trips when the faulty thermostat allows the temperature to get to a dangerous level. You don’t want your kid to wash his/her hands with boiling water, so this feature is a must. The switch will keep getting tripped until you get a new thermostat.
It’s also possible that you have a grounded element causing the water to overheat. Learn how to test a water heater element.
Other Causes of the Issue
Although a bad thermostat is the most common cause, it’s not the only one. It’s possible that your wiring is loose or compromised in some way. You also might have a short in one or both of the heating elements. Last but not least likely, you may just be having electrical problems with the home itself, and the problem isn’t specific to the water heater.
How to Reset a Gas Water Heater
Relight water heater pilot, and with newer models, there is a thermal switch to reset.
How Long for Hot Water Heater to Heat After Reset?
Once you’ve reset the system, you have to wait for hot water (unless you have an on-demand water heater), but for how long? It depends on the size of the tank, but with any unit, you should be able to get in a hot shower with gas water heaters within 30-40 minutes and with electric tanks, about 60-90 minutes.
How to Reset Tankless Water Heater
On-demand solutions also have thermal safety reset features too. If you need to reset your tankless water heater, it’s probably a safe bet that you’ll have to remove the cover to access it. Each manufacturer is going to have different instructions, so we recommend that you dust off your owner’s manual to address this problem.
Turn to the Plumbing Experts
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Understanding Why Your Water Heater Stopped Working
Many water heaters have a high-limit switch or reset button. This button is designed to trip when your water heater malfunctions, protecting your household from being burned by scalding water. This button may occasionally trip—usually during a power surge or thunderstorm, but sometimes at random. In these cases, you can reset it on your own.
However, a water heater that trips constantly may have more serious reasons for doing so. If your water heater fails weekly, daily, or even more frequently, it might be caused by the following:
Inspect Your Water HeaterPhoto: aquaArts studio / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images
Look around your water heater with a flashlight for signs of a leak or visibly damaged wiring. These are serious issues that you’ll want to have a pro address. If you don’t see any obvious problems, look for the hot water reset button. Most water heaters will have a reset button, though some gas water heaters require you to relight the pilot light.
This button may be near the unit’s thermostat, but most water heaters have a removable metal panel on the side that houses the button. Use a screwdriver to remove this panel.
If there is insulation behind the panel, check it for moisture. Damp insulation could be from a leak and is a sign of a leaking or failing water heater that you’ll likely need to replace soon. Call a plumber near you, explain the issue, and get it solved promptly.
Push the Reset Button
If you don’t detect any issues with your water heater, remove the insulation to reveal the hot water reset button. Firmly press the button. It will usually click, but this can vary from unit to unit.
Restore PowerPhoto: SolStock / E+ / Getty Images
Put the insulation back in place and screw the metal panel back in. Return to your electrical panel and flip the circuit breaker for the water heater back to the “on” position.
Check Hot Water Levels
Return to your water heater and listen for a bubbling noise, which indicates it’s starting to heat your water. Run a sink faucet on hot to see if hot water comes out. Also, make sure the water is not too hot. If so, your water heater may have tripped due to an electrical issue or defective thermostat. You’ll need to call a water heater specialist to resolve these problems.
If your water heater is working and hot water has been restored, you’ve successfully reset your water heater.
Check Your Electrical Panel
Before you look at your water heater, check your electrical panel. You should be able to find a circuit breaker labeled for your water heater. If the breaker is in the “on” position, flip it off. This will cut off power to the unit and allow you to troubleshoot safely.
If the breaker for your water heater is already in the “off” position, flip it on and wait a few minutes. If it stays on, go to your water heater unit and listen for the sound of bubbling water. This is a sign that it’s heating your water so you can take a warm shower again soon.
However, if the breaker trips again soon after you turn it on, you likely have an electrical issue and should call an electrician near you. If you can’t identify your water heater’s breaker, flip all breakers off or contact an electrician to assist you.