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Quirk Or Doesn’t Work? Symptoms Of Water Heater Repair Problems And Normal Ways They Operate | Portland, OR


If you’re new to your home, or just don’t know all about your type of hot water heater, you may be surprised at the strange behavior that they sometimes exhibit. At Pilot Plumbing & Drain of Portland, OR, we can help. It may be time for water heater repair, but in some cases, the problem might just be normal for that type of water heater. Tankless water heaters can sometimes provide a burst of cold water, called a cold water sandwich after the hot water has begun running. The hot water resumes promptly, but that sudden chill can be less than fun in the shower, for instance. Tank-based water heaters can provide a long draw of cold water and seem completely broken, when in fact they have plenty of hot water to supply and are only partially broken. So, where is it? How long do you have to wait? Hybrid water heaters also have quirks, such as running silently when you expect fan noise as a sign of operation but still working properly, or having issues due to a control board problem and needing “rebooting.”

Tank-Based Standard Water Heaters

Water Temperature Issues

The EPA recommended setting for most water heaters is 120 degrees F, or 140 for certain OSHA-related hygiene concerns. In your home, 120 keeps hand washing and dishwasher safe but avoids scalding children, seniors, and others who may not feel how hot the water is when they use it. If the setting gets bumped, you may have issues with your hot water temperature but turning it back to 120 is all you need, not a water heater repair. However, you could also have problems with the heating element or thermostat that keep them from reaching the desired temperature. In many units, there are two heating elements and when one fails, you’ll have some crazy behavior from the water heater. It’ll provide half the hot water volume you expect and then get cooler as it reaches the unheated water, or distribute unheated water for about half the tank, then kick in with hot when the tank half that’s still getting heated is reached. That’s definitely a matter for repair. If it’s all cold, besides a fix for the heating unit, it’s a good idea to check the circuit breaker if it’s an electric unit. That’s a one-time fix, though, if it’s happening often, again, it’s water heater repair time to find out what’s going wrong.

Spills from the PTV Valve

There’s a pressure and temperature relief valve, usually with a pipe draining to the floor, that’s designed to make sure your tank-based water heater doesn’t build up excessive pressure and become dangerous. A little leaking might be normal, especially in parts of the country where the ambient temperature is high to begin with, but here in the northwest, not so much. Check the thermostat setting to make sure it’s not much over 120, and consider water heater repair, especially if it’s leaking an excessive amount. A simple valve replacement is a worthwhile water heater repair because of the important protective job it performs.


If your water heater is making bubbling noises like an upset stomach, or anything similar, there may be issues with sediment in the bottom of the tank. This can cause a variety of issues, so it’s worth a water heater repair or attention during your upcoming maintenance visit — you do have regular maintenance, don’t you? Our water heater repair professionals will check your tank for sediment, make sure the tank is in good condition, and perform other checks and servicing to prolong the life of the unit. Handling sediment build-up is one of those services. For any other noises, such as hissing or creaking, or boiling sounds, a call to investigate is important.

Smells and Discolored Water

A protective device called an anode rod that helps avoid corrosion in your water heater tank also helps keep bacteria from growing in the water. If your hot water has a foul smell, but not your cold water, it may be time to have a repair visit to replace the anode rod and remedy the smell. Discolored water can be from rust and sediment, and should be checked to make sure the tank is still in good condition, but also to avoid damaging clothing washed in the water.

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters take a little getting used to, besides the lower energy bill. Tankless units just sit there saving energy until they sense significant water flow coming through, so you can’t just open the faucet a tiny bit and get a small stream of hot water like you can with a tank-based unit. It’s necessary to open the faucet approximately halfway to trigger heating from the water flow. Another issue arises when you take a shower, then someone else does soon after. Since the heater is restarting, previous hot water will be followed by a cold water burst and then endless hot water, which people call a “cold water sandwich.” It’s normal, just be ready for it if you’re in the shower!

Hybrid Water Heaters

Hybrid water heaters have several operating modes, so variations in whether the fan is operating or not are usually just normal. Knocking, rumbling, and popping sounds may indicate tank or pressure valve issues, as in the traditional water heater, and should be checked for sediment, and pressure issues. They can also indicate compressor issues. Beeping noises are another matter, they’re the control system trying to get your attention so that you’ll get our plumbing company’s attention to check out problems such as sensor issues or compressor issues.

Your Comprehensive Water Heater Repair and Information Source in Portland, OR

If you have any concerns about your hot water, call Pilot Plumbing & Drain in Portland, OR. We’re your water heater repair experts, and we’re glad to answer your questions and perform system maintenance too. Get to know us!

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