how to tell if water heater is working
Kristina Davis

Learning and understanding how to tell if water heater is working is not a job that’s only intended for plumbers.

Being homeowners, it’s always our responsibility to at least know if something’s wrong or not.

So, in this guide, I will be sharing with you a couple of my insights into knowing if your water heater is working.

You’ll know that your water heater is working if the supply of hot water is consistent, you don’t see any leakage, and you see no discoloration or foul odor. Having equal pressure all throughout is one good way of determining this, too.

Reasons Why Water Heaters Fail

reason of water heater

The nitty-gritty of why gas and electric water heaters fail is a bit too complex for us. We’re not plumbers, are we?

So, we need to have a full range of understanding of the culprits that contribute to the negativities we’re experiencing in terms of our water heater.

Among the many reasons, the following are what I found to be the most common reasons for the failure of water heaters (both gas and electric).

Improper Maintenance

Just like any other appliance, your hot water heater requires care and maintenance.

It’s not like it’s going to maintain itself on its own – no, it doesn’t work that way.

As an owner, you’re responsible for its condition from the 1st year up to its last breath.

Loose Parts and Components

parts and components

Another shadowed reason that water heaters fail is because of loose parts and components.

This is one thing I never really had an idea about, until the time I compared it with other equipment.

Imagine a car tire having a loose bolt and it runs, how does that sound to you?

Not only is it dangerous, but it can also be an underlying factor in its total degradation and descent. The same goes for hot water heaters.

Old Water Heater Model

Last, but most definitely not least would be because of natural causes. Older water heater models that aren’t made strategically wear out pretty fast.

Most of these don’t have the technology that can sustain an entire household.

It’s not really a reason for “failing,” per se, simply because it is of old age.

But it is a failure due to old age and time, which can still be considered a factor why it would halt performing normally or regularly.

How to Tell if Water Heater is Working?

how tell water heater is working

There are a myriad of ways how you can tell that your hot water heater is fine and fully functional.

And I’m here to tell you that it’s not as difficult as you think – in fact, once you understand how it works, it’ll all flow naturally.

Here are a few signals that your water heater is still in its pristine condition.

Consistent Hot Water Supply

For me, this is what I consider the best sign that a hot water heater is still in good condition.

Since its purpose is to provide hot water, the best thing to look for is if it is capable of producing hot water consistently.

One of the earliest signs of hot water heater failure is temperature inconsistency. 

So, ensure that you check the temperature and see if it’s consistent or not.

Fluctuations are not good when it comes to water heaters, and that’s why you want to check up on this as soon and as urgently as possible.

Zero Leakage

a zero leakage

After temperature consistency, leakage is another sign that your water heater is bad.

Therefore, if there’s no leakage at all, then, you can be sure that your water heater is all good.

NOTE: Check everything from the pipes and tubes, the valve, and even the tank itself to see if there’s 0 leakage and holes at all.

Normal Color and Smell

Of course, you also need to consider the color and smell of the hot water coming out of your shower and faucets.

There’ll be times when it’s normal to smell a different scent in the water, but it shouldn’t be foul and stale.

You know the smell of stale water, I know you do, and if that is what you smell, something’s wrong.

Otherwise, if the smell is good, you should not worry about your water heater.

Steady Water Pressure (Water Flow) 

water pressure

Last, and most definitely not least is to check if the flow or pressure of water is steady.

Damaged hot water heaters would have lower pressure, which would automatically mean a lesser and weaker flow of water.

This is typical for water heaters that have crossed the 2-year mark without any maintenance.

NOTE: Always make sure that you check up on your water heater once every 6 to 8 months to ensure that no problems are starting to form.

How to Check if Hot Water Heater is Working?

These are signs that your water heater is fine – but, then again, they’re just signs. How do you truly know that your hot water heater is working?

Now, depending on the type of water heater you have (electric or gas), the way or method of identifying whether there’s a problem or not could be different.

Don’t worry, though, I’ll be outlining the method for both types of water heaters.

How to Check if Electric Water Heater is Working

check electric water heater

Checking an electric water heater requires 2 things: resistance element and grounded element.

Let me start by checking the resistance of the element.

Resistance Test

  1. Shut off the source that gives power to the water heater.
  2. Remove the access panels to expose thermostats and elements.
  3. Then, remove the insulation and plastic cover.
  4. Remove and unscrew the 2 wires attached to the upper element.
  5. Using a volt tester, touch 1 probe to the 1 screw, and the other probe to the other.
  6. Repeat the process to the lower element of the heater.
If the meter shows no resistance, the element needs to be replaced.

Grounded Element Test

ground test
  1. Set your volt meter to Ohms.
  2. Take 1 probe and touch 1 screw terminal of the water heater.
  3. Take the other probe and touch a good metal surface on the inner side of the heater.
  4. You should receive no resistance on this test.

If there’s resistance, the element or the tank needs to be replaced. Contact your local plumber for professional assistance immediately.

How to Check if Gas Water Heater is Working

Checking your gas water heater is another story, now, here’s how you can do it.

Step #1: Check if There’s a Gas Supply 

The first thing to check is the gas supply. Is the gas supply steady across all appliances inside your home?

Check out the main gas valve of your home and see if it’s turned on. Then, check other gas-powered appliances like a stove or a fireplace.

Lastly, check the gas knob of your water heater.

Step #2: Inspect the Pilot Light Burner

pilot light burner

The next step is to check and inspect the pilot light burner. Look through the sight hole and see if it’s lit or burning and the status light is blinking, then you should be good.

If it’s lit but the status light is blinking, test the thermopile using a voltage tester.

If it’s not blinking, press the igniter a few times and ensure that it is properly sparking. 

Turn the knob to “pilot,” and then press ignite. When the burner lights, continue to hold the control knob for at least 1 minute.

If it turns off when you take your finger off the knob, there’s a problem. Try resetting the thermocouple switch by pressing the button.

It tripped if you hear a “click” when you press the button.

Step #3: Check the Thermopile

Last, and most definitely not least is to check the thermopile. A broken thermopile almost always means that your water heater would not operate properly.

So, what do you have to do? Check if the thermopile is attached properly to its ports.

NOTE: Check if the thermopile is dirty or dusted, it can be a reason why it’s not functioning properly.

And that is how you inspect and troubleshoot a gas hot water heater!


questions about water heater

Here are a few questions on how you can tell if your hot water heater is working fine or not.

Should You Hear the Water Heater Running?

In most cases, it’s normal to hear the sound of water entering the tank.

However, sounds like dripping, hissing, crackling, popping, or gurgling are not normal. Contact your local plumber right away.

Can a Water Heater Be Reset?

Yes, all hot water heaters have a reset button. Usually, the reset button is located near the thermostat.

The purpose of the reset is for troubleshooting or for when the temperature of the water gets too hot.

Read next: How Far Should Furniture Be From Baseboard Heaters?

The Bottom Line

If you don’t know how to tell if water heater is working, fret not, it’s not rocket science. Having experience with plumbing and appliances myself, I found it simple.

I made this guide convenient and simple for everyone, so you don’t really need to contact your plumber right away!

Unless, of course, there’s a serious problem with 1 or more of the components.