Hot water is a must-have here in Chicago, particularly in the heart of one of our world famous winters. When there’s snow on the ground and a chill in the air, your water heater is more important than ever – so don’t wait for something to go wrong before you pay any attention to it!

Be proactive, and don’t let your water heater fritz out just when you need it most! Here are five warning signs that your water heater unit may be on the verge of a breakdown:

1.) It’s Old

Water heaters aren’t really built to last for much more than a decade. If your unit is between 10 to 15 years old – or, heaven forbid, even older – it may be running on borrowed time. What’s more, your unit may no longer be up to regulatory standards, which have changed in the last decade.

You’d be surprised how much a newer model may help your system become more energy efficient – meaning that you’ll get hotter water, for longer periods of time, at less cost. Win, win, win!

Has your hot water heater been a resident in your home longer than your family? Want to get a gauge on how old your unit is? Try this handy tip from Angie’s List:

“Find the age by looking for the serial number on the manufacturer’s sticker on the upper portion of the water heater

The serial number contains the date that the water heater was manufactured. But it won’t look the way a date is normally written. Instead, the serial number will have a date code such as “F051052638”.

F is for the month and F is the sixth letter in the alphabet, so it represents the sixth month, June. Next, the first two digits of the serial number are 05, which represents the year, 2005. So this water heater was made in June 2005. Each manufacturer has a similar date code, and they can vary; check the manufacturer’s website to learn more.”

2.) Your Water is Dirty

Like much of the Midwest, Chicago is known for its hard water. But there’s no reason the hot water coming from your home’s taps should seem rusty or muddy!

If you consistently notice that your hot water seems “off” – rusty in color, metallic smelling or tasting, or possessing a sandy, grainy, or muddy texture – then your hot water heater may be struggling with either sediment buildup or tank erosion. Either way, it’s important to have a professional come take a look as soon as possible, to curtail any further damage.

3.) You’re Hearing a Rumbling Noise

A groaning, rumbling water heater is one of the noisiest – and most common – plumbing mysteries we see around Chicagoland. More often than not, a noisy water heater is a sign of sediment buildup, which occurs when loose minerals, such as calcium, pile up at the bottom of your unit.

A grumbling water heater is more than just an annoyance! In the short term, sediment buildup can cause your system to run much less efficiently, causing your bills to spike. In the long term, the extra effort that your system has to exert to work around the metallic deposits can cause wear and tear, leading to leaks and holes that may be irreparable.

4.) There’s Water Around Your Heater

Notice any amount of moisture on or around your water heater unit? The issue may be small fractures in your tank, which allow for leaks when the hot metal of your unit expands and contracts during regular use.

Before you shell out hundreds for a new unit, however, take a look around your water heater. Inspect all of your fittings and connections, as well as your overflow pipe, to make sure that the issue isn’t as simple as a loose connection. If all of these areas seem dry, the issue is most likely with your tank, a worn gasket, or your pressure relief valve.

5.) You Never Have Enough Warm Water

At the end of the day, your water heater has one job – bringing you hot water! If it’s not doing that, it’s surely a sign that something isn’t right. If your water is consistently cold or lukewarm, the issue may be with your heating element (these tend to go bad over time). You may also have a leak, or your unit simply may not be able to keep up with the needs of your household anymore.

Looking to get to the bottom of a water heater mystery? Want to stop a plumbing disaster before it starts? That’s where we come in! Drop J. Blanton a line for all of your Chicagoland plumbing and HVAC needs. Day or night, our experienced, professional team is here and ready to help.