Not Enough Hot Water: Water Heater Issues and Solutions

Few things are as frustrating as stepping into a shower only to be met with not enough hot water. Whether it’s during a morning rush or a relaxing evening, insufficient hot water can quickly turn your day upside down.

This comprehensive guide explores the common issues that can plague both gas and electric water heaters, offering clear insights into the symptoms, causes, and solutions. By understanding these factors, you can troubleshoot effectively and restore the comfort and convenience of a reliable hot water supply in your home.

not enough hot water in the shower

Not Enough Hot Water From a Gas Water Heater

Problems with not enough hot water in gas water heaters can be caused by a variety of issues, and here are some with the potential solutions.

Pilot Light Issues

The pilot light is a crucial component of a gas water heater, responsible for igniting the burner that heats the water. If the pilot light is out, the burner won’t activate, leading to a lack of hot water.

Sometimes, the pilot light may not burn correctly due to dirt or debris blocking the flame orifice, resulting in intermittent heating. Ensuring the pilot light is consistently burning and free from obstructions, kinks, and other damage is essential for the efficient operation of your water heater.

Thermostat Settings Not Adjusted

If the thermostat that is part of the gas control valve and controls the temperature of the water in the tank is set too low, the water won’t get hot enough. A low thermostat setting can lead to lukewarm water, which is frequently too cold for comfort.

If your water isn’t hot enough, increasing the thermostat setting can help achieve a more comfortable temperature. The thermostat is typically located on the outside of the water heater and can be adjusted using a simple dial or control panel.

It’s important to set the temperature to a level that provides enough heat without risking scalding; the recommended setting is usually around 120°F to 140°F. Adjusting the thermostat can make a significant difference in water temperature and ensure a more pleasant experience during use.

Sediment Buildup

Over time, minerals in the water can settle at the bottom of the tank, forming a layer of sediment. This sediment buildup can reduce the efficiency of the water heater by insulating the water from the heat source. As the sediment layer thickens, the heater has to work harder and longer to heat the water, leading to higher energy bills and a shorter lifespan for the unit. One of the solutions to this problem is to perform a flushing.

Flushing the tank involves draining the water heater to remove sediment buildup that can accumulate over time. This process typically requires attaching a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and allowing the water to flow out until it runs clear.

Regularly flushing the tank can prevent sediment from insulating the bottom of the tank, which makes the water heater more efficient and extends its lifespan. It’s a simple yet essential maintenance task that can significantly improve the performance of your unit.

Faulty Thermocouple

The thermocouple is a safety device that ensures the pilot light remains lit by detecting the flame and continuing the gas supply. If the thermocouple is faulty or malfunctioning, it may incorrectly sense that the pilot light is out and shut off the gas supply, causing the water heater to stop working. A malfunctioning thermocouple can lead to frequent pilot light outages and inconsistent water heating.

Replacing a faulty thermocouple is often necessary to restore the reliable operation of the water heater.

To replace the thermocouple, you’ll need to turn off the gas supply and remove the old thermocouple from its mounting bracket near the pilot light. Install the new thermocouple by securing it in the same position and reconnecting any necessary fittings. This replacement can restore the safety and functionality of your water heater, ensuring the pilot light stays lit and the burner operates correctly.

Dip Tube Problems

The dip tube is designed to deliver cold water to the bottom of the tank, where it’s heated before rising to the top. If the dip tube is broken or deteriorated, cold water may mix with the hot water at the top of the tank, resulting in lukewarm water from the taps. This issue can significantly reduce the efficiency of the water heater and the amount of hot water available. Inspecting the dip tube and replacing it if necessary can help ensure proper water heating and consistent hot water supply.

To inspect it, you’ll need to turn off the water supply and remove the dip tube from the tank. Check it for any signs of damage, such as cracks or deterioration, and replace it if necessary.

Not Enough Hot Water From an Electric Water Heater

Here are common problems that can cause insufficient hot water in electric water heaters.

Tripped Circuit Breaker

One common cause of a non-functioning electric water heater is a tripped circuit breaker. This safety mechanism shuts off the power to the heater when it detects an electrical issue, like a short circuit or an overload. If the breaker is frequently tripping, it could indicate a more significant problem within the electrical system or the heater itself. Regularly checking the breaker ensures that it’s not the simple reason behind your water heater woes, and if it is, it’s a quick fix to reset it.

To reset a tripped circuit breaker, locate your home’s electrical panel and find the breaker labeled for the water heater. Switch it to the “off” position, wait a few seconds, and then flip it back to the “on” position. This simple step can restore power to the heater and get the water heating again. If the breaker trips frequently, it could be a sign of a more severe electrical issue that requires professional investigation.

Thermostat Issues

If your water isn’t hot enough, increasing the thermostat setting can often resolve the issue. The thermostat is usually located behind an access panel on the water heater and can be adjusted using a simple dial or control panel. If adjusting the thermostat doesn’t fix the problem, it might be malfunctioning and need replacement. Replacing a faulty thermostat ensures the heater operates at the correct temperature, providing consistent hot water.

Heating Element Failure

Electric water heaters typically have two heating elements, one at the top and one at the bottom of the tank. These elements can burn out over time, leading to a lack of hot water or uneven heating. If one element fails, it can significantly reduce the heater’s ability to provide sufficient hot water. Testing the heating elements with a multimeter can help diagnose if they are the source of the problem, and replacement of faulty elements is necessary to restore functionality.

To replace faulty heating elements, first, turn off the power to the heater at the circuit breaker. Drain the tank to remove the water and then use a wrench to remove the old heating elements. Install the new elements and ensure they are securely fitted. This replacement can restore the water heater’s functionality and ensure a consistent supply of hot water. Testing the elements before replacement with a multimeter can help confirm they’re the cause of the problem.

Sediment Buildup

As with gas water heaters, flushing the tank is one of the best ways to remove sediment buildup.

Loose Wiring

Electrical connections within the water heater can become loose or corroded over time, disrupting the power supply to the heating elements and thermostat. Loose wiring can lead to intermittent heating or complete failure of the heater. Inspecting the electrical connections and tightening or replacing any loose or corroded wires is essential for the safe and efficient operation of the heater.

Inspect all the electrical connections within the heater, including those on the thermostat and heating elements. Turn off the power before you begin for safety. Tighten any loose connections and clean off any corrosion you find. This maintenance step ensures a steady electrical supply to the heater, allowing it to function correctly and efficiently. If you’re not comfortable working with electrical components, it’s best to hire a professional electrician to handle the task.


Before you begin, it’s crucial to read through all the steps to ensure you understand the process. If you’re uncomfortable performing any of these steps, it might be best to contact a professional.

This procedure was originally designed for AO Smith water heaters but can be applied to other brands as well.

To start, go to the faucet nearest to the water heater and measure the time it takes to fill a one-gallon bucket. The formula to use looks like this: 60 seconds divided by the number of seconds it takes to fill the bucket. For example, if it takes 10 seconds, your flow rate is 6 gpm; if it takes 12 seconds, it’s 5 gpm, and so on.

Next, adjust the thermostat on the water heater so that the arrow points to 130°F. Then, run about 15 gallons of hot water from the nearest faucet and turn off the water. The heater should reheat the 15 gallons within 20 to 35 minutes. After that, use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the water at a nearby faucet. Ideally, it should be between 120°F and 140°F.

Continue to run the hot water until you’ve depleted 60% of the tank’s capacity. For instance, if you have a 30-gallon tank, you should run 18 gallons. Measure the temperature again at the same faucet. This time, the temperature should be about 30°F lower than the initial reading. If the temperature isn’t within range in step six, check the thermostat. If more than 30°F was lost in step nine, inspect the dip tube for issues.


Dealing with not enough hot water from your water heater can be a frustrating experience, but understanding the common causes and solutions can make troubleshooting much easier.

Whether it’s a pilot light issue, a thermostat set too low, sediment buildup, or faulty components, addressing these problems promptly can restore your hot water supply and improve the efficiency of your water heater.

Regular maintenance and timely repairs are essential to ensure a consistent and reliable supply of hot water. By staying informed and proactive, you can prevent minor issues from turning into major headaches, ensuring that your water heater operates smoothly for years to come.

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