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Zsofia
05-11-2007, 10:14 AM
Oh, what an unpleasant surprise in the shower this morning! (I don't like my coworkers enough to take a freezing cold shower, no - but you know the great thing about the public library? Nobody would ever think it was me!) I called my home warranty people, but their contractor might not get back to me until Monday so of course I'd rather fix it myself if it's an easy fix.

Thing is, the water heater is the most mysterious appliance in the house to me. I know it's gas and fairly recent but that's about it. It's a thing in a box - until this morning I didn't even know how to open the box! I couldn't figure out where the pilot light was (I looked around on the bottom and I found that dial I've been meaning to find and turn down, at least, but I'm not sure where the pilot light might be) or anything. What should I be looking for?

I did notice that yesterday I had to keep turning the hot water up in the shower because it kept creeping colder. I read somewhere that maybe that means the heater needs to be drained? First of all, is that true? And second of all, do I just have to turn the heater down and turn the little tap on?

Is there anything else I could do to try to get it working again safely?

Mama Zappa
05-11-2007, 10:20 AM
Oh, what an unpleasant surprise in the shower this morning! (I don't like my coworkers enough to take a freezing cold shower, no - but you know the great thing about the public library? Nobody would ever think it was me!)
Heee - took me a minute to parse what that all meant :)

Check the manufacturer's website to see if you can find a manual for your make and model. It may have some troubleshooting suggestions.

It's certainly possible that the pilot light has simply gone out. Those are easy to relight ****IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING****. I was terrified to relight the pilot on our furnace even after we'd been shown what to do (we subsequently replaced this with an electronic-ignition model when the old one finally went bad).

Yesterday's shower may have been because you were using up all the hot water in the tank and it was being diluted with cooler water.

Zsofia
05-11-2007, 10:33 AM
The thing is, it's just me and my boyfriend and we never run out of hot water in the shower. Also, I took the first shower yesterday. So that's a little unusual, at any rate.

I've heard that if your pilot light goes out, the power company will come and relight it for you. I hope this is indeed true. In fact, I hope the pilot light is not out and that I figure out where it is.

Sapo
05-11-2007, 10:37 AM
gas, electricity, water. What could possibly go wrong?

Time to call your local friends and relatives and use their showers while you wait for the repairman.

kanicbird
05-11-2007, 10:56 AM
It is fairly to relight the pilot light, but why did it go out? If the gas supply was interrupted that would do it. It may be the thermocouple has failed and now has to be replaced.

Get a friend who know how to relight it.

Just a quick aside, I and 2 friends were at a cabin in the woods (it was one of the friends father's cabin). The gas is normally off and the water heater is lit when one arrives, the water heater is also outside the cabin. None of us has ever lit one before, we didn't know where the pilot light was suppose to be. We were given instructions on how to use the dial to manually start the flow of gas, and tried a few times. Finally we just loaded the base with crumpled paper, lit it and turned on the pilot light, which worked.

Sean Factotum
05-11-2007, 10:57 AM
As for draining your water heater, if it's a tank model (30, 40 gal, whatever the size) it should be done once a year. This reduces the amount of corrosion products that are accumulating in the bottom of the tank, which will shorten the life of the heater. A once a year drain and refill will make your 10-year heater actually last 10 years. Check the manual for the procedure, and make it something you do once a year (I do it on the same day I mail off my Federal income tax forms).

carnivorousplant
05-11-2007, 11:09 AM
Finally we just loaded the base with crumpled paper, lit it and turned on the pilot light, which worked.
Okay, that's one of the more unsafe things I've read about on the board. :)

Fear Itself
05-11-2007, 11:23 AM
If the pilot light won't stay lit, it is probably a defective thermocouple, which senses if the pilot is lit and shuts off the gas in case it goes out. If you are at all handy, it is cheap and easy to replace (http://www.rd.com/content/openContent.do?contentId=19531).

Kevbo
05-11-2007, 12:02 PM
If it is particularly windy, the pilot light can get blown out. Also, sometimes trees grow, and shift wind flow patterns enough to cause trouble. We started having issues with one wall furnace after a large tree was removed...a taller vent cured that.

Rick
05-11-2007, 12:03 PM
There are basically three things that can go wrong with a gas water heater.
1. Bad Thermocouple
2. Bad Unitrol (the box on the side of the water heater that controls the gas flow and water temp
3. Leaks

First off take the little door off the bottom of the heater below the unitrol. This is the access to the pilot light. There may be two little doors one inside the other. Is there standing water in the lower pan or excessive rust on everything? If yes, stop you have a leaky heater, replace it.
Is the pilot lit? If yes, the unitrol is bad, the thermostat (on the unitrol) is set too low, or to the pilot position If no try to light the pilot* (instructions are printed on a label on the side of the water heater) Note: you will have to hold the override button for about a minute before the pilot will stay lit.
Did the pilot light and stay lit? If no, it is either a bad thermocouple, or a bad unitrol. Murphy's law of water heater repair is which ever one you guess it will be the other one. Thermocouples are cheap, and easy to find. Unitrols are expensive and hard to find. Ask me how I know this.
If yes, does the burner come on? If no, bad unitrol.




*You did pay the gas bill didn't you?

Zsofia
05-11-2007, 12:06 PM
Yes, I did indeed pay the gas bill. :) I've lived in the house for a year and a half, and no idea if the previous owners drained the water heater either, so that's at least something I can do. There's no manual, of course, but there might be one online - I'll have to check the maker when I get home. I'm looking for a little door somewhere on it for the pilot light? Like, how little are we talking about? Near the bottom, one assumes.

crazyjoe
05-11-2007, 12:48 PM
There are basically three things that can go wrong with a gas water heater.
1. Bad Thermocouple
2. Bad Unitrol (the box on the side of the water heater that controls the gas flow and water temp
3. Leaks

First off take the little door off the bottom of the heater below the unitrol. This is the access to the pilot light. There may be two little doors one inside the other. Is there standing water in the lower pan or excessive rust on everything? If yes, stop you have a leaky heater, replace it.
Is the pilot lit? If yes, the unitrol is bad, the thermostat (on the unitrol) is set too low, or to the pilot position If no try to light the pilot* (instructions are printed on a label on the side of the water heater) Note: you will have to hold the override button for about a minute before the pilot will stay lit.
Did the pilot light and stay lit? If no, it is either a bad thermocouple, or a bad unitrol. Murphy's law of water heater repair is which ever one you guess it will be the other one. Thermocouples are cheap, and easy to find. Unitrols are expensive and hard to find. Ask me how I know this.
If yes, does the burner come on? If no, bad unitrol.




*You did pay the gas bill didn't you?

I'm going to add to this: The dip tube. Now, if you can't get any hot water at all, it's not the dip tube. However, if you get a little bit (say 1 - 5 gallons) of hot water, and then it goes cold, it's probably the dip tube.

They are simple to replace. The dip tube makes sure that the incoming cold water is put into the tank way at the bottom, so it pushes the heated water out the top. If it's broken, it will allow the new cold water to come in right at the top of the heater. Since the inflow and outflow pipes are very close together, you only get a tiny amount of hot water out before the cold water is all sitting right on top and being pulled out the outflow pipe.

Also, not all water heater pilots require holding a lit match or anything. I recently had to buy a new one because my old one was leaking, and it comes with a push-button igniter and the whole system is sealed off and you look through a litle window to see if the pilot is lit or not.

Do go down to your water heater and check it out. The instructions on re-lighting the pilot are written right there, see if you can follow them. You have to physicaly hold the button down in order for gas to come out, so the chance of you blowing up your house is minimal.

Rick
05-11-2007, 12:59 PM
Yes, I did indeed pay the gas bill. :) I've lived in the house for a year and a half, and no idea if the previous owners drained the water heater either, so that's at least something I can do. There's no manual, of course, but there might be one online - I'll have to check the maker when I get home. I'm looking for a little door somewhere on it for the pilot light? Like, how little are we talking about? Near the bottom, one assumes.
Look directly below the unitrol at the bottom on the unit, the door is maybe 3" X 4".
It maybe recessed below the surface, or it may have one door on the surface and another below it.

crazyjoe :smack: yeah add the diptube. From the description in the OP, I don't think this is the problem, but you are right that it can give problems.

Zsofia
05-11-2007, 01:48 PM
I saw the relighting instructions, I was just looking for a big red arrow that said "THIS IS THE PILOT LIGHT DUMMY!" (There wasn't one.) You'd think they'd put more instructions on a product most people look at once a year or so.

crazyjoe
05-11-2007, 01:52 PM
The pilot light will be obvious in that it's a blue flame that's either there, or it isn't.

Really, just look for a small, open ended tube that points in an upward direction. That's where the pilot is. Also, when you press in the button and hold it, it will become obvious because it will be the spot where the whooshing sound is coming from.

Sean Factotum
05-11-2007, 04:45 PM
Yes, I did indeed pay the gas bill. :) I've lived in the house for a year and a half, and no idea if the previous owners drained the water heater either, so that's at least something I can do.
Turn off the heat source to the tank.
Shut the cold water supply valve. If there is a hot water outlet valve (not really common, but I guess some people have them) keep it open.
Connect a hose to the drain at the bottom of the tank. Run it outside of the house (if you can) or into a drain inside the house.
Open up a hot water tap somewhere in the house.
Open the tank drain and watch the water. After it turns clear for a few minutes, shut the drain valve, shut the hot water tap you opened in the house, and open the cold water supply valve to start refilling the tank.
When you can't hear anymore water running into the tank, turn on the gas supply and relight the pilot for the tank.

That should do it for you on the draining.

Rick
05-11-2007, 05:18 PM
Don't bother to drain the unit until you have the gas problem figured out. A drain and refill is not going to fix a gas supply problem

Bill Door
05-11-2007, 05:45 PM
deleted duplicate post

Bill Door
05-11-2007, 05:46 PM
Okay, that's one of the more unsafe things I've read about on the board. :)

And this board sets the bar pretty high.

Zsofia
05-11-2007, 06:58 PM
Well, sigh, the pilot is indeed out but neither I nor my dad could get it to light again, so it looks like a job for Home Warranty Repairman Who Has Not Yet Called And Doesn't Have To Until Noon on Monday. I had no idea that metal thing was supposed to suggest "door" to me.

I had a bad moment halfway through this pilot light pantomime and went to the kitchen and lit a burner - yes, there is gas in the house. Just not in the water heater.

Thanks for all your advice, guys.

carnivorousplant
05-11-2007, 07:08 PM
In my misspent youth, I had to frequently replace the thermocouple in a furnace. I became quite adept at it, an easy enough job.
As I became older and more cautious, I called a HVAC guy on Valentine's Day when the low that night was to be in to 20's.
He had other plans for that night, and assured me that a pilot that lights but won't stay is most surely the thermocouple, directed me to buy the longest one available, 36" as I recall, and install it myself. Just like old times, I had the burner in my lap and golly, it worked! :)
It isn't that hard if one of you has some mechanical aptitude, and you've only wasted seven dollars if that ain't it. OTOH, I don't want your survivors to post on your account that you died in a gas explosion.

danceswithcats
05-11-2007, 08:44 PM
I'm going to assume that this isn't a fairly new gas unit, in which case servicing it's a whole 'nuther matter. FVIR (flammable vapor ignition resistant) water heaters are now required by building codes in many places. They differ from the old style heaters in that a piezo ignition unit is provided, the access door seals shut with two screws, a special thermocouple is required, and the air intake is located on the bottom, and is a fine mesh screen.

The safety feature is that if a flammable vapor below LEL is introduced to the pilot, the flame will not stay "tight" and will wander, tripping the safety thermocouple before the point of KFB is reached. The same thing will occur if the screen on the bottom becomes blocked with lint, pet hair, or other crud, as reduced air flow creates a rich burning condition. To ensure that no enterprising soul attempts to substitute the wrong style thermocouple, FVIR units have a left-hand female thread fitting at the main gas valve.

Hopefully you don't have one of these, as they're more of a PITA to work on than the old standard ones.