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I run out of hot water too soon when taking a shower. Water heater is about 5 years old. What is causing this problem? I have the temp setting at normal. Should I turn it up higher before I shower? I have not had this problem until recently.


Dear jefrimmer:

Since your problem of not having enough hot water when taking a shower has just started recently, here are 5 possible causes and their solutions:

It's the winter, and your water heater has to work harder. Assuming you are in a region of the country where it has started to get cold, this means that the water entering your home is colder than during the summer, which means your water heater has to work harder to bring up the temperature of this colder water. And this could be why now at the beginning of January you are finding that your hot water has started running out during your showers. Plus if your water pipes run through unfinished areas of your basement or attic, especially if they are not very well insulated, this is another reason why your water heater will have to work harder. To get around this problem, you can allow more recovery time between other uses of hot water and when you take your shower, and especially being sure not to take showers when your washing machine or dishwasher are running (as they also are big users of hot water). And regarding reducing heat losses from your hot water system, you can wrap your water heater with an insulation blanket, and if not already insulated, you can add insulation to your water piping in the unfinished areas of your home.

However, if you have not had this problem in previous winters, then there could be other problems, that we'll talk about below, which could be reducing the efficiency of your water heater, and the problem has started to show up now during the winter when your water heater has to work harder.

Your water heater has sediment built up in it, which reduces its efficiency. Since you have been using Home-Wizard for a while, you know that we include reminders to backflush your water heater 4 times a year. Unfortunately, not everyone does this (or remembers to ask their service provider to do it when they are doing their annual service and safety inspection). Backflushing your water heater removes the sediment that builds up at the bottom of your water heater. Over time, especially if you are in a region of the country with "hard" water, sediment which comes out of your water when it is heated in your water heater begins to accumulate at the bottom of your water heater, and this acts as insulation, preventing your burner or heating element from transfering sufficient heat into the water. Since you mentioned that your water heater is about 5 years old, if you have not been backflushing your water heater and have somewhat hard water, then it is possible that the deterioration in performance of your water heater could be due to sediment build-up. Unfortunately, if your problem is indeed due to sediment build-up, then you are probably looking at having to replace your water heater. (This is why we send the backflush reminders 4 times a year.)

Your water heater's dip tube could be eroded, broken or missing. The dip tube is piping inside of your water heater that carries incoming cold water to the bottom of your tank where it gets heated. If your water heater's dip tub has become eroded, broken or missing, then this allows cold water to mix with the hot water at the top of the tank, that cools off your hot water, which could be reducing your tank's capacity for supplying enough hot water for your showers. To determine if this is actually the problem, you should have a trained professional do an inspection.

If this is the only place in your home that does not have enough hot water, then the problem could be the shower water valve itself. If it's a single handle type of mixer valve, it may be defective and need to be replaced.

If your water heater is an electric model, then the problem could be that the lower tank heating element or thermostat may not be operating properly and only heating the upper half of the tank. This would need to be checked by a qualified service technician.

We hope this is helpful.