Sudden Loss of Hot Water Pressure
Lost hot water diagnosis, & repair procedures
HOT WATER PRESSURE LOSS - CONTENTS: How to diagnose sudden loss of hot water supply in a building. Possible places where hot water supply piping may be clogged. Hot water valve clogging troubles: Three Types of Plumbing Valves Used on Water Piping: Globe Valve, Gate Valve, Ball Valve Compared. Draining the Hot Water Heater Tank to Fix Poor Hot Water Pressure? Clues Pointing to Mineral Debris Clogging in Hot Water Piping
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Hot water supply troubleshooting - no hot water:
This article explains how to diagnose the sudden loss of hot water pressure, quantity, or flow in a building. We explain the difference between slowing or poor hot water supply and a hot water supply that suddenly is not there at all, and we give a diagnostic procedure to find and fix the trouble.
How to Diagnose Sudden Loss of Hot Water Pressure & Flow in a Building
Before you start fixing or buying stuff to fix a hot water problem hot water problems and diagnostic guides for all kinds of hot water troubles are summarized at WATER HEATER PROBLEM DIAGNOSIS.
You might want to check there to be sure you're fixing the right problem. Those questions & suggestions can help point you to the shortest route to troubleshooting hot water complaints like "no hot water" or "not enough hot water".
Question about diagnosing the cause of sudden loss of hot water pressure:
We suddenly lost hot water pressure [only] in the whole house, a week ago (7 years old townhouse: basement, main floor and upper floor). We drained the hot water tank, checked the various valves in the house but still same weak pressure.
Do you think it could be mineral deposits in the pipes? Or a clogged pipe? What is the most common cause for it?
My plumber doesn’t seem to find out the cause of the sudden lost of Hot Water Pressure in the whole house. Are there specialized plumbers for this situation? I assume not all plumbers have the training.
I am kind of confused.
- R. S.
We assume you mean that hot water pressure and flow are suddenly badly diminished in a building, not that pressure or flow have stopped entirely.
We also note that you refer to a hot water system that uses a tank, not a tankless coil to produce the building's hot water. Tankless coil clogging is discussed separately
at CLOGGED PIPES / TANKLESS COIL DE-SCALE.
If mineral clogging of the building plumbing system is a problem, usually we notice that hot water pressure is worse than cold water pressure, but also that the hot water pressure declines over time, rather than appearing to suddenly diminish severely. So our diagnosis here is going to look for things that might produce a sudden severe reduction in hot water pressure - some sort of blockage or valve problem in the building water piping.
If hot water pressure suddenly stops entirely but cold water flow continues just fine, then a control valve may have been left closed, or a valve may have failed internally (appearing to be turned on but actually "off" internally due to a broken valve stem part), or a valve or pipe elbow may have become partly blocked by a chunk of mineral scale or by other debris. Here are some hot water pressure diagnosis suggestions:
Often the problem with loss of both hot and cold water pressure at plumbing fixtures is local clogging at a fixture such as faucet strainer and shower head.
But if if you SUDDENLY lost hot water pressure everywhere in the building we have some different ideas:
It is unlikely that fixture or strainer or shower head clogging would explain a hot water pressure sudden loss at all plumbing fixtures; usually that clogging builds up over time. Indeed a scrap of mineral crud could break loose and suddenly clog an individual fixture strainer, but the chances of that happening at the same time at all individual fixtures just doesn't seem likely.
Possible Point Stoppages or Clogs in Building Hot Water Pipes, Valves, or Heaters
But a similar problem could have occurred right at the water heater, or in water heater piping near the point of hot water origin. For example, a failed, or clogged control valve, pipe section, pipe elbow, or even the outlet at the hot water tank itself could be come blocked. Clogged piping diagnosis is discussed in more general terms (besides a clogged tankless coil)
at WATER PIPE CLOG DIAGNOSIS
at WATER PIPE CLOG REPAIR.
But let's distinguish between clogging of runs of water supply piping in a building, and a specific point clog or blockage. Point clogs or stoppages in water piping can occur anywhere in the water pipe system, but are more common at these points:
Debris blockage at an individual water control valve where a clump of debris or mineral debris can partly block the valve opening
Damage blockage at an individual water valve that might appear to be fully "open" (valve handle turned fully counter-clockwise) but internally in some valve designs if the valve stem breaks, the handle may turn but the valve may remain closed (or open, or in whatever position it was last found)
Debris blockage in an elbow or bend in water piping - more likely to have occurred closest to the debris source such as near the water heater
A clogged water filter - would normally affect both hot and cold water pressure unless someone installed a water filter just upstream of water entering the hot water heater.
A clog or problem at the water pressure tank - would normally affect both hot and could water pressure
Three Types of Plumbing Valves Used on Water Piping: Globe Valve, Gate Valve, Ball Valve Compared
As Carson Dunlop Associates' illustrations below show, a broken water control valve stem can obstruct or block water flow through the valve. Globe valves (below left) tend to most restrict water flow compared with the gate valve (center) and ball valve (right). But a broken stem on a gate valve can also leave the valve stuck partly or even fully closed (or open), regardless of how you may be able to turn the valve handle.
Draining the Hot Water Heater Tank to Fix Poor Hot Water Pressure?
Simply draining the hot water tank might not fix the problem. For example if a chunk of mineral debris has escaped the tank and is clogging a pipe, elbow, or valve. But if during draining you found clots of mineral scale, that adds to the suspicion of a scale problem and blockage.
For example, if a chunk of scale happened to flow into the piping leaving the hot water heater tank, or into a valve in the piping system, that could cause a blockage.
Watch out: as Carson Dunlop Associates' illustration (left) shows, for safety reasons we normally expect to see a shutoff valve only on the cold water line into the water heater, not on the hot water heater tank outlet side.
Clues Pointing to Mineral Debris Clogging in Hot Water Piping
Was the water heater recently more noisy than usual?
Also, WATER HEATER FLUSH PROCEDURE discusses how to flush scale and debris - which you may have already tried, BUT maybe without recalling the extent of scale you found you may need to take another look at the chance of scale or debris clogging a valve or pipe or pipe elbow at the water heater.
Also check cold water supply INTO the water heater. If you open the water heater drain and turn back on the cold water supply to the water heater, and if you do NOT see powerful water flow out of the heater tank drain, then the drain valve could itself be blocked by debris (most common) or alternately you might have poor water flow INTO the water heater.
Check all of the plumbing control valves feeding the water heater to be sure no one closed one of them, and if there are shutoff valves on the hot water piping system ahead of most of the building plumbing fixtures, check those for operation and blockage too.
Thanks to Carson Dunlop Associates, a Toronto Home Inspection Firm and Home Inspection Educator, for permission to use sketches shown in this article.
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Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Mr. Cramer serves on the ASHI Home Inspection Standards. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com
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Thanks to reader - R.S. (anonymous by req.) for discussing hot water loss problems - August 2010
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, have provided us with (and we recommend) Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates' Technical Reference Guide to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment
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TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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