Plumbing: Hot Water Issues

Updated on February 17, 2015
R.A. asks from Houston, TX
17 answers

For as long as I can remember I have loved long, hot baths. I run a hot bath and when the water begins to cool I run more hot water. For decades I soaked away my troubles in this way. A couple of years ago our hot water heater went out. We were under contract with a home warranty company (never again!), so we called them to repair or replace the hot water heater. After several go arounds with them they chose to replace it. We had enormous trouble with them, and don't want them back in our house.

Ever since then, we have had trouble filling the tub with hot water. When I run just hot water it will fill the tub about 1/3 full. When I run hot and cold together (to get warm water) it quickly turns to just cold. When I try to add more hot water after a period of time (even 20 to 30 minutes) I just get cold. Not tepid, but cold-cold. I feel like I've tried everything. The water heater is set at the hottest setting. (We have no children in the house, so don't fear scalding). I have tried running the water in the sink to see if I can get the cold water out of the pipes so that hot water can run again. (I don't really know how pipes work, so this was just a shot in the dark.)

Plumbers are so expensive, if there's a way to fix this on my own I'd love to. Any ideas? I'm hoping there is someone on here who might have plumbing experience, or I need a long, hot bath again!

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answers from Jacksonville on

Sounds like you need a larger capacity heater. You'd need to replace your current unit, which is doable if you have some electrical knowledge. Google it to see if its up your alley. I had a plumber replace ours for around $800 total.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

It's either a smaller capacity tank or its shot already.
Just call a plumber.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Asheville on

What is your water pressure like? I know in our old home, we had trouble getting hot water to last- it would quickly get cold and then it seemed to take forever to get warm again. My BIL is a plumber, and he told us we needed to get a water pressure regulator installed. What is happening is that when the hot water leaves the tank, the water pressure is so high that the cold water floods the water heater with cold water. It's a vicious cycle, as you turn on the hot water to get more, and more cold water rushes into the tank- diluting the hot water. When you have a regulator, the cold water comes in more slowly, allowing the tank the time to warm the water.
Just a thought.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You do need to have the right capacity tank in order to get your tub filled with hot water and it sounds like this tank isn't right.
Have you done any maintenance on it?
I think most tanks need to be drained once a year to help remove any sludge build up in the bottom which will effect how well it works.
Another option might be a tankless system.
Ask your plumber but it might require an electrical panel upgrade to run it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Toledo on

Is your hot water heater smaller than the older one? I believe ours is a 40 gallon, but I know smaller ones are out there.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

Do you know how long the warrenty is for you water heater? You should have the paperwork some where. Water heaters like any other appliance can be defective, the shortest warrrenty I know of is 6 yrs. It also depends upon the size of your water heater itself. How many gallons did the old one hold and how many does this one hold? If the old one was a 40 gallon and the new one is a 30 gallon once the hot water tank is emptied it will refill with cold water, running the tap will not help it will make it worse.
The heating element could also have stopped working. Is it electric or gas?

There should be a label on the water heater. Go read the label and find out the info.
If it is electric you can replace the heating element. Replacing a water heater is not difficult a good hanyman can do the job, you do not always need a plumber.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Maybe your old tank had a quick recovery system while the new one does not. Here's what I could find on a quick recovery system with a Google search.

'Quick recovery water heaters have extra burners or electric heating elements to heat water faster. The storage tank is the same size as a standard water heater’s storage tank. However, the ability to heat water faster as the water is being used makes it seem like a quick recovery water heater has a larger tank. It does have a greater hot water capacity over a given period of time.

Quick recovery water heaters are typically used when a homeowner desires more capacity and a larger tank is impractical due to space limitations. Even when there is room for a larger storage tank, a quick recovery water heater makes the most sense. It uses less energy and is more affordable."

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

It kind of depends on how the water is actually heated, as well as on the size of the tank. For example, our hot water is heated in coils that go through the oil burner, and from there it goes into a 40 gallon storage tank. That tank is just keeping the water hot.

On the other hand, if you are relying on the water heater tank to actually do the heating (vs. If you have a set-up where the cold water is going into the tank and then being heated, then you fill the tub with, say, 25 gallons, and as soon as that happens, 25 gallons of cold water fill up the rest of the tank, clearly overpowering the remaining 15 gallons of hot, turning it all very lukewarm. It takes a ton of electricity to heat those back up to "hot" - longer the higher you keep the temp.

It's expensive to put in another tank but you can talk to your heating company about a booster or a reserve "holding" tank for hot water.

Barring a defect or any leaks, I don't think you have a plumbing problem - I think you can consult your heating company (in our house, that's the oil company). But obviously get a bunch of estimates, which are free. If you don't like the people you hired, obviously you need to shop around.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

How many gallons does the new hot water hold? How many gallons did your old one hold? The size of the heater determines how long you have hot water.

I want to comment about home warranties. We had one In Phoenix that we purchased at the time we bought the house. American Home Shield. The swamp and refrigerator air conditioners were old and would need to be replaced soon. American Home Shield replaced the system with units much more energy efficient. This was at least $1000. I don't remember the amount. All we paid was the deductible which was $200. This was done promptly with complete cooperation from AHS.

They also replaced our hot water heater with the same sized heater. We used solar energy which made the heater more expensive.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Did you check to see if the new one they installed is the same size and quality unit as your old one?

From what you are describing it sounds like your tank is too small for your needs, and that whatever type you have does not re-heat very quickly.

It's just a complete guess on my part, but I have to wonder, since the home warranty company gave you such a runaround when it was time to replace your old system, perhaps they only authorized a certain dollar amount, and the plumbing company they contract with just installed a new, smaller, cheaper one thinking you'd not know the difference.

I don't know how many years ago this was, so you may not have any recourse since you didn't address it right away. Do you still have the paperwork from the old and new units so you can compare?

You said there are no children in the house, but are you certain your husband or guests aren't running hot water when you are trying to take a bath? Are you washing clothes on hot water setting at the same time? That, of course, would make a difference in the amount of water available for your bath, but it doesn't sound like this is what's happening.

You should check to see how many gallons your unit is before you call a plumber. If it's a smaller unit than you had before, that's probably your answer, and you may want to think about installing a bigger one or even a tankless heating system.

I love my hot baths, so this would drive me crazy!

Your example is one of the main reasons we don't use a home warranty company.

J. F.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dayton on

I'm like you, I love a hot bath. Have you tried increasing the temperature on the hot water tank? I definitely don't know anything about plumbing, but ours has a circular knob on the front so I can increase or decrease the temperature. I think mine is set at 140 degrees & I've never had the problem you are describing. Maybe give it a try by increasing the temperature, but if that doesn't work I'd have to call a plumber. I just couldn't give up my hot baths :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Iowa City on

Have you drained it since having it installed?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i'm a long steaming hot bath girl too. fortunately my husband has been able thus far to replace our heater when it went bad and keep it at a temp i can live with.
but if you don't have a handyman husband, you really do need a plumber. have you tried angie's list?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Turn up the temperature on the water heater.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You need a plumber.
As for the home warranties, they are known for not fully repairing issues because they don't want to spend the money. Take the money you spend on a home warranty, put it in savings and then do your own repairs and upgrades. It saves a lot of money and headaches.

What kind of water heater do you have? When we built our house the builder put in our water heaters which were not top quality. Within 4 years, we took them out, upgraded to Bradford White water heaters and re-did some wiring. It made a world of difference for us.

Where are your water heaters located? Ours are in the garage, SO.... if I want HOT water for shower and sink, I run the water for a good 5 minutes before it gets hot because those areas are so far from the hot water heaters.

Once I have hot water in those area, it does not go cold as fast as you describe.

Also, do you have gas or electric water heaters? We have gas.

You really need to get a plumber to check it out. Most have a set trip charge but if they do any repairs, that charge is rolled into the repair bill. Check BBB before you call just anyone and get references from some friends and neighbors. Don't go with the cheapest one you find... you get what you pay for.

Best wishes to you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

If it's only been a couple of years, your water heater should still be under manufacturer's warranty. I'd dig out the paperwork and find out. If so...get the dang thing fixed by a professional.



answers from Oklahoma City on

If it's emptied then it has to fill and sit for an extended period of time to heat up again. Think about you're biggest pot you cook in, it takes some time for that small pot to heat up. Imagine that pot being 40 times bigger.

I think this new hot water heater must be much smaller than the other one. I can't fill my tub with hot water either. I could in our other house but this one is just too big and I empty the hot water heater in a few moments.

I suggest you go find a different source or repairs. There is one thought, I am not sure how it would work but what about an instant hot water heater? it's a wall unit and as the water goes through it the heat hits it and heats it instantly. So an unlimited source of hot water.

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