It's never fun when you're in the shower all lathered up and your hot water begins to run out. Suddenly, you begin to frantically look around the bathtub like the answer is somewhere hidden on the walls or shower curtain. In a futile effort to rid yourself of goosebumps, you get a little too forceful with the cold water knob and the next thing you know, you've scalded yourself. Sound familiar?
While this type of scenario is commonplace in many homes in which family members are competing for shower time in addition to the other chores that require hot water like running the dishwasher or doing a load of laundry, it can be an even larger issue when old man winter comes rolling around. If you experience a significant difference in your hot water heater's performance in the year's latter or early months, then here are a few things you can check out.
Area Around the Heater
What is the environment like around your hot water heater? If your hot water heater is located in your basement, is it cold down there? Is there a draft? You may want to check out the area and perform some preventive maintenance, like re-caulking the basement windows or checking for anywhere cold air may be getting into the basement.
If the pipes that deliver the hot water from your water heater to the rest of your home are exposed for a long length before they head upstairs, then you may want to insulate them. Just wrap foam pipe insulation around the pipes and that will help to keep some of the heat from dissipating.
Many older hot water heaters, and some new ones, may have a broken or cracked dip tube. The dip tube is a plastic tube that runs from the cold water input to the bottom of the tank. This is how the cold water gets into the tank without disturbing the hot water near the top. If the tube is broken or cracked, then cold water is leaking out into your hot water supply and cooling it off. The dip tube is replaceable on many water heaters. You may begin to notice pieces of plastic showing up in your aerators if your dip tube is broken.
If your hot water heater is a little cold, you can try warming it up by covering it with a blanket. Not the type of blanket you would use to stay warm, but a specially-made wrapping that covers the hot water heater. With your hot water heater wrapped, you can actually turn down the temperature on your water heater as the wrapping will help to keep the water about ten degrees warmer than what you have it set at.
If you have tried these tips and you are still unsuccessful at improving your hot water heater's performance in the winter, then you may want to have someone check your heating elements (if electric), pilot light, or thermostat. In addition, you should perform your usual maintenance routines like cleaning out the debris by flushing out the system. Of course, there's always the chance that your hot water heater may be bad, however, if it works fine throughout the summer months and it only suffers in the winter, then odds are it is one of these problems.