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Why Do I Have Low Hot Water Pressure?

a bathroom with low hot water pressure
You go to wash dishes or take a nice, hot shower—only to realize when you turn on the water that the pressure is low. Having low hot water pressure is annoying, but it can also be a sign of a real problem that needs attention. It’s often best to resolve the issue as soon as you can. Otherwise, it could become an even bigger problem that is harder and more expensive to fix.
Before you start troubleshooting the cause of your low hot water pressure, it’s a good idea to check in with your neighbors. Is your house only affected, or are your neighbors experiencing the same thing? If the low pressure seems like a sudden problem, instead of something that has developed gradually over time, it could be something affecting the whole neighborhood.
Sometimes there is a larger-scale issue like a break in a nearby water main. Other times, the city may be flushing fire hydrants or may have turned off the water due to a maintenance problem. These are temporary issues that are typically resolved quickly.
Assuming it’s not a broader issue for your neighborhood or city, it’s affecting your home specifically. Several different things can cause low hot water pressure in a home.

Low Hot Water Pressure Causes

If you’re new to your home, it’s a good idea to check the main water supply to your house. If you’re noticing that you have low water pressure in your kitchen sink, follow these tips. Check that the main shutoff valve that controls the water to your home is turned on all the way. It should be turned all the way to the left. This means the valve is completely open.
You can also check if your home has a pressure regulator installed. If it does, it may be on the wrong setting, or it could be malfunctioning. If you have a pressure gauge, you can connect it to an outdoor hose bib to check the water pressure in your home. Somewhere between about 50 and 70 psi is a good reading. Anything lower is too low. In this case, you will need to replace the pressure regulator. Having it replaced by a professional is the most efficient way to handle this situation.
Those are all good things to check first, but it may be that your low hot water pressure is the result of something else. One of the most common causes of low hot water pressure is mineral and scale buildup in the pipes. This is due to hard water—the term for water with high levels of dissolved mineral content like calcium and magnesium.
If your home doesn’t have a water softener installed, there could be buildup within the hot water heater. This can also happen if your water softener isn’t working properly. When you use hot water, this buildup can run from the water heater to the pipes and fixtures in your home. This slowly blocks the water flow over time.

Is the Problem a Leak?

Another common cause of low hot water pressure is a leak somewhere in the system. When water is leaking out of some portion of the pipes that supply water to your home, the pressure to the whole system is affected. You may not even realize there is a leak if it is in a hard-to-reach area or underground. A reputable plumber will know how to find a water leak, even if it’s hidden, and fix it to resolve water pressure issues in your home.
The problem could also be somewhere in or around your water heater itself. Sometimes there is a lot of sediment buildup inside the water heater. This sediment also builds up in the pipes leading from the heater to the rest of your home. If you have an older tank-style hot water heater and you hear clunking or knocking sounds coming from the heater, sediment buildup is a likely issue.
Other times, the shutoff valve to the hot water heater gets stuck in a partially closed position. Sometimes, the valve even breaks. This is something for a plumbing professional to handle. It’s also a good idea to call in a professional if you are at all unsure about what might be causing your home’s low hot water pressure. A licensed, reputable plumbing specialist can easily diagnose and fix the problem.

a home where the water heater smells like sewage

What to Do When the Water Heater Smells Like Sewage

When your water heater smells like sewage, you need to have a plumbing professional take a look at the unit. Some people describe this bad smell as smelling like rotten eggs. However you describe it, it could be coming from sulfur bacteria that are making their way through the pipes and into your water supply.
Bacteria can grow inside when the water heater is off for a while. Then, when the water heater turns back on, the water disperses through the pipes to the rest of the house, carrying this bacteria with it. The same thing can happen when the temperature is set too low on the hot water heater. Bacteria can’t thrive within the tank when the temperature is not set high enough.

Why Bacteria Can Be Dangerous

When bacteria does grow, it may not be a serious threat to your health. It might just make the water taste and smell bad—which of course, is a problem that needs fixing in its own right. But sometimes, smelly hot water is a dangerous situation that needs to be addressed quickly by a professional. The cause may be hydrogen sulfide, a hazardous gas that can build up inside water heaters due to bacteria buildup or corrosion.
Whatever the cause of the bad-smelling water heater might be, it’s time to call in a plumbing professional. A professional will flush and disinfect the water heater tank to eliminate the smell and the problem that is causing the smell.
If you notice your water heater smelling like eggs or sewage, several issues may be causing it. Whatever the problem is, it’s a good idea to contact a plumbing specialist who can determine the exact cause of the smell and then fix the issue quickly.
a shower head

What to Do if You Can’t Get Water Heater to Drain

Many homeowners know that it’s a good idea to flush the water heater once a year. Tank-style water heaters can develop lots of sediment buildup that affects the unit’s performance over time. If you drain the water once a year and refill the tank with fresh water, this cuts down on sediment buildup issues. But what should you do if you can’t get your water heater to drain?
It’s not uncommon to have trouble draining your water heater. This is especially true with older models that have gone through many years of use. Tiny particles of calcium and magnesium can build up inside the tank. This sediment buildup starts displacing the water and clogging the pipes over time.
Fortunately, if you are a handy homeowner, you can try a few things to get your water heater to drain. Just be very careful doing this yourself. You’ll need to turn off the water heater and its water supply before working on it. But even with these precautions, the water inside the tank may be extremely hot. There is a risk of burning yourself if something goes wrong.

How to Get Started

If you decide to drain the water heater yourself, you’ll need to connect a hose to the drain valve and run the other end to a drain. If there is a clog in the drain line, the line might drain slowly, but if you let it go at its own pace, the clog may slowly dislodge itself.
There is also a possibility that your drain valve needs replacing. For a drain valve replacement, it’s often easiest to contact a plumber.
For most homeowners, it’s best to contact a plumber to address any problems related to your water heater or your pipes. A reputable plumbing professional can diagnose and fix any plumbing issue quickly and efficiently.

ABC Can Help With All Your Water Heater Service Needs

Water heater problems can cause large disruptions in your day-to-day life. If you’re experiencing issues, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed professionals will efficiently fix any plumbing issues you may be having and can even help identify some signs of your water heater going bad.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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