Vanishing Hot Water; Shivering Showers!
When It’s Hot, It’s Hot. And When It’s Not, It’s Really Not!
Has this ever happened to you? You step into the tub or stall for your morning shower. The water comes out nice and hot and steamy. You lather up, luxuriating in the soothing warmth. And then it happens. The water suddenly turns ice cold. And you almost break your neck as you hit the ceilingfrom the sheer shock of being sprayed with water that feels like it was piped in from Alaskan tundra!
This arctic shower blast takes place in thousands of bathrooms every day. And while it’s a great way to wake yourself up, it’s not something you really want to subject your nervous system to everyday. Here are some of the many things that can cause your shower’s hot water to do a sudden U-turn and turn into a river of shivers!
Water Heater Trouble:
Check all the sinks and plumbing fixtures in the house to make determine if your cold shower is a singular problem or an indication that something more serious is going on. If you don’t get hot water anywhere, the problem is likely with your hot water heater. Check the unit’s temperature settings and fuses. If your water heater runs on gas, the pilot light may have gone out.
Another possibility is that your water heater’s dip tube has broken off. This is a tube that forces incoming water to the bottom of the water tank so that hot water will be drawn off of the top. When the dip tube breaks, cold water enters the tank, mixes with the hot water and cools it down. This can occur in both gas and electric models.
If you have an electric water heater, the problem could be due to a bad heating element or a thermostat malfunction. If so, the problem should be evaluated by a plumbing technician.
Other possible water heater problems/issues include a blockage in the flue, a broken part, leaks or sediment accumulation in the water tank. You should always contact an experienced plumbing professional if you suspect one of these more complex problems.
If the other fixtures in your house seem to be working fine, your cold shower is likely an isolated problem. In newer homes, there’s usually no need to replace the pipes; copper pipes don’t corrode and rarely back up, so it is not generally an issue with the pipes that’s preventing hot water from coming through. Find the hot water shut off valve and check to see if it’s closed. If so, opening the valve will usually fix the problem. If your home is older and has steel pipes or if adjusting the shut off valve doesn’t help, you may need to consult a professional about a possible broken shower valve.
Remove, Rinse, Replace
Over time the rubber parts in most shower valves can wear down and become distorted. This can cause improper sealing or swelling that can block the flow of water. The distortion gets worse as hot water travels through the valves, and sometimes the rubber parts can break off inside the valves and pipes. This debris often travels through pipes and valves, causing obstructions. In order to fix the problem, you’ll have to remove the damaged part and flush out the valve to remove any broken pieces. If you have some experience with bathroom plumbing, it’s not that difficult to take apart the fixture and rinse out the hot water screen. Just be sure to lay a cloth over the drain to catch any small parts that may come out when the valve is flushed.
Your shower or tub may have scaled faucet guards installed as a regulator to prevent water from reaching scalding levels. These guards can be adjusted to the temperature you desire by removing the faucet handle and turning the adjusting ring to the hotter or colder setting. This can be a complex repair job and is best left in the hands of an experienced plumbing technician.
Risk vs. Reward
Bathroom plumbing is a highly specialized trade and even simple do-it-yourself projects can get complicated quickly. Though diagnosing hot water problems is generally easy, actually fixing those problems is not always so simple. Most shower valve parts are behind walls, making them inaccessible to those without the right tools or experience. These are also sophisticated systems that may require special skills to work with—the last thing you want to do is go through the hassle and expense of opening up a wall, only to find that you have no idea what you’re looking at. If you aren’t confident that you can fix the problem on your own, trust your instincts. The risk of doing more damage usually far outweighs the cost of hiring a professional. However, doing some of the diagnostic legwork on your own first will make it easier and more efficient to work with a professional plumber to repair the problem.