Why You Run Out of Hot Water Too Soon--And What to Do about it

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Do you have to stagger showers with your family members because two people can't shower at the same time in different parts of the house without getting drenched with cold water? Or do you have to plan for when to run the dishwasher or washing machine because these appliances zap all the hot water you may need later? What gives?

There's nothing more annoying than being out of hot water when you need it most. But if you're ready to assess what's going on, there's typically a few simple reasons your home is lacking in hot water—and they all have to do with your hot water heater—naturally. Here's some common culprits:

Your Hot Water Heater is too Small

If you've moved into a home where your family is bigger than the previous owner's family, your family has grown in number over time, or the hot water heater wasn't the right size to begin with, it explains why you run out of hot water. Your hot water heater is not meeting your home's—and its occupant's—needs. If the water heater is over ten years old, it's probably a no brainer to replace it. But you need one with a tank size that meets your hot water requirements.

Shop for a new water heater with a first hour rating (FHR) that's within a couple gallons of your peak hour demand. The FHR is the number of gallons the hot water heater will provide per hour when it's full. You can find the FHR on the yellow Energy Label sticker on the side of hot water heater models at your home store.

Sediment

Hard water—that's water packed with minerals like calcium carbonate—builds up in your hot water tank over time and forms a sludge-like sediment. Left unchecked, that sludge builds up in the water heater's tank allowing the sediment to hog the space where water is stored, so less gets heated.

The cure is to flush the sediment out of the hot water tank yearly. Sediment build up not only shortens your available hot water supply but can up your energy bills since your heater has to work harder to heat water, plus, it puts excessive wear and tear on your tank.

Home services reviewer Angie's List says you can hire a technician to drain it or hook a garden hose to the hot water heater and drain and flush the sediment yourself. Here's how:

1. Turn off power or gas to water heater.

2. Turn off the cold water supply valve that allows water into the tank.

3. Hook a garden hose to the drain valve on the bottom of the tank and run it to a bathtub or outside.

4. Open drain valve next to the hose.

5. Open pressure relief valve at top of tank by pulling it upward.

6. Allow water to drain.

7. When the tank is empty, open cold water valve for several minutes to flush sediment.

8. Close drain valve and pressure relief valve and let the tank fill with fresh water.

9. Re-light pilot light for gas heaters or if electric, flip the breaker back on to restore power.

Broken Dip Tube

Inside your hot water heater, the dip tube shoots cold water to the bottom of the tank where heating elements warm it and send it onward to your pipes. If that dip tube breaks, water can shoot in without ever making it to the heating elements to be warmed.You can spot a suspected broken dip tube because you'll find small bits of plastic clogging strainers, shower heads or appliance filter screens like the washing machine. R.I.P plastic dip tube!

If you find plastic pieces clogging your faucets, contact a professional technician to replace your dip tube—best not to DIY in this case.

These are three of the most common reasons your home has trouble making enough hot water. Hopefully, with a small repair or replacement, everyone in your home will be in hot water again soon.