How to Turn on a Water Heater: A Homeowner’s Guide

Whether you’ve just moved into a new home or your existing water heater has been turned off for maintenance, knowing how to safely turn on your water heater is a skill worth knowing for any homeowner. With all of the different types of water heaters on the market today, it can be confusing to know exactly how to turn yours on. This guide will walk you through the steps of turning on a water heater and give you some tips if you run into any trouble.

Safety Precautions Before You Start a Water Heater

To start your water heater safely, clear the area around it and remove any flammable materials. Ensure the water heater is installed on a stable and level surface in a well-ventilated room. Turn off the power (for electric water heaters) or turn off the gas supply (for gas heaters). Next, make sure there are no exposed wires, rust, or leaks on or near the water heater. If you notice any of these issues, contact a professional plumber before proceeding.

Although rare, water heaters can start fires in your home if not handled properly. Taking these safety precautions before turning on your water heater can help prevent any accidents or damage to your home. Remember to have a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

How to Turn on a Gas Water Heater

If you own a gas water heater, here are the steps to safely turn it on:

  1. Turn on the Gas Supply
    a. Ensure the gas valve is “On” and gas is flowing to the heater.
  2. Light the Pilot Light
    Locate the gas control valve and set it to the “Pilot” position.
    b. Press and hold down the pilot button (or gas control knob).
    c. Use a long lighter or match to light the pilot. Keep the button or knob pressed for 30 seconds to 1 minute after the pilot is lit to ensure it stays on.
    d. If your heater has an electronic igniter, press the igniter button while holding down the pilot button.
    e. Release the pilot button slowly. The pilot should remain lit. If it goes out, repeat the process.
  3. Set the Thermostat
    Adjust the thermostat to your desired temperature setting, typically between 120-140ºF (49-60ºC).
  4. Monitor
    Watch as the water heater heats up to the desired temperature.
    b. Once the water has reached this temperature, you can start using hot water again in your home.

If your pilot light won’t turn on or keeps going out after numerous attempts, you may have a faulty thermocouple or gas control valve, which will require professional assistance.

How to Turn on an Electric Water Heater

For those who own an electric water heater, the steps will be slightly different. Usually, these devices are easier to turn on and require less maintenance. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Locate the Circuit Breaker
    Find the breaker labeled “Water Heater” or “WH” in the electrical panel. Flip it to the ON position.
  2. Check the Power Switch
    Ensure the power switch on the top or side of the tank is ON.
  3. Inspect the Thermostats
    Verify both upper and lower thermostats are set between 120ºF and 140°F.
  4. Reset High Limit Controls
    If overheated, press the red reset button near the thermostat.

With electric water heaters, you can skip the hassle of lighting a pilot light. However, it is still important to regularly check the thermostats and reset the high-limit controls.

Turning On a Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters are surging in popularity due to their energy efficiency and compact size. As with traditional water heaters, gas and electric versions are available. Let’s break down how to turn on both.

Gas Tankless Water Heater

After clearing the area and ensuring there is proper ventilation, locate the gas valve near the tankless water heater. The gas valve near the water heater should have a handle that is “On” when it turns parallel to the gas line and perpendicular when it is “Off.” Turn it to the “Off” position so that the gas is not flowing. Flip the circuit to give power to the water heater. Set the temperature to the desired range between 120°F and 140°F. Open the gas valve to the parallel or “On” position. Lastly, after turning it on, check the display panel for error codes and verify that the water heater is producing hot water.

Electric Tankless Water Heater

First, ensure the water supply and electrical connections are properly attached and secure. Flip the circuit breaker or power switch to the “On” position to supply power to the water heater. Use the control panel to set the desired water temperature (120°F and 140°F). As with the gas version, after turning it on, check the display panel for error codes.

Turning on a water heater is a relatively simple process if you know all the steps. However, if you are unfamiliar with the equipment or uncomfortable performing these steps, it’s best to get help and avoid potential safety hazards.

Why Won’t Your Water Heater Turn On?

In the frustrating event that your water heater still won’t turn on, there could be a number of reasons for this issue. Here are some common issues and how to troubleshoot them.

Gas Water Heaters

  • Pilot Light Issues: If the pilot light goes out, identify the cause before relighting. Common issues include drafts or a faulty thermocouple.
  • Burner Problems: If the burner does not ignite, there may be an issue with the gas supply or control valve. Check for any blockages or clogs in the gas line and ensure the valve is in the “On” position.
  • Thermostat Malfunction: A malfunctioning thermostat can prevent a water heater from turning on. If you suspect this is the issue, it’s best to call a professional for repairs.

Electric Water Heaters

  • Tripped Circuit Breaker: If your electric water heater won’t turn on, check the circuit breaker to see if it has been tripped. Reset it and try turning on the water heater again.
  • Faulty Heating Element: A faulty heating element can also prevent an electric water heater from turning on. This will likely require a replacement by a professional.
  • Wiring Issues: Faulty or damaged wiring can cause issues with electrical connections and prevent the water heater from turning on. If you have experience with electrical work, you can troubleshoot this issue, but it’s best to call a professional for safety

Tankless Water Heaters

  • Gas Supply Issues: If you have a gas tankless water heater, check the gas supply to ensure it is turned on. A lack of gas supply will prevent the water heater from turning on.
  • Electrical Problems: For electric tankless water heaters, a tripped circuit breaker or faulty wiring can prevent the unit from turning on. Follow the same troubleshooting steps as with an electric water heater mentioned above.
  • Mineral Buildup: Over time, mineral buildup can occur in tankless water heaters and cause issues with heat transfer, leading to problems with turning on. It’s best to avoid this issue by properly maintaining the system.

Call Nearby Plumbing for Professional Water Heater Help Today

If your water heater still won’t turn on after following the steps in this guide, or if you’re experiencing any other issues, it’s time to seek professional help. At Nearby Plumbing, our team of experienced plumbers can help you with any water heater problems you may be facing. We offer a variety of services and have the expertise to handle any type of water heater. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and get your water heater up and running again.