When your water heater stops working, it means more than just a cold shower; your washing machine, dishwasher, and other appliances may also be affected. Learn the warning signs that your heater might be breaking down so you can call in a repair professional before you’re left in the cold.

Decades ago, taking a hot bath or washing clothes required pumping enough water to meet your needs and then boiling it. Today, working that hard and waiting that long for hot water seems almost unthinkable, at least in places like the United States. Chances are you barely think about your home’s hot water heater–until the moment it breaks and you’re stuck with a cold shower. Avoid losing hot water entirely by learning a few key signs that your heater might be in need of repair.

Water Is Slow to Run Hot

If you turn on a hot water faucet and it takes more than a minute to warm up, your heater might be malfunctioning. Test several different faucets in your home to ensure that the problem is global, and also note whether the problem is worse at different times of day. Chances are, a heater that is slow to heat will eventually cease to heat at all; bring in a repair expert before that dreaded day arrives.

Flow of Water Is Choppy

If you turn the hot faucet on and the water comes out in spurts, or the pressure is very low, you may have a clogging issue in the heater. Contact a repair professional, as this problem can worsen over time.

Water Heater Is Making Noise

If your heater has started making banging, clanging, or cracking noises, it’s time to get it looked at. Those noises might indicate that hard mineral sediment has developed inside the heater. Steam bubbles formed during the heating process can get trapped under the sediment, moving it around when they pop. The larger those sediment chunks get, the greater the chance that the damage to your heater will be permanent.

Water Heater Is Leaking

A leaking heater may still work, but it needs to be fixed. In addition to the obvious signs of leakage, such as puddles and drips down the outside of the heater, look for mold growth on the floor and walls and a softening of the floor or walls in the area. A repair expert will be able to identify and fix the leaking pipe.

Hot Water Has a Foul Odor

Gas water heaters have an anode rod inside them that helps protect the water heater from corrosion. If your hot water is coming out of the faucet smelling like rotten eggs, the culprit is likely a problem with this anode rod. Contact a residential plumber or water heater repair expert to assess the problem and make the necessary repairs.

A water heater repair specialist will be able to determine the extent of the damage to your water heater. In an ideal scenario, you’ll just need a single replacement part; for more serious issues, the entire unit may need to be replaced. However, by catching the problem early, you should be able to minimize the inconvenience and cost to your family.