How to Turn On Water Heater: Safety First!

When your water heater decides to take a break, it doesn’t just leave you cold – it can disrupt your entire routine. Whether you’re a new homeowner figuring things out or a seasoned DIY enthusiast, knowing how to turn on and shut off your water heater safely is crucial to keeping your home cozy and your life running smoothly.

In this guide, we’ll explore the essentials of turning on different types of water heaters safely and effectively. From electric to gas to tankless, we’ve provided practical tips and troubleshooting advice to ensure you’re never left out in the cold.

Key Takeaways

  • Turn off the water heater’s power or gas supply before performing maintenance or checks to ensure safety.
  • Identify the type of water heater you have (electric or gas) to follow the correct activation procedure.
  • Switch on the circuit breaker for electric water heaters and set the thermostat to the desired temperature.
  • For gas water heaters, light the pilot light following the manufacturer’s instructions and adjust the thermostat accordingly.
  • Regularly maintain your water heater by flushing the tank and checking for leaks to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

The Different Types of Water Heaters

Woman looking at the three types of water heaters

Electric Water Heaters

An electric water heater uses electricity to heat water inside a tank, often through coils or heating elements. They come in various types, like conventional tank heaters and tankless models. Electric heaters are easy to install and have lower upfront costs, but they might be less energy-efficient than gas options. They’re great for smaller households or occasional use.

Gas Water Heaters

A gas water heater uses natural gas or propane to heat water through a burner at the bottom of the tank. Types include storage tank and tankless models. They heat water quickly and can be cost-effective but require proper ventilation. Gas hot water heaters are ideal for larger households needing rapid, continuous hot water.

Tankless Water Heaters

A tankless water heater provides hot water on demand, heating water only as needed. It’s compact and energy-efficient, ideal for smaller spaces or eco-conscious homeowners. Options include electric and gas models. While more expensive up front, they offer endless hot water but may struggle with simultaneous high-demand usage. Ideal for tailored, efficient water heating.

Safety Precautions Before Turning On a Water Heater

plumber resetting water heater

Preparing the Area

Before turning on your water heater, clear the area of flammable items and ensure good ventilation. Check for leaks or rust around the heater. Have a fire extinguisher nearby, and wear safety goggles and gloves. Ensure the power is off for electric heaters and the gas supply is off for gas heaters.

Wearing Protective Gear

When turning on a water heater, wearing protective gear is crucial for safety. Here’s what you need:

  • Gloves: Protect your hands from burns or sharp edges.
  • Safety Glasses: Shield your eyes from splashes or debris.
  • Protective Clothing: Prevent accidental scalding or burns.

These small steps ensure your safety and help you avoid unwanted injuries during routine maintenance.

How to Turn On an Electric Water Heater

  1. Check the Power Supply: Ensure the heater’s circuit breaker is off.
  2. Inspect the Heater: Look for any visible issues, such as leaks or corrosion.
  3. Fill the Tank: Open the cold water supply valve to fill the tank.
  4. Set the Thermostat: Adjust the thermostat to the desired temperature.
  5. Turn On the Power: Flip the circuit breaker back on.
  6. Check for Proper Functioning: Wait for the water to heat up and check if it’s hot.

Ensure all connections are secure and monitor for any unusual noises.

Troubleshooting an Electric Water Heater

  1. Heater Not Turning On: Check the circuit breaker and ensure it hasn’t tripped. If the breaker is fine, the thermostat or heating element might need replacing.
  2. Unusual Noises: Sediment buildup can cause popping noises. Flush the tank to clear it out.
  3. No Hot Water: Ensure the thermostat is set correctly. If the water is cold, the heating element might be faulty.
  4. Inconsistent Temperature: Check the thermostat settings or consider replacing a faulty thermostat.

If problems persist, it might be best to consult a professional for further diagnosis.

How to Turn On a Gas Water Heater

  1. Check the Gas Supply: Ensure the gas valve is open and gas flows to the heater.
  2. Light the Pilot: Turn the control knob to “Pilot.” Press and hold the knob while using a long lighter to ignite the pilot.
  3. Hold and Release: Keep the knob pressed for 30 seconds, then release it slowly to ensure the pilot stays lit.
  4. Set the Temperature: Turn the control knob to your desired temperature setting.
  5. Monitor: Wait for the water to heat up and check if it’s reaching the set temperature.

Tip: Check for any air drafts or dirty components if the pilot doesn’t light.

Troubleshooting a Gas Water Heater

  1. Pilot Not Lighting: Check if the gas valve is open and there’s sufficient gas supply. If the pilot orifice is dirty, clean it. If the problem persists, the thermocouple might need replacing.
  2. Unusual Noises: Sediment buildup can cause popping noises. Flushing the tank can solve this.
  3. Temperature Issues: Adjust the thermostat if the water is too hot or cold. If the temperature remains inconsistent, the thermostat might need replacing.
  4. Pilot Goes Out: If the pilot lights but won’t stay lit, the thermocouple could be faulty or misaligned.

For persistent issues, it’s best to call a professional.

How to Turn On a Tankless Water Heater

  1. Check the Power or Gas Supply: Make sure the unit is plugged in or the gas valve is open.
  2. Turn On the Unit: Press the power button to turn on the heater.
  3. Set the Temperature: Use the digital display or dial to adjust the water temperature to your desired setting.
  4. Run Water: Turn on a hot water tap to test if the heater activates and heats the water properly.
  5. Check for Issues: Listen for unusual noises and ensure the water reaches the set temperature.

Tip: Regularly clean the filter to maintain optimal performance.

Troubleshooting a Tankless Water Heater

  1. Heater Not Turning On: Check the power supply or gas valve. Ensure the water supply is sufficient and not blocked by a clogged filter.
  2. Temperature Fluctuations: Clean or replace clogged filters. Adjust the flow rate to align with the heater’s capacity.
  3. Unusual Noises: Sediment buildup can cause loud noises. Flush the heater to remove sediment.

Tip: Regular maintenance, such as descaling and cleaning filters, helps prevent issues. For persistent problems, consult a professional or refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Common Issues and Solutions

When turning on a water heater, homeowners face various issues that may hinder performance or comfort. Understanding these common problems and their practical solutions can save time and prevent frustration. Here’s a quick rundown of what to watch out for and how to tackle them:

  • Heater Not Turning On:
    • Potential Causes: Tripped circuit breaker, faulty pilot light.
    • Solution: Check the breaker or relight the pilot.
  • Temperature Issues:
    • Potential Causes: Faulty thermostat or heating element.
    • Solution: Adjust or replace the thermostat or element.
  • Unusual Noises:
    • Cause: Sediment buildup.
    • Solution: Flush the tank regularly.
  • Water Quality Concerns:
    • Cause: Rusty tank or contaminated water source.
    • Solution: Flush the tank and check the water source.
  • Persistent Problems:
    • Solution: Call a professional for further diagnosis.


Phyxter HVAC, electrical and plumbing team

Turning on a water heater safely requires understanding different water tank types, following safety precautions, and troubleshooting issues. By following these steps, homeowners can ensure their water heater functions optimally.

Phyxter Home Services brings expert knowledge and high-quality information to plumbing topics. Explore more insightful articles and trust Phyxter for all your plumbing needs. Stay warm and safe; remember, we’re here to help you maintain a comfortable home.

Russell Jones

Russell, a native Australian and VP of Operations at Phyxter Home Services, is also part-owner of Vernon Air Conditioning, Plumbing, and Electrical Services. When he's not busy with work projects and renovations, Russell enjoys putting his vast knowledge of home improvement to good use by sharing his tips and tricks.

About our blog

Phyxter (pronounced Fix-ter) is a national home services brand specializing in Residential HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing solutions.

Phyxter is laser-focused on writing the best articles and guides to empower homeowners to get the best out of their homes.

We hope you enjoy it!

Looking for something?

Join our Newsletter!