Natural gas water heaters use a burner to heat the water flowing through your home, but what if that flame is a sputtering yellow instead of a stable blue? Besides affecting how quickly your water heats back up after use, this can also impact the quality of the water you use to wash your dishes and take showers. Thankfully, the solution to this burner problem is usually inexpensive, but it is best left to an experienced plumber if you have no experience working with natural gas.
Recognizing the Signs of Burner Issues
The first sign of an issue with your water heater's burner is usually smoggy, dirty water and a sooty smell when you shower. This indicates that your water heater isn't burning fuel efficiently, allowing debris to make it into your water supply. You can confirm that this is the problem by peering through the view port included in many natural gas water heaters. If the flame is more yellow or orange than blue, it likely isn't functioning as intended. Water heaters that don't have a view port to the burner may need to be accessed by a professional for safety.
Knowing What's Normal
It's not unusual for water heater flames to flare yellow when the heater begins warming up. You should only be concerned if the flame doesn't then switch to a steady blue, or if it seems to be impacting the quality of your hot water. When you aren't sure, it never hurts to schedule an appointment with your plumber to examine the heater and ensure that it is working as intended.
Checking the Air Supply
A yellow flame is a weak one, meaning it is lacking one of the two vital ingredients needed for any fire. The first of these is oxygen, typically supplied through ventilation openings or hoses. If your water heater is tucked away in a back corner, its ventilation system may have become clogged or blocked by dust or clutter, preventing the flame from drawing the oxygen needed for a steady burn. Once you're sure that the exterior of the heater is clean and clear of its surroundings, you or your plumber will need to open it up to find the blocked pipe or hose.
Supplying Enough Fuel
The other potential cause behind a weak fire is a lack of fuel, namely the natural gas. This may be another issue with a blockage in your natural gas line, or it may be that your pressure is simply too low for the heater's size. The former solution is more common with older models, while the latter is often seen in new ones. You will need to work with both your plumber and your gas company to determine the right flow rate for your model and double check that everything is then running as intended, with a healthy blue flame to provide your household with all of the hot water it demands.
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