If you're having water heater problems with a heater that hasn't exactly been well-kept, there are any number of possible sources, so it might be a good idea to get a professional in pronto. After all, a neglected water heater probably needs more maintenance and repairs than you realize; there could actually be several things going wrong with it--or you may just need a new one altogether. Here's how to troubleshoot a malfunctioning water heater that hasn't been well-maintained.
If it's leaking:
Leaks in a neglected water heater tank can get very serious very quickly. First you should check the sacrificial anode; this is supposed to protect the tank from corrosion, but can't if it isn't replaced regularly. If it's all eaten away, corrosion could be why your tank is leaking (and the whole tank may be compromised, depending on the severity of the corrosion). Next, flush the tank to remove sediment. If you haven't already, try to identify exactly where the leak is coming from. The problem could be as simple as a defective temperature/pressure valve that needs replacing, or it could be wholesale corrosion of the tank.
If it's making strange sounds:
Again, this could be due to sediment in the tank. This sediment can make an annoying and even frightening popping or rumbling sound and, as mentioned above, can even aid corrosion by minimizing the effect of the sacrificial anode on the lower part of the tank. So if you hear this type of sound, start by flushing the tank out and see if that solves the problem. If it doesn't, you may need professional diagnostics.
If it's stopped heating water:
Sometimes a neglected hot water heater can make all the strange sounds it wants without getting any attention as long as it keeps heating up the water. But if it stops heating water, what then? Once you've tried resetting the heater, the next step is to check and see if an element has burned out. You may be able to replace the element yourself if you determine this to be the case, as long as you're comfortable with basic repairs and tools. If this isn't the issue, there could be a thermostat problem or a high temperature limit switch malfunction.
These troubleshooting tips will help you either fix your hot water heater problem or at least get closer to a solution. If the issue doesn't seem to be one of the things listed above, you may require further help from professionals like Cascade Plumbing & Mechanical, LLC to actually resolve the problem.