Do you live in an area that is plagued by hard water? This refers to the amount of magnesium and dissolved calcium suspended in the water and can be particularly problematic for pipes and other conduit systems in your home. If it's been some time since you checked the capability of items such as your hot water heater, why should you have a closer look right now?
First Signs of Trouble
Unfortunately, whenever hard water is heated up it can lead to a build-up of scale, caused by deposits of calcium carbonate. With time, this deposit base will grow and it will affect the efficiency of the average water heater. As this happens, you may start to notice some peculiar noises coming from inside the hot water heater, as you're trying to increase the temperature. The sediment and scale will become overheated and will cause the heating element to work sporadically, leading to the odd bang or rumbling noise. The entire heater will start to vibrate as things get even worse and will transmit this noise to the rest of the plumbing system, for additional auditory effect.
You may also notice another telltale sign as the colour of the water coming out of the tap will eventually become orange. This is a sign of rust and corrosion associated with the build-up of scale and should be another prompt for you to take action. Unfortunately, if you transfer this type of water to a washing machine or dishwasher, it is going to have a negative effect on the internal operations of that unit as well.
Your patience may finally run out if you find that you run out of hot water while you're trying to take a shower. No matter how high you turn up the thermostat, you still can't get satisfaction, and this is yet another indication of a hot water tank failure. The element within will have succumbed to the ravages of the hard water, and you will need to replace the entire unit as soon as you can.
Getting the Fix
Talk to a plumber about your hot water system and they will help you to determine the next course of action. Unfortunately, it's difficult to counter the effects of hard water flowing into your home, and unless you want to move to another area, you may need to budget for additional system repairs from time to time.