Water heating tips, reccommendations and frequently asked questions about water heaters.

What are the signs you can look for that will tell you it's time to replace your water heater?

Let me say this first, there is no absolutely sure way to know if you are about to spring a water heater leak, because of the outer jacket and the insulation, you can not see the actual water heater tank, and would not be able to see rust spots that would be a sure sign of a future water heater leak. Rust on the outer jacket is not an indication of a problem, most water heaters are stored in a damp place, and this will cause the outer water heater jacket to develop some rust on it.

Damp or wet insulation can be a sigh of a problem, you can see and touch the hotwater heaters insulation around the water inlet, outlet, around the T&P valve, Around the anode rod, and other places, on electric water heaters you can see and feel the insulation under the water heater element cover, But keep in mind water and electricity do not mix, you can be killed, don't do this yourself. On a gas water heater you can see inside the bottom of the water heater by removing the access cover where the burner is, rust inside the base of the chamber could be a sign of a problem, water sitting around the inside of the base is a sure sign of a problem, you can also feel the insulation in this area.

The popcorn sound on gas fired hotwater heaters, I do not need to describe this sound because if you have it you know it, the sound comes from minerals that attach themselves to the bottom of the tank and pop when heated, the popping is not the problem but the fact that the minerals are attached to the bottom of the tank is. Just because you hear it popping, does not necessarily mean you need to have a new water heater installed. I have heard the popping on some hot water heaters for over 2 years before it had water heater leakage, but on the other hand I have seen water heaters that looked perfect and well within the warrantee period, burst for no apparent reason.

If you have a 40-gallon hot water heater, and it bursts, how many gallons of water will you have on your floor?

A. 40 Gallons.

B. Less Then 40 gallons

C. More then 40 gallons

Answer: If you have a 5 gallon a minute water flow in to your home, the average submersible well pump pumps 5 gallons per minute, some more and some less, town water flow is greater, but at 5 gallons a minute, if your tank burst just after you left your home for work in the morning and did not return for 10 hours (like most of us) you would have 3000 gallons of water on your floor, If you went away for a week you would have 50,400 gallons of water on your floor, This is why code requires a pan be installed under the water heater, however, this pan will only drain off a small leak, a full blow out is more then the small pan drain can handle and the water will overflow all over the place. The size of the water heater is not relevant to the amount of water that will leak.

Electric Water Heaters

The electric hotwater heater is heated by 1 or 2 electric elements, The small 120 volt electric hot water heaters with less then 20 gallons usually only have 1-120 volt element that sits in the water a few inches from the bottom to the water heater and 1 thermostat to control the temperature, when there is hot water heater problems with this type of single element water heater it's fairly simple to figure out, it's either the breaker, the thermostat or the element, assuming the problem is no hot water.

The larger electric water heaters have 2-240 volt elements and an upper water heater thermostat and a lower water heater thermostat plus an upper water heater element and a lower water heater element. The upper and lower water heater elements may be the same wattage (check the label on your tank for the proper replacement) but sometimes they are different watts. There are many different size, mounting, volts, lengths and wattages in water heater elements; one size does not fit all. Troubleshooting an electric water heater can be very difficult, and extremely dangerous. 240 volts plus 4500 watt plus water = death.

Hot Water Problems

No Hot Water At All

If you have no hot water at all (cold water coming out of hot water side of faucets) the possible causes are:

A. The breaker is tripped or the fuse is blown (ask your self why did the fuse blow or the breaker tripped?)

B. The upper thermostats circuit breaker tripped, usually because the water got too hot.

C. The upper thermostat failed and has become defective.

D. The upper element has become defective.

E. Running or dripping faucets, the water runs out of the tank before it can be heated.

F. Running toilets, if you have a toilet-mixing valve, same reason as above.

G. Broken hot water line under the slab, same reason as above.

Only a Limited Amount of Hot Water

A. The lower thermostat may be defective

B. The lower water heater element may be defective. Note: the power will not go to the lower element until the upper thermostat is satisfied.

C. The dip tube may be broken.

The Water is Way Too Hot

A. One or both thermostats are defective; the elements have nothing to do with the water being too hot.

B. The settings on the thermostats are set too high. Once all the hot water is used up, it takes forever for the water to get hot again.

C. Electric water heaters have the slowest recovery, of all hot water heaters.

Maintenance of the water heater, once in a while, (about every 3 months or so) its good to hook a hose to the drain at the bottom of the water heater and drain some water off the bottom. With an electric water heater it is very important to turn the power off first, then turn the supply to the water heater off then drain some water off the bottom, then turn the water back on and run a faucet till you get a good flow of water from the hot side of the faucet, then turn the power back on, failure to do this is this order may cause the upper element to burn out, the elements must be submersed in water.

If the water will not flow out of the hose, it's too late there is too much lime build up at the bottom of the water heater, stare looking for a new one. Sometimes when I try to replace a lower element, I came get the element out because it is totally immersed in the lime buildup.

Natural Gas & Propane Water Heaters

Gas fired hotwater heaters are far better then electric water heaters because of their greater recover time and usually cost less to use.

Replacing a gas fired water heater (or any type of water heater) is best left to the professional; the following are just some of the reasons why. Explosion, Fire and Carbon monoxide poisoning, also water damage but in light of the other three, water damage is the least of your problems.

Please be aware that many large home improvement chain stores are allowed to sell gas fired water heaters to the general public. It's illegal for anyone without a plumbing license to work on any natural gas line, and rightfully so.

The smallest gas leak can cause an explosion, propane gas is heaver then air and can and does lose it's odor, you can't see it you can't smell it and it will not rise up the flue pipe.

All gas water heaters are not the same, for example you may have a 50 gallon water heater in your home now, and you want to replace it, you go to the large home improvement chain store and say give me a 50 gallon gas water heater, an exact replacement??? NO! The old one may have used only 33,000 BTUs and the new one is now 50,000 BTUs, so what's the problem, 50,000 BTUs is better then 33,000 BTUs anyway? Your flue size may be too small for the larger water heater; this will cause carbon monoxide to roll in to your home. Your gas supply may be too small to handle the extra BTUs. This will cause a carbon monoxide problem also. The flexible connector that is on the old water heater may be brass, the brass flexible gas connectors have been outlawed many years ago because they develop pin holes and leak, but a home owner would not know that, and may reuse a dangerous fitting, Some gas utilities require spill switches that attach to the draft hood of the water heater this safety device will shut down the water heater if the flue or chimney is blocked or has a negative draft, but even it these areas, the large home improvement chains don't sell the spill switches with the water heaters, so you may be in violation of local safety ordinances and not have an important safety device on your hotwater heater.

Information provided by MasterPlumber.net

This article is only meant to give you general information on water heaters. Consult with a local plumbing professional to insure you are making the smartest and safest decision.