A “how to” for determining the right water heater for the needs of your family.
What is a water heater and how does it work?
As the name suggests, a water heater is a piece of equipment that raises the temperature of the tap or well water coming into your house. Water heaters can be electric, gas or solar; in general, your water heater will use the same source of energy as your furnace.
A gas or electric water heater consists of a tank (various sizes exist), pipes, heating elements and other parts (some obvious, some not.) Solar water heaters have elements and parts not found on traditional water waters, necessitating that they be serviced by those well-versed in solar energy models.
There are also tankless water heaters on the market that provide “on demand” hot water. These models can be highly efficient for small households or if they are installed at every hot water point.
What water heater is right for our family’s needs?
There are plenty of water heaters on the market, giving consumers the options they need. Generally speaking, most water heater tanks are around 40-50 gallons, which is big enough for a family of around six people. You may need a 50 gallon high recovery or 75 gallon unit if you find that you use more hot water than an average family.
When evaluating water heater models, determine whether the First Hour Rating (which will be advertised) fits your needs. The First Hour Rating indicates how much hot water the model can provide, and is the sum of the amount of hot water that can be used and the amount of hot water than can be stored. For instance, if a hot water heater can deliver 40 gallons of hot water in an hour while storing 30 gallons, its First Hour Rating would be 70 gallons.
Finally, always look for an energy efficient water heater with a high EF (energy factor). Gas-fired water heaters usually have EFs in the range of 0.58-0.65; electric water heaters’ EFs are commonly 0.90-0.95.
What temperature should my water heater heat my water to?
The general rule of thumb recommends that homeowners keep their water heaters no hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the risk of scalding. (This is especially important if there are children in your household.) If your water heater thermostat is difficult to read or operate, contact a professional to assist you.
How often should a water heater be serviced?
Like your HVAC equipment, your water heater should be serviced regularly. On average, you can have it serviced once a year to stave off problems before they begin. Most water heaters have a tank warranty between 6-12 years. Labor warranties vary, or may be purchased separately.
What are some common water heater problems and remedies?
Sediment Build-up: During heating, calcium carbonate typically begins to settle to the bottom of a water heater’s tank. This is especially true for families with “hard” water. The sediment, which looks like sand, can be flushed out to avoid damage to the water heater.
Hot Water Is Running Out Quickly OR Water Isn’t Getting Very Hot: If your supply of hot water seems to be running out faster and faster, or if your water isn’t getting more than a little warm, you could have a number of problems: an incorrect thermostat setting, a defective thermostat, burned-out electric heating elements, incorrectly working pilot light, sediment that has built up to a point where it’s problematic, or a broken or malfunctioning dip tube (described below.)
The dip tube is a plastic pipe that fits inside the water heater and directs incoming cold water into the tank. If it is working improperly, the cold water coming in can mix with the hot water going out, thus turning the outgoing water warm and/or shortening the length of time before the water runs cold.
A professional can help you figure out which of these issues is causing your problem.
Noisy Water Heater: Sometimes, gas water heaters with too much sediment in the tank can make strange noises, including “pops” and “thumps”. The noises are actually from steam bubbles “exploding” beneath the sediment. If the sediment is flushed from the tank, the noises should subside.
Milky-colored Water: If the water from the water heater is milky, it’s likely just from the bubbles formed from dissolved oxygen and gases. If the water sits for a bit, it should resume a normal color.
Rust-colored Water: If your water is coming out with a “rusty” color, there may be corrosion occurring inside your tank. On the other hand, an anode rod (which should prevent tank rusting) may be wearing down. Both issues can be remedied by installing new types of rods.
Leaking Water Heater: Occasionally, water heaters will leak, but not all leaks mean the water heater has to be replaced. If the leak comes from a faulty relief valve, the valve can be fixed. On the other hand, if part of the tank has rusted away, it’s probably a good time to invest in a newer model. (Check to see if your current model is still under warranty.)
Smelly Water: One particularly annoying (not to mention noxious!) water heater problem is when the water smells like rotten eggs. If this is the case, the tank can be cleaned with chlorine bleach. In addition, the anode rod may be switched from magnesium (which can react with bacteria, causing the odor) to aluminum. Of course, if your tap or well water also has this smell, it’s time to contact your utilities provider, as the crux of the problem may exist somewhere other than in your water heater tank.
How do I know when to replace my water heater?
If your water heater has begun to give you consistent issues, has broken down or is leaked/cracked, it may be time to invest in a new model. Contact Pronto Plumbing at 717.533.1057 for more information or to schedule an evaluation.