Monday, March 18, 2013

Honey! My shower is cold!

If you've ever been caught in the middle of lathering up or ready to rinse the shampoo out of your hair only to be shocked by the sudden blast of ice cold water spewing from the shower head during your morning shower then you've no doubt experienced a water heater failure.

What most homeowners do not realize is tank water heaters have a life expectancy of about 5-10 years (Depending on factors such as use patterns, water quality and build features. Mileage may vary).  Another often overlooked factor that contributes to water heater failure is maintenance.  Yes, you should be maintaining your tank water heater annually.  Didn't know that? Well, most people don't so you're not alone.  Here are some tips on keeping that all too relied upon appliance running for a little longer, and if your wondering about replacing your water heater you can click here for info about the different types of water heaters and what may work best for your home.  

Tank water heaters are quite simple to understand.  I've always described them as not much more than a huge pipe; after all that's pretty much what they are.  Add an electric heating element or gas burner to that pipe and voila, you've got yourself a run-of-the-mill tank water heater.

When cold water enters the tank it is deposited near the bottom so that the less dense, hotter water rises to the top and when a faucet is opened it is delivered.  This process repeats itself every time hot water is needed.

Another process that repeats itself is the deposit of minerals and sediment in the bottom of that "huge pipe".  As water is heated chemical reactions are underway that separate certain minerals from your water.  Those minerals [all water has them, some more than others] are then left to bask in the glory of that huge pipe, or tank, as their final resting place.  It's sort of like spending the day on the beach, only in this case the beach is your water heater and the minerals aren't good summer getaway guests; they will likely cause poor performance and premature failure if not taken care of properly.

Over long periods of time the minerals and sediment in your water can form a build-up on the bottom of the tank, causing problems such as lower storage capacity or overheating of the tank.  Whatever the side-effects, all lead to the ultimate demise and failure of the tank.  This usually presents itself in the form of a leaky tank.  Leaking tanks are not repairable and are your one-way ticket to a high cost replacement bill when you've not planned for such an event.  No one wants that.

Annual Water Heater Maintenance:
Step 1
All water heater manufacturers recommend flushing your water heater through the drain valve as pictured on the right.

Depending on your water quality [whether you have water conditioning appliances such as a iron filter or water softener] you might consider doing this more frequently.

Simply attach a garden hose to the threaded valve, or place a bucket under it as pictured, and drain the about one-third of the tank capacity.  This will do wonders at clearing out sediment and build-up of deposits on the bottom of the tank.

Step 2
Every tank water heater is equipped with a safety device called a "Temperature/Pressure Relief Valve".  Plumbers call it the "T&P" to keep it simple.  This valve acts as the water heater's own personal bomb squad in that it relieves excess pressure if there is a major problem like super-overheating or excessive thermal expansion without anywhere for the water to expand to. Click here for a complete rundown on its operation.

A simple visual inspection of the valve will tell you if there is cause for concern.  If you identify water dripping out of the valve outlet or obvious corrosion the valve should be replaced.  Manufacturers recommend "exercising" the valve annually.  This is done by gently lifting the lever, with a bucket placed under the drain tube outlet, to allow for water to flow freely.  This is said to help aid in removing any build-up on the valve seal.

Step 3

Take a look around your water heater.  Get a flashlight and inspect the area around the base where it sits on the floor.  Even old water heaters should look just about the same as they did when first installed.  So, if you see signs of rust or stains on the outer jacket they may be cause for concern as they are likely signs of a leaking tank or piping; both of which need to be addressed by a professional.

Also, make sure the area around your heater is free of clutter.  Keep stored house paint cans out of the utility room.  Make sure nothing is stacked on or leaning against the heater.  Your water heater is not a shelf or a clothes rack.  The safety hazards of storing combustible materials on or next to it are far too dangerous.

If you find anything that concerns you or any of the three steps listed above are out of your skill set please know that you can contact Aune Plumbing to address the situation. 

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