Water Heater 101: F.A.Q
Planning to change your leaking water heater? Here is some general water heater 101 information to help you decide what's best for you.
How Much Does it Cost to Install a Hot Water Heater?
The cost of installing a water heater can vary depending on a range of factors. Prices can range from $300 to $6,000 on the higher end of the spectrum.
Factors to consider when installing a new water heater:
How estimates are placed:
For a truly definitive estimate, inspectors need to take a look at the current hot water heater in your home and how it is installed. Most businesses will provide a free in home (or in business) estimate to replace any hot water heater. Normally, you have no obligation to purchase services whatsoever during this initial evaluation process. They will evaluate your current installation and assess if it is up to current safety code to calculate the cost. All of this should generally be presented upfront in writing.
Costs for repair:
While water heaters are not intentionally designed to be flimsy or to combust at any moment, that doesn’t mean they aren’t completely susceptible to wear and tear over their lifespan, especially if kept for more than their intended lifespan. The total cost of a repair can range anywhere from $100-$300. The factors that determine the cost of the repair are:
Some companies don’t charge for repairs for up to 10 to 12 years. When an agreement says 10 years parts and labor, this means you don’t pay a penny for any covered repair, distributor fees, installation supplies, permits, or handling fees on the agreement.
We work with many financial partners to make financing options available for you if need be. Most of our clients are approved in less than 10 minutes and have their water heaters installed for less than a dollar a day.
How Long Does a Hot Water Heater Last?
Depending on the type of water heater, it can last between 10 and 20 years. The average water heater tank has a lifespan of 10-12 years while a tankless water heater can last up to 20 years. The length of service of a hot water heater is directly tied to the quality of the tank, the aggressiveness or corrosion properties of the water, the temperature of the tank, and the maintenance of the tank.
Quite a few households wait until the hot water heater starts leaking before replacing it. However, we don’t recommend waiting until the hot water heater leaks and, in many cases, floods the home before deciding to invest in a new water heater.
When should I replace my hot water heater?
Tank water heaters should be replaced every 10 years!
Tank water heaters should be replaced every 10 years regardless of whether or not they are leaking. The average cost of a mold or mildew claim directly related to a leaking hot water heater can exceed $25,000 in damages!
Look out for signs that it’s time to install a new water heater:
Using an alarm:
There are moisture and water alarms on the market. These alarms will light up and ring when water is present, presumably from a leaking tank. The only concern with alarms is that the batteries need to be updated in order for them to work; otherwise an alarm with expired batteries will be useless during a leaking tank.
How to avoid a flooded home!:
You should change your hot water heater before it leaks and ensure that you have the proper catch pan under it should it leak in the future. The pan should drain the water outside of your home. This will prevent a flooded home and a headache. You can also place an alarm inside the pan for extra precaution. That being said, if you change your water heater every ten years, chances are very good that you won’t suffer damages from a flood and will save a great deal of money.
Do I need a permit to replace a hot water heater?
Absolutely, someone with a permit should be handling the water heater. Changing a water heater without a permit will mean a lot of corners will be cut. Proper materials and labor may not be used during installation. This is not recommended due to safety risks and issues from improper installation.
The inspector for the city works for you, the homeowner, not the contractor. The inspector will ensure that the installation is safe, up to code, and has been installed in the manner that the manufacturer intended. This proper installation will help to ensure a long water heater lifespan and a much lower monthly utility bill for you. If your contractor says you don’t need a permit for this installation, this is a serious red flag. This is misinformation and chances are they will not install the water heater properly. Make sure your contractor pulls a permit and does a proper inspection while installing a new water heater.
How do I avoid emergency hot water heater replacement?
As mentioned under “When should I replace my hot water heater?,” hot water heaters, including tankless heaters, are susceptible to leakage. In the case of a leak, every water heater should have a safety drain pan placed beneath them with a pipe leading to the outside of the home for water to drain away safely. If the heater leaks, you will still need to have a plan in place in order to use hot water, whether that’s installing a new water heater or boiling water on a stove. In the meantime with the leakage pan and pipe in place, you won’t have to worry about a flooded home. Again, the best option is to change your hot water heater out every 10 years whether or not it is leaking. Tank water heaters last 10-12 years and tankless heaters last 12-20.
What is the most efficient type of hot water heater?
Electric Water Heater
The most efficient water heater, other than a solar heater (although solar heaters are best for warmer climates), is an electric hot water heater. Both tank and tankless electric hot water heaters are 100% efficient. There is no passage for hot gases to escape so all of the energy consumed is used to heat water. This ensures efficient use of energy.
Solar Water Heater
Solar water heaters are highly efficient because they use solar energy to run but these might require a higher investment cost wise. They are also more suited for warmer climates since cold climates might produce less hot water.
Heat Pump Water Heater
Another option is the heat pump hot water heater. These are already common in Japan. A heat pump is at very efficient and good for moderate climates. Heat pumps are used to heat homes and businesses and have been in operation for decades. The technology is tried and true and is now applied to water heating.
Natural Gas Water Heater
Gas heaters are certainly much less efficient than electric heaters and heat pumps, but much cheaper investments. Something to keep in mind is that the trade-off for a cheaper water heater is wasted energy.
What kind of maintenance does a hot water heater require?
System checks should be conducted to avoid fire hazards and increase lifespan of the water heater:
Occasionally the burners need to be cleaned and the vent needs to be checked. As a rule of thumb, the system should be checked out about once a year to find small problems before they become big ones. The most common problem is blockage or a disconnection. Improperly installed vents can fall apart. The vent caps above the roof can corrode through and fall, blocking the exhaust gases from escaping. Burn marks can be seen on roofing from hot water heaters when venting is installed improperly or is disconnected. Blockages can cause poor combustion in the burners resulting in a buildup of soot which can then lead to a fire. This can also cause minor explosions in the burner chamber by the orifices that the gases travel through. Such instances will decrease the life of the heater by overheating and overstretching parts of the tank. The inner glass surface can crack and corrode leading to a tank rupture and home flooding.
Tanks need to be drained once a year:
The tank also needs to be drained once a year. Our water is full of minerals and they tend to stick together when the water is heated. The minerals become heavy and fall to the bottom of the tank where they buildup into hard mounds of calcium. This calcium insulates the bottom of the tank and causes the metal near the burners to become too hot. The increase in heat causes a large metal expansion causing the inner glass liner to crack and start the tank corrosion process.
Temperature pressure relief valve needs to be checked!:
The temperature pressure relief valve needs to be exercised at least once a year lest it corrode and fail when it is critically needed. If the temperature pressure relief valve fails to seal completely, it needs to be replaced. Bear in mind that a failed valve is not a result of human error. The valve itself has failed. Valves that corrode shut enable the hot water heater to explode.
How can I make my hot water heater last longer?
Flush out the tank:
In addition to the maintenance requirements mentioned above, every year follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions and drain the tank, power flushing it out, and then lower the temperature. Tanks that are set at the highest temperature, 140 degrees, can be dangerous. The increased temperature dramatically increases the expansion and contraction of the tank leading to corrosion. Furthermore, exposure to 140 degree water for just 3 seconds can result in third degree burns. Keep your water at about 120 degrees for safety and tank longevity.
Check the anode rod for corrosion:
Along with flushing out the tank, do an annual check of the anode rod as well. This rod needs to be replaced if corrosion is heavily present. If you are in an area that has aggressive water, checking the anode rod can save your tank from premature corrosion failure and increase its lifespan.
Softening the water (optional):
If your area has high mineral content, think about adding a softening system or a whole home filtration system. Salt is no longer a problem in modern systems. Soft water is easier on the tank and does not allow for the calcium buildup that causes so much harm.
My hot water heater rumbles and makes noise. What is the problem?
Buildup of Minerals:
A rumbling water heater is a bad sign. This most likely means that there water boiling in the tank. Calcium and other minerals have built up in the bottom of the tank creating a barrier between the burners and the water they are supposed to be heating. This means that the heat exchange rate from the burners to the water is very poor. The flue gases are too hot and can possibly create a fire hazard. The BTU output of the water is reduced, which means you can end up paying more for gas to achieve the same amount of hot water. The tank will not produce as much hot water quickly, possibly leading to cold consecutive showers.
When the bottom of the tank is insulated with calcium, usually from lack of maintenance, water gets trapped between the blanket of minerals and the steel tank. This water is heated to the point of boiling and starts rumbling. The rumbling is actually tiny explosions of superheated water bursting through the mineral blanket and coming into contact with the cooler water. The bottom of the hot water heater tank will also be overheated, shortening its lifespan.
The best way to avoid mineral buildup is proper maintenance of the tank. However if you ever run into this problem, you can drain the water and flush out the mineral buildup. Call a plumber if you need assistance.
I have rusty water. What is the problem? What causes rusty water?
Internal corrosion in piping by hot water is usually the cause of rusty water in an electric water heater and in a gas hot water tank. If the rust is only on the hot side, only comes out when you turn on the hot water, and comes out of every fixture in the home that has hot water, the problem is almost certainly at the pipes of the heater. Rusty water is a sign that the pipes need to be replaced. The anode rod should also be checked for corrosion when checking the pipes for rust as well.
If rusty water is only found at a certain fixture and not every fixture of the home, the issue is probably stemming from connections to the valve or at the angle stops. This occurrence happens when galvanized steel fittings are mixed directly with copper. The two dissimilar metals cause an electrical current and the steel piping is sacrificed to the copper. It corrodes very quickly. The solution would be to remove the galvanized steel piping and replace it with copper or PEX if the city allow PEX piping.
If the problem is on both the hot and cold side all throughout the home, it could be a piping issue in the home. If this is the case, the house could need re-piping (galvanized steel is strictly not recommended) or if the home piping is copper, check the water service from the meter. Beware that sometimes re-pipe companies skirt the proper ways to perform a re-pipe by leaving the water service in galvanized steel to save expense and have their bids appear to be low in comparison to real plumbers.
I have low water pressure. What causes low water pressure?
Low water pressure and low water volume are often confused and they are not the same. For this purpose, low water pressure will be discussed. The incoming water supply to your home needs to be at least 25 psi. All fixtures in the home are made to run with water pressure as low as 25 psi without a problem. Hardware stores sell water pressure gauges for $10. The water pressure gauge can screwed to your incoming, front, hose bib. To test water pressure, turn the bib on with no water flowing in the home. The pressure should be between 25 psi and 75 psi. If it is lower than 25 psi, call the water department as this is would be something they would need to address on their end. If it is above 75 psi you have excessive water pressure. The Uniform Plumbing Code requires the use of a water pressure regulating valve if the water pressure is above 80 psi. If you find your water pressure is high, a PRV can be installed to save your home from damage. Excessive water pressure will damage fixtures and piping.
If your water pressure is in the 25 to 75psi range, you do not have a water pressure problem. Low water pressure can be caused by many things.
Natural gas tankless water heaters:
Note the water pressure that you have and leave the pressure gauge attached and on. Go inside and turn on the kitchen sink faucet or bathtub faucet, then go back outside and check the pressure gauge. If the water pressure dropped significantly, more than about 5 or 10 pounds, the issue could be due to the following:
If everything looks good with the water pressure gauge, then the home most likely needs to be re-piped.
How long does it take to install a hot water heater?
Average 2-3 hours:
The average installation of a residential gas or electric hot water heater takes about 2-3 hours in the home. Removing the old system can take up to an hour, placing the new water heater can take a half hour, and connecting the new system to water can take another hour. Haul away and recycling of the heater will normally take another hour.
Additional time required based on individual case:
Installation time can vary based on individual circumstances. If your current installation has serious code violations and needs many upgrades, it could take significantly longer. Circulation pumps and piping that were improperly installed in the front of the heater need to be removed and then reinstalled or rerouted properly. This will require additional time. If a drain pan needs to be added with a pipe leading to the outside of the home, total installation time will increase.
What kind of hot water heater should I get? Tankless or tank?
Tankless hot water heaters tend to be popular. They provide an abundance of hot water and don’t take up floor space. If you are building a home or remodeling a home, a tankless hot water heater is a great investment. They are great for people who want to keep big tanks out of view in their homes. Tankless water heaters can be easily placed out of view in places like an attic. They can also be positioned in upper cabinets or above a washing machine. Additionally, they can be recessed into a wall on the outside of your home. Tankless water heaters are far more versatile than tank hot water heaters.
What is instant hot water?
Hot water dispensers:
Instant hot water can come from a hot water dispenser that does not require a tank. There are dispensers that can dispense boiling water for use or cold water.
Not very efficient:
Although these dispensers sound like a cheaper and easy alternative, they’re definitely not as efficient. A tank free hot water heater will not deliver instant hot anywhere in your home and will actually take longer to produce the first round of hot water. It will take more time before the heater starts to produce hot water and all the cold water in the will need to be exhausted from the lines before your fixture actually produces useable hot water. The ability of the hot water to reach your working station is a function of the piping, not the heater.
What kind of problems to water circulation systems have?
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How do I go “Green” with a new hot water heater?
Green or eco-friendly hot water heaters are readily available. One way to distinguish an eco-friendly water heater is looking for the Energy Star label. There are some brands that offer water heaters that are already Energy Star rated.
Both tank and tankless hot water heaters that are Energy Star rated and can have more that 90% of thermal efficiency. The only downside of having a highly efficient water heater is the higher price tag.
Is solar water heating viable? Does solar water heating really work?
Yes, solar water heating is highly efficient. Direct circulation systems are recommended for warmer or normal climates for the most efficient use of energy. Indirect circulation systems are recommended for colder climates. There are active and passive solar heating systems however; the active systems use energy more efficiently. You can check out Energy.gov for full descriptions of each type of solar water heating system or clicking this link: http://energy.gov/energysaver/solar-water-heaters.
My water stinks. Why does my water smell like rotten eggs?
The “rotten egg” like odor can be created by sulfur bacteria reacting to the anode rod in the hot water heater tank. This interaction releases hydrogen sulfide gas which is what you smell. Please see the section on tank type hot water heaters for a solution.
The smell can also come from using a water softener. The salt in the water softener can strengthen the odor. In this case, you can try switching your water softener for a different solution.
If proper maintenance of the water heater is conducted in a timely manner and you are still experiencing this odor, it could be a problem with the water supply in which case, you should contact the water department.
What size hot water heater do I need for my home?
Tank water heaters:
The size of water heater needed can depend on the number of bathrooms/baths present in the home. See below for recommended tank water heater size based on number of bathrooms.
4 5 or more baths
40 gallon gas or electric hot water heater
50 gallon gas or electric hot water heater
75 gallon gas or electric hot water heater
100 gallon gas or electric hot water heater
Tankless water heaters:
Since tankless water heaters don’t store water, it’s much more energy efficient. They only heat the water as it passes through them. Since they can only provide 3.5 gallons of hot water a minute, they are recommended for homes that don’t require hot water at more than two places at any given time.
I run out of hot water within minutes. Why do I run out of hot water?
A broken dip tube is most likely the cause if you have a tank water heater. If you have a tankless water heater, the most common cause is going to be an undersized gas line that creates a carbonizing flame that can destroy the heater. If you have an electric hot water heater, it could be a broken dip tube or that only the lower compartment of the tank is not working. Other problems and solutions can be seen in the maintenance section.
What is an anode rod?
The anode rod is used to help prevent rust in the tank and is usually made of magnesium or aluminum. It is inserted in the tank and when corrosion begins to occur in the tank, an electrical current is developed in the water between the tank steel and the anode rod. This process is electrolysis when two dissimilar metals underwater touch each other, the weaker metal dissolves and coats the stronger one. The aluminum or magnesium passes through the water to coat the tank protecting the steel tank from further corrosion. Without an anode rod helps make the water heater tank last longer.
How do I change out an anode rod?
Once you have a replacement rod (can be purchased online), turn the water off and use an impact wrench to pull it out like any other bolt. Cover the new rod with pipe thread sealant and screw it in where the old rod was. Two pipe wrenches can be used as an alternative to the impact wrench. If you are not sure of how to remove the anode rod, it’s best to contact a plumber.
What can go wrong with a gas hot water heater?
Issues with gas water heaters can depend on type of model of the heater. With standing pilot models, a common issue is lint plugging the combustion chamber holes. This makes it difficult for burners to get air. This complicates the burning process. Improper vents can stifle the pilot light and cause flue fires as well as carbon monoxide poisoning.
What can go wrong with an electric hot water heater?
Calcium and sediment buildup in the tank can reach the lower element resulting in a burn out. Other issues include Thermostat failure and electrical fires in the controls of the heater. The vast majority of electrical problems in electrical hot water heaters are due to poor electrical connections. This causes the controls to malfunction.
How do I diagnose a problem with an electric hot water heater?
A simple power check can be done with a circuit tester. For a deeper diagnosis, you can also use a multi-meter to measure voltage. The meter should be able to check 240 volts with an amperage clamp. The amperage reads the amount of electricity being used.
- 1Turn the power going to the hot water heater off and verify this by checking with the meter. Remove the upper and lower panels, then remove the fiberglass insulation and plastic cover. Now verify the power is off. To do this, set your meter to AC voltage (240 or 600v). Now test both A & B power by putting the black lead on the tank and scraping it a bit to get a good connection. Then put the other lead on A and see if it has power. Now put the lead on B and see if it has power. If there is no power, you are good to proceed.
- 2Take one of the wires off the screw terminal on the upper element and just let it hang there. Set your meter to Ohms or audible ohms. Audible is recommended. Touch the two leads on the meter together. They should let off a shrill steady beep. This means the meter is set correctly. Put the black lead on one of the screws on the element and the red lead on the other screw and listen. If you do not hear the shrill beep, the element is “open” and must be replaced.
- 3Follow this same procedure for the lower element. If the problem is that the water is way too hot, then this is usually because the lower element shorted out from the water or calcium mineral buildup. It is now conducting electricity directly into the water. This allows the element to continually heat without regard to the thermostat. Water heater elements are usually 240 volts and usually only one leg of the electricity goes through the thermostat. They are live all the time. The first test should find this problem.
- 4If the first test doesn’t find this problem, you should turn the setting on the thermostat all the way to cold on both the upper element and the lower element (use a screwdriver to turn the screw setting). Then, turn the power going to the heater back on after making sure all the wires are connected properly.
- 5Once the hot water heater is on you need to set your meter on amperage and use the amperage clamp carefully. Clamp each wire separately on to each element. The reading should be zero amps. If you have a reading with the thermostats turned off or down all the way, the element is shorted to the water and needs to be replaced.
Most electric elements are 4500 at 240 volts. To find out the amperage, simply divide 4500 by 240 and the amperage reading for a fully functioning element will be about 18.75 amps. If you have 220 incoming voltage, the amount changes to about 20.45 amps.
How do I change out an electric hot water heater element?
- 1Turn the power off and verify that it is off.
- 2Observe the element and make sure that you have the right replacement element. There are three types of elements but the most common is a screw-in low-density element.
- 3If this is the first time you are doing this, you might want to empty out the tank to prevent a mess. If you don’t empty the hot water heater, then turn the entire home’s water supply off and open up an exterior hose bib to depressurize the home. Do not open up every faucet in the home. The hose bid is sufficient to depressurize. You do not want to drain the home and you want the water system in a vacuum. The vacuum is automatically created.
- 4The screw in element uses a 1 ¼” socket. The thin walled “hot water heater element socket” can bend and warp when using it. Remove this other element from its package. Have a few rags or towels right in front of the hot water heater to soak up any water that comes out. You should only lose a cup or so of water out of the hot water heater.
- 5Unscrew the element and pull it out. It may be difficult to pull out as the low density element could have warped in the water. Pull hard and insert the new element and tighten. You do not need pipe rope as the element has a rubber seal on it. Reconnect your wires and you are all set.
Can I install my hot water heater outside?
Most tank type hot water heaters must be installed in a shed and about roughly half of tankless models must be installed inside. Only specially designed hot water heaters are made to withstand the elements.
What brand of hot water heater is best?
While there are really good water heaters and bad water heaters, it’s hard to pinpoint an overall “best” water heater. The best water heater really depends on an individual preference. A water heater can be great or awful depending on how it was installed and its maintenance. Depending on what is important to you, whether price, warranties, service, or efficiency, it’s best to take a look at what different brands offer. It also helps to ask a trusted plumber for their opinion on each of these categories.
What is a Dip Tube?
The dip tube is a long plastic tube that inserted in the tank and sits at about 8 inches above the bottom of the tank. The purpose of the dip tube is to pass cold water to the bottom of the heater to be converted into hot water. The tube keeps the cold water from missing with the existing hot water near the top. If there was no dip tube, you would be getting lukewarm water instead of hot water. If you remove the incoming water nipple from the hot water heater, the dip tube is usually attached to it. Many mobile home hot water heaters do not have dip tubes as the cold water inlet is at the bottom of the heater.
My children take their showers and I never get a hot bath, what is the problem?
This could mean that you don’t have the right sized water heater. Your water heater is probably too small and you need a larger or tankless one to sustain your water usage. Try a new shower head and the flow rate will be reduced to at least 2.5 gallons a minute. Another reason could be that the hot water heater could be set on too low a temperature. The maximum temperature is 140 degrees and it is recommended that you keep your hot water heater between 120 to 130 degrees.
How much does it cost to run my hot water heater?
The average water heater will be active a total of 3 hours on a daily basis. The cost of running the water heater will definitely vary from type to model. A 50-gallon, 5,500-watt water heater with a .90 EF and an electricity rate of $.16 per kilowatt per hour, will add $781 annually to your utility bill. When purchasing a new water heater, you should be able to see the operating cost labeled on most units. The average household spends about 15% of their utility bill on hot water. The best way to save on operating costs, is to invest in a highly energy efficient water heater.
What does Thermal Efficiency mean?
Thermal efficiency tells you how efficient your water heater is for every dollar that is spent on gas usage. For example, if the thermal efficiency is quoted at 85%, which means for every $100 spent on gas usage, $15 is wasted. Water heaters currently have thermal efficiency as high as 98%. The higher the thermal efficiency, the lower your utility bills.
What does Energy Factor mean?
According to Energy.gov, “A water heater’s energy efficiency is determined by the energy factor (EF), which is based on the amount of hot water produced per unit of fuel consumed over a typical day. The higher the energy factor, the more efficient the water heater.”
How do I find out what BTU my gas hot water heater is?
It is on the label typically above the gas valve.
What is first hour recovery?
Understanding the First Hour Rating is important when purchasing a new water heater. The First Hour Rating tells you how much hot water is produced during the first hour of operation after the initial heating of the tank. The rating is calculated by adding the number of standby gallons of water in the tank plus the additional gallons of water that can be heated during the first hour.
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