Did you know that water heating is the second largest energy end use in homes? Yes, heating water is only second to your home heating and cooling costs! Plus, the cost of a water heater remains one of the most expensive appliances in your home. Therefore, understanding your hot water heater repair options helps homeowners make the best decisions if any issues occur.
For example, the type, size and desired energy efficiency all factor into your hot water heater repair options. Why? Depending on these variables, homeowners face difference repair or replacement decisions. Therefore, to help understand potential hot water heater repair options, homeowners must start with understanding water heaters.
Understanding Hot Water Heaters
First and foremost, most of us never think about our hot water heaters…until we turn on the faucet and feel cold water! So, let’s take some time and learn about the various types of water heaters.
Typically, homeowners have two main options when selecting the type of water heater.
Storage Water Heaters
The most common type of hot water heater is the conventional storage water heater. In fact, these water heaters are named storage heaters because they include insulated storage tanks! And these tanks generally contain between 30 and 80 gallons of heated water. Also, homeowners enjoy knowing that storage water heater generally last between 10 and 15 years. Additionally, typically homeowners can power storage heaters via natural gas, propane, oil, or electricity.
Finally, storage water heaters operate based on a heating gauge located inside the tank. Essentially, the tank contains a thermometer that measures the water temperature and alerts the unit when the water temperature drops below a certain level. At that time, the heater kicks in and begins heating the water so homeowners always have hot water when they want it. As a result, the hot water heating process works around the clock (and yes, homeowners theoretically pay to heat the water when not in use!). Therefore, some energy-conscious homeowners increasingly choosing tankless water heaters.
Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters, which are also known as instantaneous water heaters, provide homeowners with significant energy savings vs storage water heaters. Plus, tankless water heaters generally last longer than storage water heaters and possess a lifespan of 20 or more years. Why are these water heaters more energy efficient and last longer? Compared to storage water heaters, tankless heaters allow homeowners to only pay for the hot water actually consumed. However, tankless water heaters provide less water as well. For example, tankless water heaters yield a low flow rate that typically moves between two to five gallons a minute. As a result, tankless heaters cannot handle more than one use at a time.
To solve the capacity issue, many homeowners install multiple tankless units. Each heater works with a specific set of appliances or fixtures. Additionally, tankless water heaters are smaller than storage tanks, which means homeowners install multiple units and in tighter locations compared to storage water heaters.
Understanding Hot Water Heater Repair Options
Regardless of the type of water heater and expected longevity, things happen and homeowners face the possibility of hot water heater repairs. Of course, the decision to repair your water heater frequently relies on its expected lifespan. Afterall, it doesn’t make much sense to repair a 10 year old storage water heater, but might be worthwhile for a tankless water heater.
“One of the best indicators that it is time to replace a water heater is when it nears the end of its lifespan. Keep in mind that traditional storage water heaters typically have a lifespan of 10-15 years, and solar and tankless water heaters typically have a lifespan of about 20 years. Newer models are more efficient and can save homeowners hundreds of dollars in energy costs, so if your water heater is acting up near the end of its life, it probably is better to replace than to repair, and doing so might result in some savings on your home energy costs.”
However, for any homeowners with a new water heater, repair likely remains your primary preference because water heaters are expensive. The next step in determining your repair options starts with understanding the common water heater issues. For example, the following issues remain the most common hot water heater issues.
- Pilot light goes out.
- Circuit breaker trips (in electric water heaters).
- Heating (or burner) elements fail.
- Thermostat breaks.
- Valves stick.
Understanding Proper Hot Water Heater Maintenance
Additionally, remember that maintenance remains the best form of protection against repairing your hot water heater. For some of the most common issues, the following hot water heater maintenance activities help reduce the risk of breakdowns, which create the need for repairs.
Flushing Storage Water Heater Tanks
For homeowners with storage water heaters, flushing the tank remains one of the best ways to reduce future repairs. In particular, for homes that contain hard water, as the water heats up, then sediment or scale builds in the tank. Then, as the sediment builds, it accumulates at the bottom of the tank. As a result, the water heater decreases its efficiency, along with damaging the tank itself. Plus, sediment in your tank eventually enters your plumbing system. As a result, the sediment clogs aerators, supply lines and possibly contaminates the water supply in your home. Lowe’s shares an overview of the basic steps to flush a water heater.
- Turn off electricity or gas and shut off the cold water inlet to the water heater.
- Connect a garden hose to the drain valve and ensure the water leaving the tank enters an area not impacted by incredibly hot water.
- Open pressure relief valve and drain valve, which allows the tank to completely drain (and ensures the removal of as much sediment as possible).
- Close the drain valve, disconnect the hose and close the pressure relief valve. Additionally, turn on the cold-water inlet and open the hot water spigots in the home.
- Close all the hot water spigots as water flows and turn on the electricity or gas after closing all the spigots.
For some experienced homeowners, flushing the tank is a possible DIY chore. However, for others without sufficient experience and knowledge, professional plumbers like A.Johnson frequently offer maintenance plans, which includes water heater flushes.
Inspect the Anode Rod
The anode rod is a critical component of hot water heaters because it protects the tank from rust and corrosion. In fact, maintaining a good anode rod helps extend the life of your tank by 50% or more!
The anode rod screws into the top of the tank and acts as a “sacrificial lamb” because it attracts rust. Additionally, anode rods work because all metal rusts in water, which includes the interior of tank (also made from metal). However, certain metals rust at different rates. Therefore, anode rods, which are made from magnesium or aluminum, rust faster than steel. As a result, assuming anode rods are changed regularly, they help extend the life of the tank. For example, during the annual water heater flush, always inspect the anode rod and replace, if needed. To help the inspection, please note the following measurements, which help homeowners understand the anode rod replacement criteria.
- If there is more than 4-6 inches of bare wire and/or the anode rod is heavily corroded and should be replaced.
- If the anode rod is barely intact, the damages to your tank may be too great and replacing the heater may be a more viable option.
Therefore, inspecting the anode rod as part of your water heater maintenance helps reduce your risks.
Test Temperature and Pressure (T&P) Valve
Water heaters contain a temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve, which helps monitor the tank and maintains hot water. Additionally, the T&P valve is a safety device that helps ensure the tank does not explode by keeping the water pressure and temperature remains at a safe level. To help understand the key risks that testing the T&P valve helps prevent, the plumbing experts at Snappy Services shares some guidance.
- Test the T&P Valve annually because excessive sediment build-up leads to corrosion, which renders the valve useless.
- During testing, the water should flow freely when pulling up the handle.
- Upon release of the handle, the valve should close, which stops the water from flowing.
Inspect the Expansion Tank
Typically, the final part of any thorough hot water heater maintenance checklist includes the expansion tank. Hunker describes the expansion tank and its general purpose.
“The hot water expansion tank is a two-gallon tank that hangs off of your hot water system or your boiler. It is used to absorb excess water pressure. When water is heated or a hot water faucet is turned off abruptly, pressure builds from expanding water molecules. Most of the time your tank is half water and half air; it has a diaphragm separating both. When pressure increases the diaphragm is pushed upward.”
Yes, expansion tanks offer another safety mechanism for your home plumbing system. Generally, the expansion tank takes on extra water via a rubber bladder. If the rubber bladder ruptures, it pressurizes the tank with water (making it useless). As a result, inspect the expansion tank annually and verify the tank remains pressurized with the air (close to the same PSI of the plumbing system).
Useful Hot Water Heater Repair & Maintenance Advice
Finally, upon understanding the main types of water heaters and common issues, homeowners typically want some useful repair and maintenance advice. The following guidance, pulled from industry experts across the web, ideally offers some useful guidance for that help troubleshoot potential issues.
Constantly Monitor Energy Costs
Energy costs for heating water remains one of the top expenses every homeowner faces. To help understand hot water heating related energy costs, SF Gate explains some of the details involved in powering a water heater.
“Your hot water heater can account for up to 18 percent of your domestic energy bill. This can really boil your bank account. To have hot water available at your beck and call, conventional water heating systems burn gas or electricity regularly. Though there is no escaping the energy costs of operating a water heater, there are a number of ways you can take the edge off your water heating expenditures.”
Out of Sight, but Never Out of Mind
As always, if something is out of sight, it is typically out of mind. However, Nationwide points out that checking in on your water heater helps ensure it works properly and runs safely. Plus, checking in on the water heater helps homeowners familiarize themselves with the important parts.
“Your water heater may remain unseen, hidden in a utility closet or sitting alone in a basement, but keep in mind that it needs regular maintenance for safety reasons. Make sure yours is safe, by getting to know its parts and learning some important facts. Most residential tanks hold 40 to 60 gallons and need to withstand the pressure of a residential water system (typically 50 to 100 psi.) Steel tanks are tested to handle 300 psi and have a bonded glass liner to keep rust out of the water, as well as insulation surrounding the tank.”
Don’t Forget About Insulation
Insulation not only works wonders in your attics, walls and throughout your home, but it also helps your hot water heater. House Logic offers the details behind insulating pipes and the hot water heater, which helps reduce your costs.
“By insulating your hot water pipes, water will arrive at the faucet 2 to 4 degrees warmer, which means you won’t have to wait as long for it to heat up, thus saving energy, water, and money. Plus, for older tanks, and especially if it’s located in an unheated space, wrapping it with an insulating blanket is a cheap and easy way to reduce costs. Manufacturers have figured this out, so most newer models already are insulated. It’s easy to find out which one you have. Look on its label to see if it has an R-value of at least 24. If not, you should insulate your tank. With these older models, an insulating blanket can cut heat loss by 25% to 45% and save 4% to 9% on the average water-heating bill.”
Determining the Right Size Water Heater
Every home differs. For example, single households to families of four and each require different amounts of hot water. To help, Plumbing Today shares some general rules of thumb about understanding the right size water heater for your needs.
“Sometimes, homeowners only want a vague idea of water heater sizing so that they can get a better idea of how much their water heater install will cost. (Spoiler alert: the size of your water heater directly relates to its cost; the “bigger” the water heater, the higher the cost.) But if you only need a loose estimate of what size you need (versus an exact calculation), follow these guidelines:
- 1 to 2 people: 30-40 gallons
- 2 to 3 people: 40-50 gallons
- 3 to 4 people: 50-60 gallons
- 5+ people: 60-80 gallons”
Keep an Eye on Longevity
Fortunately, water heaters tend to last a long time. However, the overall longevity of a hot water heater depends on some variables, such as electric or gas powered. Water Heater Reviews provides some key signs that potentially impact the overall life of your water heater.
“A high-quality hot water tank has the potential to last from eight to 12 years old. Just like all other plumbing equipment, it will begin to show a decline with time and consistent use. Usually, when it is approaching the end of its lifespan, electrolysis will occur. This implies that the corrosive particles in the unit will be attracted to the anode rod. This, leads to the rod being unable to carry out its heating function, because the inside of the tank starts rusting and becomes corroded. On the other hand, gas-powered units have an average lifespan of around six to eight years. You must take note though that their provided age number are for units that have been maintained well, installed properly, and used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some brands and models will also have shorter lifespans.”
Set a Budget Prior to Purchasing a New Water Heater
Fortunately, water heaters last a long time because they remain one of the most expensive home appliances. Therefore, All Connect recommends establishing a budget prior to starting your due diligence, which helps homeowners make the right decision.
“The right water heater ensures that your family has a sufficient amount of hot water whenever they need it. Plus, the right choice also help you control your energy costs throughout the year. Homeowners should determine how much they should budget for their new water heating system. Conventional tank heaters are among the least expensive. Tankless heaters cost up to 3 times more. Solar water heaters cost even more because of the solar panels required, as well as their installation. However, over the life of the system, they save significant amounts on your energy bill.”
Water Quality Impacts Efficiency
An underrated aspect of water heater efficiency and longevity is water quality. Yet, the underlying water quality impacts the efficiency of water heaters because sediment and other impurities exist in water. Atlantic Comfort explains why water quality matters.
“The water quality of the distribution system can directly affect the lifetime of your appliance. If you have a balanced water, then there is no problem. However, if it is too hard, it can cause scaling, in particular to the heating element. If aggressive, it can cause a faster tank corrosion. Rather, select a water heater fitted with Steatite heating element protected by enamelled steel sleeve. Beware of water softeners, incorrectly tuned, they produce a far too aggressive water, therefore, too corrosive.”
Think About Payback Periods
Finally, every water heater and in particular tankless water heaters provide a payback period based on energy savings and life span. Bob Villa and team share some resources that help homeowners understand the expected payback period of energy efficient water heaters.
“In general, a tankless hot water heater costs more upfront compared to a traditional tank water heaters. However, many utility companies offer incentives, and you may benefit from state tax credits as well. Investigate both to ensure that you’re eligible and if so, that you reap the full benefits. Ultimately, balance the cost of your unit with your ongoing operating costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, tankless water heaters can be 24 to 34 percent more efficient than a traditional tank-style water heater, depending on a home’s daily demand for hot water.”
At A. Johnson, we offer a full range of commercial and residential plumbing services, including hot water heater repair. We take pride in our service and remain committed to providing honest, professional and reliable service on every job. So don’t mess around with DIY plumbing techniques because our professional, plumbing experts fix all plumbing problems in the Capital District.
A.Johnson and team have the expertise to evaluate and determine the best hot water heater for your home. If you have any hot water heater issues, contact A.Johnson today.