Water Heater Basics: What Homeowners Need to Know

Depending on the type of water heater you have, your hot water could be one of the biggest drains on your monthly energy bill. Heating water accounts for about 20% of the average household’s energy use. Maintaining your water heater ensures your system runs as efficiently and effectively as possible. The U.S. Department of Energy has numerous tips for saving on hot water bills. 

Water Heater Maintenance

If you want to make sure your water heater stays in peak condition for as long as possible, follow some basic maintenance routines. Water heaters contain a lot of small, fragile parts. If you are unsure about your ability to deal with these concerns, hire a licensed plumber to handle your water heater maintenance instead.

Tankless Heaters

Tankless water heaters are energy efficient because they heat water on demand instead of storing heated water all day, even when it is not needed. Assuming you have a model large enough for your household, you can expect to have unlimited hot water whenever you need it. Clean your tankless water heater at least once a year to remove mineral buildup and avoid corrosion. Tankless heaters can last 20 years or longer with regular maintenance.

Conventional Tank Water Heaters

Traditional tank heaters keep large amounts of heated water on standby in a central storage tank, whether electric or gas-powered. Make sure your tank is the right size for your household. An oversized tank will waste energy storing hot water you won’t use. If it’s an older model, wrap it in an insulation blanket to reduce heat loss (modern tanks have built-in insulation). Set the temperature at a maximum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Tank water heaters average about ten years of reliable performance, although some last longer under ideal conditions. 

Solar Powered Heaters

Solar hot-water systems use the sun rather than electricity or gas to maintain the temperature of a tank of stored hot water. Most are attached to an electric or gas-powered booster that kicks in when the solar collectors can’t collect enough energy to keep the water warm. To avoid wasting energy, remember to turn off the booster when you go on vacation. Solar panels perform best when clean, so regularly clean off pollen, dust, and grime. Clean the tank regularly to remove scale and prevent corrosion. 

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps, also known as hybrid electric water heaters, work by using the heat in the air to warm water that is then stored in a tank. A small amount of electricity is used to pump a refrigerant around the system. This refrigerant then transfers the warmth in the air into the water. The less heat in the air, the less efficient the pump will be, so these systems are better suited for warmer climates. The system’s evaporator must have fresh air passing freely around it, so regularly check vents to ensure they aren’t blocked by dust or debris. A licensed plumber should do all other maintenance.

Prevention is Always Best

Following these tips will extend the life of your water heater and help protect your home from potential leaks.

Insulate. If you have a water heater in your garage or an unheated basement, make sure you insulate the outlet pipes to save energy and money. Insulate exposed hot water pipes with preformed segments of pipe insulation. Cut segments with a sharp knife for a snug fit around corners and bends. Butt segments together, leaving no gaps. Tap joints with PVC tape. 

Install Seismic Straps. Seismic straps should be used where earthquakes are common. The straps should be attached to wood blocking strips secured against the nearest wall. Use heavy-duty steel brackets to support these blocks and fit them against the water heater.

Protect From Damage. Water heaters placed in garages should have extra measures to protect against physical damage from vehicles. Most home inspectors agree that a barrier such as a steel post provides the best protection. Plumbing codes require that a water heater in a garage is protected from vehicular damage in one of three ways:

  1. By being installed behind a barrier such as a steel post known as a bollard
  2. By being elevated
  3. By being out of the expected path of a vehicle

Use Safety Pans. Place a sturdy, heat-resistant drain pan underneath a water heater, especially in indoor environments. A safety pan helps protect the floor and any nearby objects from the effects of water heater leaks or pressure valve runoffs. Installing a leak detector near water heaters is an inexpensive way to be alerted in the event of a leak.

Check the Thermostat. A water heater thermostat set at 140 degrees or higher can easily scald and costs more to operate. Lower the temperature to 120 degrees for safer, more economical operation. A lower water temperature will also extend the life of your heater.

Prevent Mineral Buildup. Mineral and limescale buildup can damage your water heater and other water-using devices. If you have hard water, consider investing in a water treatment system to extend the life of your appliances and improve the quality of your home’s drinking water. 

Which Type of Water Heater is Best for You?

Choosing among the variety of water heaters now available can be challenging. Each type has pros and cons to consider. When it’s time to replace your existing water heater, consult with an experienced plumbing contractor. They can help you assess your needs and explain the best options for your household. Installing or repairing a hot water heater should only be done by a licensed plumbing contractor. They’ll ensure the work is done correctly, compliant with all local plumbing codes, and properly permitted.

Call the Trusted Plumbing Professionals in Los Gatos

If you’re experiencing plumbing issues, call Simply Green Plumbing, Sewer & Rooter & Rooter at (408) 716-1686, or contact us online to schedule an appointment. Our experienced technicians have over 30 years of plumbing experience, and they are ready to help you with all of your plumbing problems, no matter how big or small.

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