We’ve written many DIY blogs, but the recent water heater explosion in Boston (see reference on our Facebook page) gave us pause. Usually, plumbing fits nicely with a handy homeowner’s skill level, but tasks involving gas lines, pressure valves, pressure tanks, etc. are best left to a licensed professional.
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. To make sure yours is safe, understand its parts and a few facts.
Parts of a Water Heater
Besides the tank (residential tanks are designed to withstand pressures of 50-100 pounds per square inch; commercial tanks can withstand much higher pressures), a water heater’s main parts include:
• A replaceable anode rod to slow the rate of corrosion within the tank
• A temperature or pressure relief valve that keeps the tank from exploding
• A drain valve
• A dip tube (a.k.a., the cold water intake tube)
• A pipe (to release hot water to your household taps/spigots)
• A thermostat (controls the water temperature inside the tank)
• Heating elements Gas models include a connection to your home’s gas lines; electric models are connected to your electrical system
Temperature or pressure relief valve
The experts at Nationwide note that “A temperature or pressure relief valve helps prevent a tank from exploding if temperature or pressure exceeds safe limits. Unfortunately, residential valves are somewhat prone to failure.” This valve should be tested annually by a qualified plumber who takes the following actions.
• Pull up on the handle and verify that water flows freely, then stops when the handle is released. If any other results are noted, the valve should be replaced.
• Using the drain valve, flush the hot water heater annually to remove sediment buildup. You should have a drain line, usually to within about 6 inches of the floor, or plumbed outside. NOTE: There is a scalding danger involved with flushing a hot water tank through the drain valve. It’s an activity best performed by a professional plumber.
Everyone loves a good, hot shower; the recommended temperature setting for is 130 degrees. Because residential tanks, are vaguely labeled as the “Warm”, “Hot”, “Very Hot”, it’s best to choose a setting and test the actual temperature at the tap. A household cooking thermometer will provide an accurate reading.
Energy Savings Tip: If you are going to be away from home for a few days, set the thermostat at it’s lowest setting. Standard hot water heaters constantly draw energy to heat the water in the tank. If no one will be using the hot water, why make it?
One of the greatest risks in today’s homes is lack of ventilation. Gases such as radon and carbon monoxide can build up without proper ventilation. Ensure that:
• The water heater vent is the same diameter as the tank’s draft diverter
• The water heater vent goes straight up and out, without any dips.:
• Where the vent passes through walls or roofs, a double-walled vent section is used.
• Refer to local codes for proper ventilation information.
Earthquake Straps…in Ohio?
Although that New Madrid fault could shake things up in our area, the probability is small. But for general safety purposes, strapping a hot water heater in place is a sound practice. Should a hot water tank happen to be knocked over, there’s a potential to sever a gas line and create an explosion-prone situation. Strap away!
But Wait, There’s More!
Below are some common-sense safety tips.
• Clear the heater area of dust bunnies, loose papers, and other flammable items.
• Thinking of bug bombing near your water heater? Extinguish the pilot light before releasing aerosol devices.
• The pilot light should be 18 inches above the floor, especially if the heater is in a garage or other fume-prone area. Flammable vapors are heavy and collect near the floor.
• If you have a natural gas water heater, do not use insulation or pipe wrap within 6 inches of the draft hood or flue exhaust vent.
Water You Waiting For? At Allied, the importance of safety cannot be over stated. Accidents such as the one in Boston can easily happen. When working with pressurized devices, gas lines, valves, vents, and electrically-powered systems, we strongly recommend contacting a professional, licensed plumber. If you feel your water heater needs some attention, call Ray and ask for his opinion. He’s known for his honesty, trustworthiness, and straight-shooting approach. Pick his brain and you won’t be disappointed. (513) 396-5300.
Back in the ’80’s, I worked in a restaurant overlooking scenic Indian Lake, Ohio. It is a reservoir that provides water to its community of locals and tourists. The running joke among the restaurant waitresses was “Why the water glasses are tinted brown? Because it makes the lake water appear clear.” That statement has stuck with me over the years, especially when I travel to areas outside of Cincinnati (which, as we frequently note at Allied, has the best water quality in the country. Thanks, MSD!).
City Water = Best Bet for Ease of Use
According to www.epa.gov, municipal water starts with one of two sources: groundwater or lake/river/stream water. Municipalities collect the water, then filter it to remove sediment. From there, the water is chemically treated to disinfect it (i.e., kill micro-organisms and bacteria), stored, and released on demand to the public.
Municipal water systems ensure that safe drinking water is available from the reservoir to the point where the city pipes connect to you household pipes (at the street). Homeowners are responsible for ensuring water safety from the street to the tap. For that reason, many homeowners will install filtration systems to remove the ubiquitous chlorine taste and smell. Overall, municipal water in Ohio is readily available and user-friendly. Just turn on the tap and bingo! Good, safe water.
Country Water = Usually Good; Approach with Caution
By country water, we mean non-Cincinnati water (a.k.a. well water). Commonly found in rural areas, campgrounds, state parks, lodges and cabins. A few scenarios to consider:
• A spring-fed country home in West Central Ohio was locally known for over 200 years for it’s limestone-filtered, spring fed water. Then, an overly wet spring caused changes in the local geology and e. coli bacteria seeped int the home’s famous spring. Luckily, the home owner was able to install an whole-house reverse osmosis filtration system that filters the bacteria.
• Roadside rest stops may or may not have potable water.
• State parks and campgrounds offer water, but keep in mind that the water source may be in proximity to the RV waste dumping station and grey water stations. We’re talking fluids here – it’s possible for them to co-mingle.
• If in doubt about the quality of water at your destination, take some along.
Cemetery Water = Always Bad
Ever notice the ubiquitous old hand pump in almost every cemetery? With rare exceptions, there should be a posted notice advising that cemetery water is non-potable. Why? Pause and give thought to all the centuries of nasties leaching into a cemetery water supply: Generations of decomposing bodies that died from tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid, cancer, leukemia, AIDS, ebola, scarlet fever, strep…well, you get the picture. Consider cemetery water to be contaminated. Let’s just leave it at that.
Good Drinking Water – Keep Some on Hand
According to Cincinnati’s favorite survivalist Creek Stewart (from Milan, IN), remember the rule of 3: “Humans can live 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.” Our brains are 75% water, so make sure to get the good stuff! Our favorite transportable water approaches include:
• Water backpacks (hydration systems) – easy to use, inexpensive, and packable. Just keep them dry when not in use.
• Store brand bottled water – no need for the fancy brands, save money and go for the least expensive.
• Repurpose sturdy plastic juice containers into water bottles and fill as needed for road trips (avoid milk jug-types of plastics as they retain odors and split easily).
• A family of 5 uses at least 5 gallons of water per day just for drinking, cooking, hand washing and tooth brushing. Bathing/dish washing requires extra water.
• In a prolonged power outage, your water heater tank holds at least 40 gallons of drinkable water. Have some clean containers on hand into which the water can be drained.
Water You Waiting For? Following on last bullet above, if your water heater is over 20 years old, you may want to consider replacing it. Not only will you have a reliable supply of hot water and a more energy efficient hot water heater, but you’ll have less tank mineral sediment to filter should you have drink that water. Call Ray today for a free phone consultation, estimate, and suggestions. (513) 396-5300.
When we purchased our home 20 years ago, it came with a “new-ish” 40-gallon water heater. It’s a good brand and has served our family well. Our best guess is that it’s now over 25 years old. It provides a decent (not great) amount of hot water for 4 adults and 2 teens; we’ve learned to stage our showers so that no one has to take a cold one. In short, we’ve arranged our water usage to accommodate our hot water heater.
When is the right time to invest in new water heater?
Replacing plumbing infrastructure is expensive, mechanical, and intimidating. Water heaters can easily exceed $1,000 dollars or more, installed. Our approach to replacement is likely a common one – we’re waiting for it to break.
Understanding why water heaters fail
So, risk takers that we are, what’s the worst that can happen when our heater fails? Right now, it’s our daily lukewarm shower. Looking ahead, however, there are a three main areas that are likely to be the failure point:
Heavy mineral deposits that, over time, buildup on the heater’s internal components, including the anode rod (see photo to left). When the anode rod becomes covered in mineral deposits, poor cathodic protection results, and that’s trouble. The experts at hotwaterheaterreviews.com note that the anode protects the metal tank from the aggressive water heater conditions (a.k.a. corrosive action). The rod (usually made of magnesium) creates a “cathodic” condition in the steel water tank and protects the tank from rusting. If the rod is depleted or removed, the tank won’t have such a protection, and it will eventually corrode.” Periodic visual inspection and replacement is a must.
Poorly sized heaters – where the demand exceeds the tank size – can be identified by heavy condensation and rust. Extensive condensation is the key word here. The condensation is dripping on the burner and other elements, causing rust and ultimately, failure.
Thermal expansion – which takes place when the water temperature inside the system rises and causes the water to expand and increase in volume. If you notice a bulging tank or leaks, thermal expansion may be at work. “Water tank heaters are designed to withstand an internal pressure of up to 300 psi. [At higher pressure] bulging will occur, [deforming] the tank and its elements (such as nipples, flue tube) or rupture of the welds and joints.” In such cases, an expansion tank may be required. Contact a reputable plumber for assistance.
What are the odds that our water heater will flood the basement or utility room?
Recently, Allied Reddi-Rooter was contacted by a homeowner seeking a quote and recommendations on water heaters. The caller had recently replaced one for an elderly relative and was thinking it might be sound thinking to proactively replace her own before it failed and flooded her basement. In the course of conversation, it became clear the heater in question was about 8 years old and in good condition. The homeowner was concerned about preventing a catastrophic failure/basement flood. Ray noted that such failures are commonly discussed by insurance companies but rarely happen. Almost always, homeowners will see a failure coming, either by observing rust and small leaks or by a lack of hot water. Additionally, hot water heaters are usually located in either a basement or utility room that is equipped with a floor drain. In closing the call, Ray suggested the homeowner continue to enjoy her heater for another several years, while remembering to conduct periodic visual inspections as noted above.
Water You Waiting For? If you are curious about replacing or maintaining your water heater, the professionals at Allied Reddi-Rooter are on call to listen to your questions and concerns. Free telephone consultations and quotes are available for the asking. Call Ray today: (513) 396-5300.
When there’s trouble in the toilet area, a happy household or business environment can quickly go right down the drain. According to EnlightenMe.com, the five most common toilet plumbing problems (and some fix-it tips) are as follows:
1. Clogged Toilet – For whatever reason, the either the drain pipe or the curved toilet trap is blocked. Usually, the culprit is toilet paper, a child’s toy, feminine products, a washcloth, etc. One of our favorite rules of thumb is “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t flush it.” That being said, clogs happen. The Fix: If the toilet is draining, even slowly, that’s a good sign. Using a plunger, attempt to free the clog (hint: YouTube has several instructional plunger videos). If, after a few attempts, we recommend contacting a reputable plumber for assistance.
2. Running Toilet – The toilet is constantly filling with water, yet is never “full”. In this case, either the flush valve or the float ball has an issue. The Fix: Open the tank, check to make sure the valve chain is connected properly or if the float ball needs to be adjusted. (hint: YouTube). If neither of these options resolve the issue, we recommend contacting a reputable plumber for assistance.
3. Flushing Problems – Sometimes, the handle becomes disconnected from the valve chain, preventing the flusher from working. Other times, the tank may not fill completely, creating a partial flush situation that’s less than desirable.
The Fix: In the first scenario, a new handle kit may be needed, especially if the parts were plastic to begin with. Plastic toilet flush mechanism parts can break without notice. If the tank is not filling completely, verify that the float ball is set at the proper position. The tank should be filling to within a few inches of the top.
4. Slow Tank Refill – If the tank is taking an especially long time to refill after flushing, it’s possible the supply valve may not be fully open.
The Fix: Locate the toilet water supply valve (usually near the toilet) and verify it’s fully open. If that doesn’t address the issue, we recommend contacting a reputable plumber for assistance.
5. Water around the toilet base or under the tank – This can be a couple of issues: a broken seal (a.k.a. johnny ring), cracked porcelain, condensation on the toilet tank (especially in summer months), worn washers in the supply line or rusty bolts in the tank.
The Fix: First, locate the leak. Next, determine if it’s within your skill set to repair the leak.
• If the leak is around the toilet base and you suspect a broken seal, you may want to contact a plumber for assistance.
• Leaks is caused by condensation on the outside of the toilet tank – this can be a frustrating fix. Options include: installing air conditioning in the bathroom to reduce the temperature discrepancy between the tank and the room, installing a tank liner, installing a specialty gadget that adds hot water to the toilet tank’s cold water, a tank cover to the outside of the tank, or putting a towel under the tank to catch the drips.
• Bolt/washer issues – these can be tough. On older toilets, the bolts can be rusted into place and removal is difficult. If you attempt to fix this yourself, keep in mind that porcelain is usually cracked in the bolt area. Do not over-tighten or pound on the bolts with a hammer. Use a blow torch with care. We recommend contacting a reputable plumber for assistance.
Water You Waiting For? If you have a plumbing issue that makes you uncomfortable, our personable, professional and highly knowledgeable plumbers are available 24/7 to serve your plumbing needs. Call Ray today for a free estimate. 513-396-5300.