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Water Heater FAQs

For solutions to your most common water heater problems, Watts Plumbing is here to help. With over 38 years of experience, the experts at Watts Plumbing are trained to easily address your most common water heater questions.

From proper water heater installation and money-saving suggestions, to the advantages of tankless vs. conventional water heaters, Watts Plumbing has the helpful water heater plumbing tips you need.

Whether your plumbing issue is a simple at-home DIY task, or your water heater issues require immediate attention from the plumbing professionals, we are here to help. Watts Plumbing is available 24/7, when you need service most.

Question: Should I buy a conventional or a tankless water heater?

A traditional water heater keeps 30–50 gallons of water, and preheats it ahead of time. When someone in your home uses hot water, it comes preheated. The tank is then is refilled and reheated.

Conventional water heaters are initially cheaper than tankless options. They usually cost far less at purchase. Installation is also easier, which means that problems with the unit are simpler to fix, and the unit itself is easy to replace.

However, a traditional water heater has its drawbacks. Since it's heating a set amount of water, regardless of your needs, your utility bill will be higher monthly. Traditional water heaters are also larger than tankless units, which limits where they can be installed; they can't be installed outdoors, for example. With a traditional heater, there's also the chance that you can run out of hot water. A conventional water heater also has a shorter life expectancy than a tankless heater, which means you'll have to replace it more often.

Tankless heaters store no water, and use your home's power (gas or electricity) to heat water as needed. As such, they don't take up much space, and end up saving you lots on your utility bills. Tankless electric water heaters and tankless gas water heaters alike take up far less space than a conventional heater; they can be mounted outside if need be. Tankless heaters also last up to twice as long as their conventional counterparts.

The convenience and longevity of the tankless heater comes with its own drawbacks. Tankless water heaters are initially more expensive than conventional heaters, and are more complex to install, resulting in further initial expenses.

When purchasing either type of water heater, you have to gauge your current budget against the benefits and drawbacks of each. If you have the money to spend right now, or if you have a large family, the tankless heater may be for you. However, if you don't have enough for a tankless heater, or you don't want to spend too much on installation and replacement, then you may want to stick with the conventional option.

Question: Do you have any tips to reduce the cost to heat water?

There are simple steps anyone can take to reduce their water heat usage and save money.

Take showers instead of baths:
Showering requires less water than a traditional bath. Baths are nice, but they tend to be wasteful.
Spend less time in the shower:
Though it can be a pain, one of the best ways to cut your water bill is to spend less time in the shower. Hot showers are relaxing, but those minutes standing there with your eyes closed add up.
Lower your water heater's temperature:
Lowering your water heater's temperature by just a few degrees can translate into big savings in the long term.
Turn off your water:
Be sure not to let hot water run while scrubbing dishes, etc. Ideally your water should be off any time you aren't actively using it. Every second counts!
Insulate:
Insulating the water heater and the first few feet of pipes connected to the heater means less heat lost and less money wasted.
Take shorter showers:
Showering requires less water than a traditional bath. Baths are nice, but they tend to be wasteful.
Buy energy saving appliances:
Be on the lookout for energy-saving dishwashers and washing machines to help save on water heating costs.

There are lots of simple ways to lower your water heating cost. One of the best ways to save money is often to replace your water heater with a newer more energy-efficient unit. Tankless, or on-demand, water heaters or hybrid units are good options also for reducing water heating costs. While these choices may seem more expensive at first, they will actually save you money in the long run.

Here are more fall and winter energy-saving tips that you can apply around the house:

  • Keep control of your ventilation. Seal all window and door frames, power sockets and recessed light fittings. These openings could lead to more warm air leaking out. You can use caulk or foam to fill these openings.
  • Add extra insulation. You can layer up mineral wool in your attic or use thick curtains to insulate glass windows. You can also stick transparent polyethylene film to your windows.
  • Leave thermostats alone. Set it to one temperature and don't change it on a whim. Or if you have a smart thermostat, program it for maximum efficiency so the house doesn't stay as warm during the day when nobody is home. Program the temperature to turn a bit warmer about an hour before you get home from work so the house is comfortable when you get home.

Question: We need a new water heater. What are our options?

When you buy a hot water heater, there are several factors to consider. Fuel, size, energy efficiency and cost are all important to consider when purchasing a new unit. Many newer models are designed to save you money in the long term, but cost much more at purchase. You have to gauge what you're in the market for, as well as what your house has space for.

The first thing to determine with your water heater options is what kind of fuel your new heater will use, which will largely depend on how your home is powered. Conventional heaters are fueled by electricity or gas power, which are still the most common fuel sources. However, you could also use natural gas, geothermal energy or solar power to run your water heater. But the easiest option is a conventional power source, such as electricity, gas or propane.

Second, you want to determine what type of heater you're buying, regardless of how it's powered. Conventional heaters store water in a tank, allowing hot water on demand. Tankless systems don't store water ahead of time, but heat the water when it's needed. Here's a helpful infographic that presents the strengths and weaknesses of both types.

One thing to remember when buying your new water heater is capacity. Make sure to take measurements of the space you plan to install your new water heater. Keep the size of your current unit in mind when shopping.

These aren't all of the factors you'll have to consider, but fuel, type and capacity are the most important ones when buying a new water heater. Once you determine which is best for you, then you can begin to have the conversation about budget, cost and warranty.

Question: What should I know about different water heaters??

There are several different types of water heaters, each with their with their own benefits and drawbacks. Conventional water heaters store water ahead of time, and use your home's electricity or gas power to heat somewhere between 30 and 50 gallons of water. When you read the terms, “electric water heater” or “gas water heater,” they're often referring to conventional gas and electric heaters. Conventional heaters have a fairly long life span of around 10–11 years.

Tankless water heaters store no water ahead of time, heating water as you and your family need it. Tankless heaters also run off of your home's power (usually gas or electric), but can save you lots of money on utility bills: since you aren't heating any water ahead of time, no hot water goes to waste! That being said, tankless heaters are also initially costlier, which for some is too much of a trade-off for the cheaper utility bills. With a 15- to 20-year lifespan, however, the tankless heater is always a viable option.

Of course, there are always options involving alternative sources of energy. Natural gas can be used to power both conventional and tankless heaters, geothermal energy is available to those with a geothermal heat pump, and solar power is becoming more and more prominent. If you're interested in any of these, call your local authorities to see which options are available and meet the plumbing codes in your area. You may also want to compare the fuel costs for these different energy sources before deciding which one to purchase.

Question: There are four people in our house, two adults and two teens. We are constantly running out of hot water. After a five-minute shower, the water starts to turn cold. This change occurred quite recently. What can we do?

There are two possibilities for rapidly reducing water temperatures. First, the dip tube in your water heater may have broken off. This is a tube that forces incoming water to the bottom of the tank so that hot water will be drawn off of the top. When the dip tube breaks, cold water entering the tank mixes with the hot water and cools it down. This can occur in both gas and electric models.

Second, if your water heater is electric, the lower element that heats the water may not be operating properly, thus only the upper half of the tank will heat up. The cause of this problem could be a bad element or a malfunctioning thermostat. This type of problem should be evaluated by a qualified technician.

Additionally, you may want to check to see if a toilet is leaking. First, check the water level to ensure that water is not overflowing the tank by way of the overflow pipe. This is the pipe in the middle of the tank. It has small tubing connected to it. If water is running into the overflow, adjust the fill valve to stop the flow approximately one inch below the top of the overflow tube or to the water level mark stamped on the side of the tank.

Question: Why is my hot water running out quickly? It doesn't seem like we're using an unusual amount.

There could be a couple of reasons why you are running out of hot water so quickly. First, there might be sediment or residue in your hot water tank. This can be easily solved with a simple flushing of the hot water tank..

Second, your water heater might be too small to meet your family's needs. If you have a small water heater tank and your family uses a significant amount of water, there will never be enough hot water to go around.

Lastly, you might have a problem with the dip tube, a plastic pipe that travels from the cold water inlet down to the bottom of the water heater's tank. The dip tube deposits the cold water coming into the tank at the bottom, where it is heated. As the water is heated, it rises to the top where it exits the tank through the hot water outlet.

Question: Why did ty water heater's pilot light will not light. It's only three years old and there is no residue in the tank. What can I do to ?

When the pilot light on a water heater no longer stays lit, it typically means the thermocouple is bad. Thermocouples are little electric generators that create a magnetic current that holds open a magnetic gas valve inside the control unit on the front of the water heater. If the generator or the wiring from the unit can no longer sense heat at the pilot, it will constantly shut it off. Replacing the thermocouple will generally solve the problem.

If a thermocouple replacement is needed or if a new water heater is necessary, a Watts Plumbing expert can help determine which model is right for your home and budget. We offer 24-hour emergency water heater service, so that we can diagnose the problem and you can have hot water again as quickly as possible.

Question: Why did the water in our electric water heater get extremely hot on its own?

There are only a couple of things that will cause an electric hot water heater to raise its water temperature by itself. The first is a bad thermostat. A thermostat is designed to shut the temperature of the water off when it reaches the chosen temperature, but if the heat-sensing device goes bad, then the water temperature will continue to climb until the backup thermostat shuts off the power. Both thermostats need to be tested to see which one has failed. You will probably need a professional to pull it out and replace it. Unless you are very handy and know electrical safety, it is not recommended that you touch it. Electric water heaters typically have 240 volts going to the thermostat.

The other problem that could happen with an electric water heater is the tube surrounding the element, which separates the element from the water, may be damaged and the element may be heating the water directly. Generally you get hot water for a short period of time, then the element burns out. Sometimes you don't notice that it's gone because the other element continues to heat water electric water heater has two elements, an upper element and a lower element. Both cycle to heat the water. An element is tested with an ohm meter; a small current is passed through the element to see if it is unbroken. If you get a reading from both poles of the element and it is within tolerance, then the element is still good. You have to test it with the power leads disconnected. Again, do not attempt this unless you know all of the safety procedures for 220 volts of power.

If the water heater is more than 10 years old, it is time to consider installing a new water heater. The time factor and parts for rebuilding the old water heater is the same as replacing it with a new one. You may be able to conserve more heat by installing a more energy-efficient model. Enough power may be conserved to eventually pay for the water heater. In addition, you may be able to easily convert to a tankless water heater that stores no hot water and is therefore even more energy efficient.

Question: Why is My Water Heater Leaking?

If you've noticed water on the floor around your water, you don't necessarily have to jump to the worst conclusion--not every leaky water heater requires replacement. It's important to first identify the source of the leak, then decide whether the leak can be repaired or requires either professional attention or a complete replacement. Some fixes are relatively quick and inexpensive, and can even extend the life of your water heater by several years. Before you begin diagnosing your water heater leak, you must turn off the power source. If you have an electric water heater, turn off power at the circuit breaker. If you have a gas water heater, look on the water heater itself for an on/off dial or switch, and turn it to off. If the leak is substantial and obvious, you can turn off the water supply at the cold water shut-off valve. This should be located above the water heater. Shutting the water off should slow, and may even stop the leak, depending on where it is coming from.

Caution! The hot water heater tank can be extremely hot. Be careful that you don't touch it while examining it. Always allow the hot water heater to cool before working on it. Hot water inside your hot water heater can cause first degree burns. Use extreme care when emptying hot water.

Possible culprits for leaks are outlined below:

Cold and hot water connections
A hot water heater usually has two major connections--a cold water inlet connection and a hot water outlet connection. Examine both of these connections for leaks. The elbow joints where these pipes turn towards the hot water heater are also possible locations for leaks. Tightening and reconnecting these joints, including replacing parts, may solve the problem.
Temperature and pressure relief valve
Every hot water heater has a temperature and pressure relief valve. Ongoing high temperatures cause steam, increasing pressure on the T&P valve, causing it to open repeatedly to prevent the tank from exploding. Identifying this problem takes a little bit more time. First, lower the hot water heater thermostat. Next, turn the water and power/gas to your heater back on and observe. The T&P valve connects to a vertical pipe running down the side of your water tank, usually stopping a couple inches above the floor. If the floor near the pipe is wet or has water stains, chances are good that your T&P valve has been discharging recently. If the T&P valve continues to leak, you may have a faulty valve. Place a bucket under the discharge tube and open the T&P valve. This will flush water through the valve and may remove debris that may be causing the issue. If it still leaks after flushing, the valve will need to be replaced. You should contact a licensed plumber to repair this part of your hot water heater.
Heater drain valve
The drain valve near the bottom of the tank can leak if the valve is faulty or if sediment buildup has affected the seal. Similar to the T&P valve, you can place a bucket under the valve and flush water out to clear out debris. If the valve still leaks after flushing, the valve is faulty and must be replaced. As with the T&P valve, this repair should be completed by a licensed plumber./dd>
Gaskets
Electric water heaters function by heating water using electric elements inside the tank. The base of these elements is protected from water by rubber gaskets. Over time, if these gaskets erode, they can allow water to seep through connections. There are small hatch covers on the outside of the tank where the base of these elements can be reached. To investigate this, double check that you've turned off electricity to the water heater. Then, remove the hatches and cut through any tank insulation and examine each electrical connection for signs of water damage. If you discover leakage around gaskets, you can fully drain the tank and then remove the electrical elements, allowing you to replace the gaskets.
The Tank
If the water heater tank itself is leaking, you will have to replace the entire unit. Over time, sediment builds up in the water heater tank. If you do not regularly flush your water heater, this sediment can cause the tank to erode from the inside out. The only solution for this problem is to fully replace the hot water heater. Watts Plumbing provides 24-hour emergency water heater service, so you will have hot water again as quickly as possible. When you rely on Watts Plumbing, you can expect professional service from a skilled, licensed and fully insured plumber.