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Install & Replace

Is My Water Heater Breaking-down?

We just recently moved into our house and noticed something about the water heater. The last owners had the water heater maxed out on the "Very Hot" setting,  which I thought was overkill, so I put it back to the recommended setting which is the "white triangle" on the dial. I took a shower that night and realized I had no hot water. After a few days of testing, I found that I need to set the dial on "C" in order to get hot water. Does this sound normal? Is this a sign of the water heater breaking down? My parents have their water heater on the recommended "white triangle" setting and their water gets really hot!!!

 

Below is a picture of the dial on setting "B."

 

 

IMAG0018.jpg

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Posted 2012-10-09T00:19:24+0000  by Incarnadine Incarnadine
 

 

It is possible that the bottom of your heater has gotten covered with either sediment or a heavy coat of calcium, if you are in a hard water area. Most of us are negligent about flushing the tank periodically.

 

Your picture does not look as if the heater is terribly old. It is not impossible that the controls are bad. If the heater is up in years, you might want to consider how much money to put into a heater that might konk out in a couple years. Most tanks ultimately start leaking, usually preceded by gurgling noises.

 

I was in my former home for 30 years and went through 3 heaters over those years.

Posted 2012-10-09T02:10:34+0000  by ordjen

The water heater is dated May, 2003. Not too old I guess.

 

You mention that flushing the tank might help? I never heard about flushing a water heater. How would I go about doing this? Also, do I need a special cleaner to scrape away the built up clalcium if I find any? Thank you so much for the help!

Posted 2012-10-09T03:42:23+0000  by Incarnadine

Hello Incarnadine.  Welcome to the Community!

 

Sediment build-up is very common in water heaters.  Usually the effect of this sediment is to make the heater less efficient, so it runs the burner longer to keep the water hot.  Eventually this also hastens tank failure.  No cleaners are needed to remedy this.  Draining the water through the bottom of the tank will remove most of the loose sediment.

 

The gas valve has a thermostat which you set to maintain a certain temperature.  If working properly, this unit should maintain water temperature without having to be turned up to the maximum setting.  Tank sediment should not force you to turn this setting up unless it is so deep as to cover the temperature sensor.  However, draining the tank is a good idea anyway, often neglected and virtually free to accomplish.

 

Keep in mind that explaining how to do this in words makes it seem harder than actually doing it.  Here goes:

 

Water Heater.jpg

 

Turn the gas valve to the “pilot” setting so the main burner stays off.

 

Turn off the cold water supply to the water heater at the nearby valve.

 

Turn on the hot side (not the cold) of any faucet to provide a vent for draining.

 

Attach a garden hose to the valve on the tank, (see the red arrow).  The other end of the hose goes to a drain or sump that is lower than the tank valve.  Gravity makes this process easier.  Note: If there is no lower drain, a less effective method is to use water pressure to purge the tank for 5 minutes.  To do that you would leave the cold water supply valve on and not open a venting faucet tap.

 

Now it is time to gently open the drain valve, (see the red arrow), and let water and sediment wash out of the tank until it is empty.

 

Turn off the drain valve and refill the tank by opening the cold water supply.  When water comes out that faucet you opened, turn it off and now the water heater is again full of water.  Open that drain valve once again and see if the water is running out clear.  If not, wait until it does.

 

Close the drain and reset the gas valve to the temperature you want.  Done!

 

Your water heater is a bit over 9 years old.  Water heater age can be a curious thing.  I have seen 35 year old water heaters still going strong when installed near Chicago where the naturally soft Lake Michigan water is gentle on this equipment.  Farther west where very hard well water is the rule, a water heater bought 6 years ago might well be geriatric.  Most folks will not replace a water heater until the tank starts to leak.  If after draining the tank you find that you still have to set the thermostat high to get hot water, then that is simply what I would do.

 

I hope this helps,

Newf.

 

.

 

 

Posted 2012-10-09T13:39:24+0000  by Chris_HD_CHI

 

Newf,

 

I spent my early years in Chicago experiencing Lake Michigans 7 grains of hardness. It is not really soft, but tolerable.

In 1970 I moved out to the western suburbs where the water came out of wells and weighed in at 28 grains! I had never experienced really hard water. What an eye opener! You could not get soap to suds up. Shaving was like pulling the stubble out one at a time!  Needless to say, I got a water softener shortly thereafter. What a difference!

 

I would suggest that anyone living in a hard water area get a water softener. It is not only beneficial to you, but also to your water heater and water lines. Those calcium deposits inside the water heater are virtually like a layer of stone. I can remember my mother-in-law in Germany literally simmering  vinegar in her tea kettle to get the heavy calcium deposit off the bottom. Unlike the loose sediments found in the water heater, calcium will not merely flush out of a water heater, It is bonded like a rock!

Posted 2012-10-10T01:33:24+0000  by ordjen

Thanks ordjen.

 

You are right.  Eventually the sediment deposits inside a water heater will get rock hard and will not just flow out.  This is why you can extend the life of a tank through yearly flushing.  I am hoping that in Incarnadine's case that there will be a benefit, (at no cost), to flushing the tank.  If not, then it might as well get used until the tank fails.  Yes, it will be less efficient than a new heater, but I am trying to be practical here.

 

For really large commercial water heaters it can make sense to use an acidic chemical to help break up sediment, as well as replacing the anode rod.  It can be a "roll the dice" decision when there is no way to know how much corrosion the tank has suffered, but a new water heater is expensive enough to give it a try.  For residential water heaters I have not seen this done.  These heaters are simply replaced.

 

Newf.

 

.

 

 

Posted 2012-10-10T01:58:50+0000  by Chris_HD_CHI

Hi Newf,

 

I followed your instructions, but I was unable to get any water to come out of the drain valve on the water heater. I put the gas valve to "Pilot," closed the cold water to the water heater, opened the hot water at a bathroom faucet, and attached a hose to the drain valve and opened it, but no water came out of the water heater. So I disattached the hose and opened the drain valve slowly with a bucket underneath, but only a little bit of water came out (more like little sprinkles of hot water). Could the drain valve be clogged?

 

If we have no option but to buy a new water heater, what are your thoughts on a tankless gas water heater? Is this the most efficient water heater available now?

 

Thank you so much for the help!

Posted 2012-10-10T04:28:32+0000  by Incarnadine

Update. I opened the cold water to the water heater and I was able to properly drain all the water from the heater. I kept the drain valve open until the water turned cold then closed the valve and let the water heat back up again. Unfortunately, I still need to crank the temperature dial to almost max before I get hot water. I give up :smileyfrustrated:

Posted 2012-10-10T06:04:53+0000  by Incarnadine

Hello Incarnadine.

 

I apologize for my late response, I have been out of town.

 

You don't need to give up.  You still have hot water.  Your concern is that the setting on your heater is way higher than you would like.  You do have some choices, and no panic is needed.

 

Reading through this thread, you can see that ordjen identified a common malady.  Lime deposits have accumulated to the point that you have to crank up the water heater settings in order to maintain performance.  Yes they become rock hard at the bottom and work their way up.  When the sediment gets to the valve sensor then you have to crank up the temps to get good performance.

 

I was hoping that the sediment could be flushed out to sufficiently restore temperature control and efficiency.  It was a crap shoot and sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.  You lose some efficiency in running the heater this way, but it will still function until the tank corrosion causes a leak.  Then you must replace it.

 

That's the rub.

 

You don't need a water heater right now.

 

Tomorrow, next week, next month or maybe next year you will.  Then, when it happens, you will need a solution ASAP.

A leaking heater means you need to do something NOW.  Your heater does not leak so we have some time...

 

Let's use that time to discuss the reason why Europeans frequently buy tankless heaters, and why this has been a growing trend in the U.S.  This type of heater may or may not make sense for your home  Tankless heaters save money over the long term by not having to maintain a pool of heated water ready for use.  They work on demand only.  The cost to install one is way higher than replacing the tank type heater that failed.

 

The fewer people in your household, the less often you will demand hot water.  Therefore, the more likely that an on-demand system will save you money.  Natural gas prices are currently falling.  This cuts into the cost savings that a tankless heater will provide over time.  The installed cost of a tankless heater is twice or more than a tank type unit.  There is also maintenance required with tankless units to keep them running at top efficiency.  However, as we have just discovered, not maintaining a water heater tank has its problems too...

 

Maybe this is a good place to start a discussion over the pro's and con's of tankless heaters..

 

Ideas, thoughts, opinions???

 

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Posted 2012-10-14T22:36:55+0000  by Chris_HD_CHI
 
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