By default, tap water is neither hot nor cold. It depends on the temperature of the pipes. If it’s the winter, your water will be cold and hot if it’s the summer season. If you want to get hot water constantly, you need a water heater.
Hot water heaters are mechanically simple in terms of function. Cold water goes in, hot water comes out. This applies to the many types of water heaters in the market today. But what is it about water heaters that make them complicated? I can think of two things: the installation and the maintenance.
Knowing the kind of water heater that you have, and knowing the kind of water heater you want to purchase, can help you prolong the lifespan of your heater and also help you save money on repairs and installation. Listed below are the different kinds of water heaters available in the market today and some interesting tips on how you can go about with the installation and maintenance of your old or new hot water heater system.
Different types of water heaters
Gas or Conventional Storage Water Heater
Gas water heaters are the most common type of water heater and are by far the oldest unit around. This water heater possesses an insulated storage tank used to hold quantities of heated water and can store anywhere between 30 and 80 gallons. Conventional water heaters are usually powered by whatever service is present in your home – like natural gas, liquid propane, oil, and even electricity. Inside the tank, you’ll find a gauge that reads the water temperature and when the temperature drops to a preset level, the unit will start up to bring the water temperature up. This is a continuous heating process that goes on for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It heats when you sleep or when you’re away on vacation. Gas water heaters actually force you to pay for heated water that you don’t even use but one good thing about gas or conventional water heaters is that there’s always hot water waiting for you.
Simple maintenance tips for gas water heaters
- Draining and flushing should be done twice a year to prevent the build-up of sediment and minerals.
- Check if your pressure relief valve is still working or in good condition.
- Prior to doing any maintenance, be sure to turn off your heater’s power supply or set the gas switch to the pilot position.
Tankless or Instantaneous Water Heaters
If you don’t want to be bothered with a huge tank in your home, then you can go for the tankless or instantaneous water heaters. These water heaters are often called “hot water on demand” because they only provide you with hot water when you ask for it, which makes it very practical due to the significant energy savings that you get out of it. You only get to pay for the hot water that you use. The only downside to these tankless water heaters is the low flow rate and its inability to accommodate simultaneous household use. If you’re using the hot water for showering, you can’t use hot water for taps or for the dishwasher at the same time. If this poses a problem, then you need to buy another tankless water heater for separate appliances. This is what most homeowners usually do. They have a designated water heater for the kitchen tap, dishwasher, bathroom tap, shower, and other plumbing appliances and fixtures. A conventional water heater can last for up to 15 years while a tankless water heater can function for 20 years or more but its longevity can come at a cost, literally. Tankless water heaters cost twice as much as conventional models.
For maintenance, you need to hire a licensed plumber to flush the unit at least once a year to get rid of mineral deposits.
Electric heat pump water heaters
By the name itself, these are powered by electricity and this type of water heater works by intensifying the heat it draws from the air and transfers heat to a quantity of water that’s contained in its storage tank. Because it works alongside the environment, the electric water heater works best in hot climates where the technology is better maximised to a point where it’s three times more energy efficient compared to a traditional water heater.
Air filters must be cleaned regularly but it’s advisable that you hire a licensed plumber to help you with the maintenance.
Solar water heaters
The sun powers solar water heaters, which makes it practical for any climate. This is a type of water heater that has two parts – a solar collector and an insulated storage tank. The unit can be installed on the roof and sometimes in the yard. Active solar water heaters distribute hot water through a pump while passive models rely on the force of gravity to deliver water.
There are two types of active solar water heating systems:
- Direct circulation systems works through a pump that circulates water through the solar collectors and into a storage tank. This is perfect for regions with no extreme cold
- Indirect circulation systems work with a pump together with an antifreeze solution combined with their solar collectors and a heat exchanger. The latter heats the water and this is popular in regions where temperatures reach freezing point.
You also have your passive solar water heating systems. These are less expensive and there are two basic types:
- Integral collector storage systems have solar collectors in the storage tank that heat the stored water and transports it into the home’s plumbing via gravity (this is why it’s placed on the roof).
- Thermosyphon systems have solar collectors that heat from below and causing the heated water to rise and travel naturally into the home.
You need to work with a solar specialist that’s able to provide with routine maintenance at least every three to five years. This will guarantee your solar power water heaters will run for more than fifteen years. Like most solar water heaters, you can do the following for maintenance:
- Clean dusty and soiled collectors.
- Monitor connections between piping and storage tank
- Look for damaged insulation that covers pipes, ducts, and wirings.
How Much Does Water Heater Installation Cost?
So you’ve noticed that you’ve been enjoying your showers less and less now due to the lack of hot water. You hire a plumber to inspect your water heater and his verdict is to replace your old water heater with a new one. The next big question comes into mind: how much does water heater installation cost?
The average lifespan of a traditional tank-style water heater or electric water heater runs up to 12 years and this makes water heater replacement one of the most practical home improvement investments that you can do.
How much does it cost? The actual costs of installing a new water heater vary, whether you’re installing a conventional unit or a tankless water heater. Each water heater installation differs, costing anywhere between $700 and $2000. It’s also hard for hot water heater installation specialists and plumbers to give you a rough estimate without seeing the installation site first.
The cost can also depend on the type of installation and every individual project is unique from one homeowner to the next. It also depends on what kind of water heater the customer currently has and what they’re planning to replace it with. It also has something to do with what change they need to do in order for the installation to be up to current code.
The biggest tip that you shouldn’t ignore is this: hire a plumber for safety. More importantly, hire a plumber with an Electrical Disconnect and Reconnect License and a plumbing license.
It’s important that you hire a licensed and qualified individual to do the installation for you because they need to make sure that all of the safety features are in place and the installation is closely following the local plumbing code. Installing a water heater can be dangerous and when done by an amateur, it’s more than likely that the water heater will be installed improperly.
Now why did I talk about hiring a plumber with an Electrical Disconnect and Reconnect License? Electric water heater installations deal with 240V of electricity and improper handling can often cause catastrophic and sometimes fatal damage. the same thing can be said for gas water heaters. If a gas leak occurs and it’s not corrected, it poses a serious threat to both the house and its occupants.
There are other considerations when you install a water heater, like making sure that the unit is adequately plumbed and making sure that the drip pans are equipped if needed.
One of the important elements for gas-fired tank water heaters or tankless water heaters is to make sure that the units are properly ventilated so carbon monoxide gases won’t seep into your homes. Unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning causes 400 deaths each year and more than 20,000 visits to the emergency room.
What about installing energy efficient water heaters?
Investing in higher energy efficient water heaters can be more expensive when it comes to installing them. By energy efficient, I am referring to on-demand or tankless water heaters. An on-demand gas unit has an average price of somewhere between the $3,200 and $4,500 range and installations for tankless water heaters can cost as much as $3,000, and this is just an estimated price.
Installing a tankless water heater can also take twice as long. Sometimes, it takes a full eight hours and maybe even longer compared to installing traditional water heaters. Keep in mind that this is something that only professionals should do. This is because you need to install a dedicated gas line that can supply large quantities of gas when the unit is being used. Electrical work also needs to be done, which is why you need someone with an Electrical Disconnect and Reconnect License.
Water Heater Maintenance
Water heater appliances are often taken for granted mainly because they’re often placed in parts of the home we rarely visit, like the basement. The only time we remember that we have a water heater is when there’s no longer hot water available and you end up with a cold shower. To prevent this from happening, you need to do regular maintenance on your water heater.
One of the things that you can do as part of water heater maintenance is to drain your water heater. Draining helps ensure the longevity of your water heater by flushing out the minerals and sediments that can cause the appliance to malfunction.
How often should you drain your water heater? I suggest that you drain your water heater a couple of times a year, or once every 6 months. The owner’s manual can also provide you with information as to how often you should drain your water heater.
Here’s one basic rule that I tell all of my clients when it comes to maintenance: The more you use your water heater, the more you should do it.
“But Mr. Plumber, I just moved in and I don’t know where the water heater tank is. Where can I usually find it?”
This is a question that I often encounter on more than several occasions and people often assume that water heaters have tanks (even though you have your tankless units). Now first and foremost, you need to determine if your water heater unit has a tank or not. You can tell because a tankless water heater will just be placed right beside a plumbing fixture, thus providing you with hot water on demand.
However, let’s assume that you have a water heater with a tank. The first place to look for a tank should be in a corner of your basement or utility closet. Some people build separate sheds for their water heater tanks so try to check outside too.
For maintenance instructions, check the water heater manual. You might find reading the manuals and labels bothersome, but for the sake of your water heater, this is the next best thing that you can do to prolong its lifespan. Remember that you should not do anything outside of the instructions provided by the manual. Leave those more complicated tasks to the professionals.
Now there is something that you can do: determine if your water heater is gas or electric. If the manual or label doesn’t identify what kind of water heater you have, check for a small flame or what’s called a pilot light. This is located near the bottom of the heater. If you see this light, then the water heater is powered by gas. If there’s no pilot light, the heater might be electric. You can also ask a professional and licensed plumber to help you determine what kind of water heater you currently have.
Gas powered water heaters need an additional step in cleaning the burner and ports, which you’ll need to refer to the manual for guidance. Never proceed with maintenance without reading the manual.
Here is a checklist of sorts on how you can go about with water heater maintenance in case you don’t have your manual.
Prepping the water heater
First, turn off the water to the water heater by turning off the shutoff valve on the cool water line. Next, open up the drain shutoff valve which is found at the base of the water heater. Do not let anyone use the warm water for the time being while you’re doing maintenance.
Temperature level & Pressure safety valve
The Temperature and Pressure Valve or TPV can be found in front of the water heater and has a tiny steel bar attached to it with an open hole. Lift the level to make sure that water comes out. If water continues to come out even after you closed it, your valve might be leaking. In this case, it’s time to call a plumber.
Burning chamber cleansing
For gas water heater systems, you can remove the burner assembly from the water heater to clean it, but I highly recommend that you ask help from a professional plumber to help you with the cleaning.
Checking your gas water heater’s vent
Backdrafting can occur when you have gas powered water heaters. The gas fumes can get lugged up in the vent and escape into your home via the fireplace or open window or even an air-conditioning vent.
Professional plumbers like me will always be available to answer your questions about water heaters. I can recommend what type of model best suits your needs and I can also take care of the installation and the maintenance. If you have any questions or concerns about your current water heater, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.