Hot water heaters don’t seem to be talked about often. Some people will own or rent their hot water heater often depending on want is commonplace in their area. For some, renting means that if anything goes wrong, they’ll just get it fixed by the owner / utility company they’ve rented it from. But there are a number of things you need to know whether you own or rent.
Fuel — Hot water heaters are typically fueled by natural gas, propane, oil, or electricity. Some solar powered heating systems are available as well.
With traditional water heaters that are fueled by natural gas, propane or oil, regular maintenance is required as like many furnaces they have burners, pilot lights, and controls. Electric powered heaters have a heating element.
Venting — Where combustion gases are present (based on the fuel type used) they are vented either through a metal flue out to a chimney or are power vented out through a plastic pipe.
Tanks — some are metal whilst others are glass lined. Over time tanks can rust causing the tank to leak.
Coloured Water — Occasionally, you may find that your hot water is discoloured. A rusting metal tank can cause this. It is recommended that tanks be drained monthly to reduce any build up of sediment in the tank. This is a dangerous operation involving very hot water often capable of causing scalding burns so exercise extreme caution when doing this or better yet call a professional if you are not familiar and comfortable with doing this. If this is not done, a built up may accumulate in the tank and cause reduce pressure in the water supply.
Relief Valve — All hot water heaters should have a temperature / pressure relief valve. These relief valves will discharge water from the tank in the event the temperature or pressure in the tank is too high. Some hot water heaters turn the fuel supply (gas) off if the temperature gets too high. Make sure there is a discharge pipe leading from the relief valve to about six inches above the floor so the hot water can be directed away properly.
Preventing Hot Water Scalds
There are numerous scalding injuries each year in Canada. Many people are hospitalized to treat what are often severe burns.
These burns can be easily prevented, with just a simple adjustment to one device in your home. Some have suggested that legislation is required to force homeowners to make this simple change. The easiest and most effective solution of course is to turn down the heat on your home hot water heater.
Some areas in the U.S. and Canada now require hot water heaters in new homes to be set lower that the traditional 60°C (140°F), to a lower and safer limit of 49°C, or 120°F which has led to a major drop in hot water burns.
Carbon Monoxide — as with any fossil fuel burning appliance, hot water heaters fueled for example, by natural gas, propane, or, oil produce dangerous combustion gases that must be vented to the outdoors. If not properly maintained or vented, a hot water tank can be a source for letting various dangerous combustion gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO), to enter the home. Sometimes, newer or tighter homes can allow back drafting or spillage to occur from these appliances allowing these dangerous gasses into home as well.
Alternatives to Conventional Hot Water Heaters — Generally, there are two schools of thought when it comes to hot water heating. In North America, we typically use 30, 40 or 50 gallon tanks for water heater heating. In the past, with low energy costs this was quite acceptable. However, there are two other methods that are efficient and worthy of mention.
1. Point of Use Systems: These are typically used under a sink and supply hot water in locations where there is no primary water heater or it is far away. Often these are used in RV’s, mobile homes, boats and campsites. But they’re also useful washrooms located in warehouses, service stations, stores and restaurants. They are not good for whole house systems or where hot water is required at multiple outlets. It may make sense however to compare installing them where required in home versus a conventional whole house hot water heating system.
2. Tankless Systems: These can replace your home’s conventional system that stores hot water and keeps reheating it day in and day out regardless of how long it will be before you need it again. These systems can be hung on the wall freeing up the valuable floor space where it used to occupy. They are sized based on you demand / needs. With the right size installed, you will never run out of hot water again.
Like point of use water heaters, tankless water heaters can be sized for use in RV’s and mobile homes too. They can also be used in small commercial and light industrial applications as well. The advantage to this system is that it can significantly lower energy costs and have much longer a life span than conventional water heaters with no tank to leak.
- Consider the more energy-efficient models if buying or renting a new unit. They are better insulated and have a better-quality tank base.
- Avoid installing hot water heaters on a cold concrete floor because they can lose heat.
- Install an insulating blanket on electric water heaters. On a natural gas or propane water heater, install only an insulating kit that is certified by the Canadian Gas Association. Keep the insulating cover clear of the air inlet for the burner and temperature controls. Adding insulation on an oil-fired water heater can be dangerous and is not recommended.
- Insulate your hot water pipes
- Have your hot water heater professionally inspected and maintained regularly as you would with your furnace, at least annually.
- Installing the hot water heater as close to where it will be used the most.
- Lower the temperature setting on your water heater.
- Water conservation practices and reduced consumption will help reduce waste and energy bills.
- Consider shutting your off water heater if not using it or if you’ll be away for a few weeks or months.