Archive for the 'Water Heaters' Category

Troubleshooting a Hot Water Heater

Sep. 14th 2012

The hot water heater is a very important component of your home’s plumbing system. Not only is it one of the most expensive components, but it is the first to be missed when it malfunctions. These are a few of the most common problems that can occur and some tips for preventing them by performing scheduled maintenance.

The most troublesome issue experienced when you have any water heater is when the water comes out cold. On a gas heater, the pilot may have blown out. If it is an electric heater, its circuit breaker may have tripped. Once you reignite the pilot or reset the breaker, look into the reason before assuming the issue is resolved.
If your water heater takes too long to heat up, it may be that deposits have formed in the tank. Sediments in the tank will insulate it from the flame. Drain and flush the tank occasionally to remove sedimentary deposits.

Reduce the rate of sediment buildup by lowering the water temperature and by softening household water. Set thermostat to 125°F. Temperatures below 120°F can allow the growth of unhealthy bacteria within the tank. Also, if sediment becomes too thick on the bottom of the tank, the tank bottom may overheat in a gas heater, causing the water at the bottom to boil. This may produce a funny popping or rumbling sound. Draining and flushing the tank occasionally will eliminate this issue.

If your tank is not big enough to provide enough hot water on demand, stagger showers throughout the day, or get a tank big enough to store 15 gallons for every member of the household. My 40-gallon tank only runs cold on the rare occasions when all four of us take baths or showers one after the other.

When an electric water heater supplies too little hot water, or water that is too hot, check the thermostat, heating elements and limit switches. Replace them if they are damaged or encrusted with sediment. The limits of a do-it-yourselfer in regard to electric heater components are to inspect them for loose or disconnected wires, and to tighten and reattach them. Never attempt to work on an electric water heater until you are sure the power has been disconnected at the panel.

If water from a gas heater smells rotten, replace the anode rod. The location of this rod is detailed in the owner’s manual. This rod, made of magnesium or aluminum, is in place because of the electrochemical reaction created when water is heated. The reaction will corrode the rod over time, so that the tank itself remains unaffected by it. For this reason the rod should be replaced periodically (every 2 to 5 years). Pull it out after 2 years (or if the heater is more than two years old and you never have before) and inspect it for wear. Charts are available to show how much service life remains in an anode rod.

If your heater is gas-fired, have the burners cleaned once a year. Take this opportunity to inspect flues and vents, or use a carbon monoxide detector to ensure no dangerous exhaust is escaping into the house.

The T&P valve (temperature and pressure relief valve) should be tested once per year. Test this by lifting the handle until pressurized water escapes through the drain tube attached to the valve. Release the handle, and the flow should stop completely. If it drips, there may be sediment which has lodged in the valve seat. Release a little more water a few times, until it stops completely. If you find water pooled under the heater, and it is not coming from the T&P valve, look above the tank nearby, to see if there is a drip from any of the other pipes in the area. If not, inspect the bottom of the tank, above the burner, for excess corrosion and wetness. If you find it is leaking through the tank, the heater will need to be replaced.
Water heaters are routinely ignored as long as hot water is delivered on demand. But setting a maintenance schedule and inspecting the tank on a periodic basis will prolong its trouble-free operation and performing these simple maintenance tasks will extend its life beyond the expected 10-15 years.

Repair or Replace?

Aug. 1st 2012

Should you service your existing plumbing fixtures or replace them?

The world of a do-it-yourselfer is full of surprises, and full of decisions. The typical homeowner decides which plumber to hire, which heating and air conditioning contractor to hire, and other, similar decisions. The do-it-yourselfer has more complex decisions to make. Can I gain control of this situation in a time of crisis? Am I able to solve the problem and return things to normal using only my own ingenuity and resources? Can I save some of my hard-earned money by eliminating the labor costs of a professional?

A properly functioning plumbing system is a sensitive balance, containing many various and individual parts, all playing their roles to provide modern convenience to your home. But each component, as it performs its task, is wearing out, or being deposited with sediment, or otherwise approaching the point at which it will fail. Some components show warning signs that failure is imminent, but some simply fail, without any indication of trouble.

Many components have a “life expectancy”, which aids the homeowner in deciding whether repairs will be worth their cost, or if they will amount to throwing money and energy at a losing proposal. This article will help you to ask the questions that are part of the decision whether to replace a failed appliance or fixture, or whether to replace a component of it in order to make a repair and put it back into operation.

An important factor in determining your course of action is the cost of repair as compared with the cost of replacement. For instance, if a part for your thermostatic shower control is half the cost of replacing the entire valve, and you’ve used the valve for ten years already, perhaps it would be wise to replace the entire valve while you have it opened up. If you do, you can reasonably expect to have about ten more years of trouble-free operation. If you spend only the amount necessary to change the part, you may not be confident that no other part will need replacement before long. It could be that repairing part after part will lead to a higher cost than total replacement.

A water heater is an expensive plumbing fixture that can be found in nearly every home – every occupied building of all types, in fact. When problems with the water heater arise, they can be caused by many different things. If your pilot light stays on, but no fire ignites, it may need a new thermocouple, a part that costs between $5 and $10 and takes about ten minutes to change. In this case, it is probably worth the expense, even if you have owned the water heater for 12 years, the typical life expectancy of a gas heater.

But suppose there is no gas supplying the pilot light, and a faulty gas valve is the culprit. If you’ve had the heater for ten years or more, it may not be wise to spend nearly $200 just to keep it working for an expected 2 more years. Average out the total cost of ownership over ten years of use, without the added expense of a gas valve, and you will find you have gotten your money’s worth. Spending the extra money on a new appliance will add years of trouble-free operation – and it comes with the expensive part included in the price!

Of course, the decision about whether to patch up an ailing appliance rather than replace it will depend largely on the available budget of the homeowner. Sometimes a homeowner will have little choice but to spend as little as possible to get things working again, but from another perspective, spending as little as possible to restore the plumbing system is a recipe for overwhelming future problems.

Cost, however, is not always the dominant factor in such a decision. The market value of your home is affected by maintenance decisions you make. Aesthetic value is another factor. A cracked lid on your toilet tank is an eyesore, but you will likely need to replace the entire toilet to resolve the issue. While replacing your toilet in such an instance is perhaps wasted money to some, from another perspective it provides a satisfaction that cannot be measured in dollars.

It may not always be the best course of action to defer your judgment to a professional plumber at times when such a decision is needed. Plumbers, while in business to serve the needs of their customers, are also in the business of making sales. If a fixture is serviceable after repairing it, it may be substandard in the eyes of a professional who is in constant contact with new, and sometimes innovative plumbing fixtures and appliances.

But it is not necessary for a functioning system that it be new. The test for the homeowner is whether the system is functioning as it was designed to do, and whether costs and efforts are contained within reasonable limits, allowing for the homeowner’s time and money to be devoted to other needs.

The decision, then, to replace or repair any durable plumbing fixture – toilets, garbage disposals, water heaters, etc. – will depend on how much repair you’ve had to perform on the item previously, and how much repair cost can be eliminated by the installation of a new one. It is rarely an easy decision, but with due diligence and thoughtful consideration of all the factors, your decision can be easier to make.

Solar Water Heaters

Jun. 12th 2012

Energy conservation and alternate sources of energy have become burning issues at the forefront of the world’s attention. With the Middle Eastern energy crisis dragging on for decades in an interminable stalemate which seems to be broken only by periodic eruptions of war, the rest of the world is searching more determinedly than ever for new sources of energy which could break the stranglehold that the oil barons of the world have established for themselves.

Especially in Israel and other hot nations with hot climates, such as Indonesia, India, and others, a new form of water heating is increasingly gaining ground. Solar water heaters are exactly what their name implies. A solar water heating system is a unit which comprises a storage tank for water, as well a solar device which collects solar energy to heat the water in the accompanying storage tank. There are currently two basic types of solar water heaters. Active solar water heaters utilize specially designed pumps and controls to keep the water circulating once it has been heated. Passive solar water heaters do not incorporate any active controls in their mechanism, but instead allow the water, once heated, to remain stationary.

Most currently existing models of solar water heaters will require a well maintained and fully insulated storage tank. These solar storage tanks will typically incorporate an additional outlet and inlet, which are, in turn, connected to and from the water collection unit. In a typical double tank solar water heater, water is preheated before it enters the actual heating unit itself. This is accomplished by direct absorption of sunlight reflected onto it by the cells of the solar energy collection unit. In a single tank system, the function of the secondary water heater is combined with that of the solar energy collection unit into one multi-tasking tank unit.

The benefits which accrue from solar water heaters ought to be obvious to even the most jaded and casual reader of this article. For one thing, the energy savings alone is enormous, Since solar energy is the single source of energy which is presumably limitless, at least for the next few billion years until the sun goes nova, it follows that it is also the cheapest. It’s all but impossible to “waste” solar energy, since it is simply renewed with the sun rising the very next morning. So one can hardly experience a chronic shortage of solar power. Neither can the sun’s energy be bottled and sold – or rationed for political gain. Solar energy, once properly harnessed and made available to the masses, would short circuit the fondest dreams of many a dictator, politician, and oil baron.

There are currently two basic specimens of solar water heaters which use the active principle, as discussed above. The first, and best known, of these two is the direct circulation system. This type of solar water heater uses a pump which works to circulate water, as filtered through the solar collectors, and directly into your home. This type of solar water heater, because it relies directly on a circulation system which is typically exposed to the elements, will function best in southern or equatorial climates where temperatures rarely, if ever, reach the freezing point.

The second type of solar water heater which uses this active principle is the indirect circulation system. This type of solar water heater incorporates a basic design in which pumps work to circulate a specially formulated, freeze resistant, heat-transfer fluid through its collectors. This special heat-transfer fluid is then filtered through a heat exchanging mechanism, which superheats the collected water and pumps it into the home. This type of solar water heater is chiefly found in climates where winter temperatures routinely fall below the freezing point.

Likewise, there are two main types of passive solar water heaters which are currently available on the modern international market place. These passive systems are markedly less expensive than the typical start up and running cost of a comparable, directly active, solar water heating system. However, the trade off is that the passive systems are normally less efficient in gathering solar energy and heating one’s home than their direct action counterparts. In their favor, however, is the frequent discovery, by those who have owned both types of systems, that passive solar water heating systems tend to be longer lasting and more reliable overall. As with direct systems, there are two basic types.

Integral collector systems will work best in regions where temperatures rarely reach the point of falling below freezing. Integral collectors will work best in households which have a significant need for hot water in the day time and evening. Mornings are more or less ruled out for hot water, as the solar collection time of an integral collector system is quite long.

Thermosyphon systems are passive solar water heaters in which water flows through the system, rising to the surface as a layer of cooler water sinks to the bottom of the storage tank. In order to function correctly, the collection unit will need to be installed below the water storage tank. This will insure that warmer water will rise to the surface, and overflow into the tank. Thermosyphon systems are generally reliable and long serving. However, they are normally much more expensive than integral collector units, because of their more complex design. Thermosyphon systems tend to work best in regions where winter temperatures are prone to reach the point of freezing.

Regardless of which type of solar water heater one chooses to utilize in one’s home, the essential point is that such devices are viable, rapidly evolving, alternatives to the outdated, ridiculously expensive, and wasteful, sources of energy which the Western world is currently glutting itself to death with. It is, indeed, very significant that solar water heaters are receiving their most significant exposure and development in countries such as India and Vietnam, which are well outside the sphere of traditional Western culture. It remains to be seen whether solar energy is truly to be the ultimate solution. However, solar water heaters are an excellent indicator of the many innovations which may yet promise mankind a safer, more ecologically friendly, existence. Energy conservation and alternate sources of energy have become burning issues at the forefront of the world’s attention. With the Middle Eastern energy crisis dragging on for decades in an interminable stalemate which seems to be broken only by periodic eruptions of war, the rest of the world is searching more determinedly than ever for new sources of energy which could break the stranglehold that the oil barons of the world have established for themselves.

Especially in Israel and other hot nations with hot climates, such as Indonesia, India, and others, a new form of water heating is increasingly gaining ground. Solar water heaters are exactly what their name implies. A solar water heating system is a unit which comprises a storage tank for water, as well a solar device which collects solar energy to heat the water in the accompanying storage tank. There are currently two basic types of solar water heaters. Active solar water heaters utilize specially designed pumps and controls to keep the water circulating once it has been heated. Passive solar water heaters do not incorporate any active controls in their mechanism, but instead allow the water, once heated, to remain stationary.

Most currently existing models of solar water heaters will require a well maintained and fully insulated storage tank. These solar storage tanks will typically incorporate an additional outlet and inlet, which are, in turn, connected to and from the water collection unit. In a typical double tank solar water heater, water is preheated before it enters the actual heating unit itself. This is accomplished by direct absorption of sunlight reflected onto it by the cells of the solar energy collection unit. In a single tank system, the function of the secondary water heater is combined with that of the solar energy collection unit into one multi-tasking tank unit.

The benefits which accrue from solar water heaters ought to be obvious to even the most jaded and casual reader of this article. For one thing, the energy savings alone is enormous, Since solar energy is the single source of energy which is presumably limitless, at least for the next few billion years until the sun goes nova, it follows that it is also the cheapest. It’s all but impossible to “waste” solar energy, since it is simply renewed with the sun rising the very next morning. So one can hardly experience a chronic shortage of solar power. Neither can the sun’s energy be bottled and sold – or rationed for political gain. Solar energy, once properly harnessed and made available to the masses, would short circuit the fondest dreams of many a dictator, politician, and oil baron.

There are currently two basic specimens of solar water heaters which use the active principle, as discussed above. The first, and best known, of these two is the direct circulation system. This type of solar water heater uses a pump which works to circulate water, as filtered through the solar collectors, and directly into your home. This type of solar water heater, because it relies directly on a circulation system which is typically exposed to the elements, will function best in southern or equatorial climates where temperatures rarely, if ever, reach the freezing point.

The second type of solar water heater which uses this active principle is the indirect circulation system. This type of solar water heater incorporates a basic design in which pumps work to circulate a specially formulated, freeze resistant, heat-transfer fluid through its collectors. This special heat-transfer fluid is then filtered through a heat exchanging mechanism, which superheats the collected water and pumps it into the home. This type of solar water heater is chiefly found in climates where winter temperatures routinely fall below the freezing point.

Likewise, there are two main types of passive solar water heaters which are currently available on the modern international market place. These passive systems are markedly less expensive than the typical start up and running cost of a comparable, directly active, solar water heating system. However, the trade off is that the passive systems are normally less efficient in gathering solar energy and heating one’s home than their direct action counterparts. In their favor, however, is the frequent discovery, by those who have owned both types of systems, that passive solar water heating systems tend to be longer lasting and more reliable overall. As with direct systems, there are two basic types.

Integral collector systems will work best in regions where temperatures rarely reach the point of falling below freezing. Integral collectors will work best in households which have a significant need for hot water in the day time and evening. Mornings are more or less ruled out for hot water, as the solar collection time of an integral collector system is quite long.

Thermosyphon systems are passive solar water heaters in which water flows through the system, rising to the surface as a layer of cooler water sinks to the bottom of the storage tank. In order to function correctly, the collection unit will need to be installed below the water storage tank. This will insure that warmer water will rise to the surface, and overflow into the tank. Thermosyphon systems are generally reliable and long serving. However, they are normally much more expensive than integral collector units, because of their more complex design. Thermosyphon systems tend to work best in regions where winter temperatures are prone to reach the point of freezing.

Regardless of which type of solar water heater one chooses to utilize in one’s home, the essential point is that such devices are viable, rapidly evolving, alternatives to the outdated, ridiculously expensive, and wasteful, sources of energy which the Western world is currently glutting itself to death with. It is, indeed, very significant that solar water heaters are receiving their most significant exposure and development in countries such as India and Vietnam, which are well outside the sphere of traditional Western culture. It remains to be seen whether solar energy is truly to be the ultimate solution. However, solar water heaters are an excellent indicator of the many innovations which may yet promise mankind a safer, more ecologically friendly, existence.

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