With the cold winter months fast approaching, you will undoubtedly be interested in learning how you can keep your water heater healthy this winter. As well as ensuring that it does not break down when you really need it, you will probably want to find out tips for improving its efficiency and even reducing those ever-expensive utility bills. Well, you came to the right place. In the following post you will find some great actionable advice that will help you to minimize damage to your water heater, while increasing its efficiency and life-expectancy.
This should go without saying really, but as a lot of people don’t seem to know where their water heater is, if they are renting for instance, it is worth mentioning this first. You should not just know where the water heater is in your home, but should make sure that you have clear and unobstructed access to it. Often water heaters are hidden away in the basement or attic and it can mean the plumbing can be quite tricky to reach. So, find yours and make the pathway to it as clear as possible.
It is crucial that you know exactly what type of water heater you have in your home. Is it tank-less water heater or a storage tank heater? Is it propane, electric or even natural gas? Consult your landlord if you are renting or look at the heater or the manual it came with to find out the information. Failing that speak to the company that supplied your water heater. You should also take a note of the serial number and model number, or at least know how to locate this information on the actual tank, as the gallon capacity and age are coded into it. This is essential if you need to refer to your warranty and is typically one of, if not the first question the water heater repair company or a plumber will ask you.
Another piece of information that can be helpful, especially when you are faced with water heater problems, is how you turn the water off. You should also learn how to switch off the power supply or fuel to your water heater too. This is crucial from a safety point of view, if you smell gas or know your water heater is leaking. There is usually a disconnect switch or a gas valve only a few feet away from the heater. Knowing the breaker that is used for your water heater and where the main shut-off gas for your property’s gas supply is located, are also helpful.
The majority of water shut-off valves are situated on the cold side piping above the water heater. You should be able to locate your water shut-off valve entering your home. If opening the breaker box or turning the valve to the off position requires any specific tools, store these somewhere safely, but easily to find. This will make a whole world of difference in time-sensitive situations when you smell gas or water is leaking allover your house.
One of the problems with where water heaters are normally placed in your home is that they are often places where you store stuff away out of sight, out of mind. While you may not know it, this can not only damage the water heater, but pose health and safety risks.
Therefore, it is wise to keep the area surrounding your water heater clear, for some very good reasons such as:
Items that are stored too close to a water heater pose a fire risk
If the water heater starts to leak, you might not be able to catch it soon enough if you can’t see it clearly. This can not only result in needlessly wasting energy as the heater continues to reheat and reheat the water, but can also cause extensive water damage to your property.
A unit operated by a gas fire requires a considerable amount of oxygen to enable it to burn the gas. If something is smothering your water heater or it just can’t get enough oxygen, it can cause damage to the burner chamber or other important parts and even reduce the efficiency of the heater. This can even lead to serious health risks such as carbon monoxide leakages. Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous because it is odorless and not easily detected.
Every year, at least once, you should drain at least a few gallons of water from your water heater, using the drain valve. You can do this by using either a garden hose or a 5 gallon bucket. When using a hose, run it to a place where the hot water coming out will not cause any damage. With this in mind, it is best to avoid draining the water onto your lawn or yard as it could kill the grass.
A full flush is advised if you notice debris and sediment. A full flush involves turning the temperature right down and completely draining the tank until it is empty. You then turn the water back on, with the drain still open and allow the water to flow out for at least a minute to remove any remaining debris or sediment.
You can turn the thermostat back up to your preferred setting once you have completed the task and the tank is full again.
Begin at the top of your water heater and look out for any serious corrosion or leaks on the valves and piping. With gas-powered water heaters, inspect the draft hood and ensure it is installed correctly. There should always be a few inches of air space between the part that connects to the vent and the tank. Also be aware of any wear and tear or corrosion on the piping and gas line. Thoroughly check where the gas chamber is situated and the thermostat and area below it.
If you happen to spot any charred metal, soot or black residue during your inspection; you should contact a professional to assess and service your water heater as this could be a sign of combustion issues. If you smell any hint of gas, switch your gas supply off immediately and call a professional. With electric-powered water heaters, check for signs of any leaking like residue or rust lines around lower and upper panels that cover the tank’s electrical parts. If you ever smell gas, turn off the gas supply and contact a professional.
What is Hard Water?
You’ve likely heard the term tossed around in your lifetime, but how many of us have the slightest clue what “hard water” really is or what kind of effect it has on us or are homes? We’re envisioning only a small number of hands currently raised in the audience, which means that this is a great chance to address this nuisance of society (When we say society, we don’t just mean modern society. Even the Romans dealt with hard water; they performed regular maintenance on Roman aqueducts to remove the accumulating deposits that hindered water flow).
Hard water is a naturally occurring geological process characterized by the presence of the materials calcium and magnesium in our water. Hard water begins as rainwater, becomes groundwater, then filters through limestone, soil, lakes, and rivers. Along the way, the water picks up like calcium, magnesium, iron, and other elements.
The majority of American households experience some level of hard water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it is estimated that more than 89% of the water used by consumers in the US can be classified at some level of “hard” water.*
Effects on Humans
There have been a plethora of studies performed over the years on the effects of hard water. As one would expect, there are differing opinions on those effects. The consensus is as follows: There are no serious harmful effects of consuming or interacting with hard water. But the word “serious” is interesting in that sentence. When it comes to hard water, multiple people will define “serious” quite differently.
Skin – The minerals in hard water have a chemical reaction with soap, which makes it more difficult for soap and shampoo to dissolve. The result is soap scum, a nightmare not just for showers, but also skin. That scummy residue blocks pores, choking off the skin’s natural moisture and oils. Irritation follows, and with it, itchy, dry, and flaky skin. And, if individuals already have pre-existing skin problems like psoriasis or eczema, research suggests that they’ll be further irritated by hard water.
Hair – In its quest to aggravate you as much as possible, hard water even wants a piece of your lovely hair. Our hair follicles consist of a system of scales that run down the length of each strand. In healthy hair, the scales are smooth and cohesive. With hard water, the minerals interact with shampoo and lift the scales, leading to:
Rougher, tangled hair
Hair that is more difficult to wash
Eczema of the scalp in some cases
Hard Water’s Effects on Equipment and Plumbing
Hardwater is an equal opportunity nuisance, and its effects go beyond wrecking your hair and making your skin feel like sandpaper. Anything in your home that deals with water can turn into a scummy, scaly victim.
As you know, the minerals in hard water interact chemically with soap, the result of which is “scale” or calcium deposits. Scale is the chalky, off-white substance that remains after the water in your shower has evaporated. You’ll notice the appearance of rampant scale and soap scum more often than you should, meaning that you’ll find yourself in your bathroom or kitchen frequently throwing elbow grease at the problem.
Scale makes messy nightmares of bathtubs, showers, tiles, and fixtures. In the kitchen, hard water deposits produce a spotty and dingy look that appears on drinking glasses, pots, pans, dishes, and silverware. And soap isn’t always necessary to see the effects of hard water. Combine a runny toilet or a dripping faucet with hard water and you’re in for some unsightly rust stains.
The water-related technology in your home also pays the price. Hard water wears out and reduces the efficiency of dishwashers, icemakers, washing machines, and water heaters. And through the gradual buildup of mineral sediments, less water flows through these machines. Professionals estimate that these machines wear out 30% faster, prompting replacement before necessary.
But what about the piping running water into those machines? Your homes pipes are one of the hardest hit aspects of hard water. Scale builds up inside the pipes over time, eventually choking off the flow of water, which opens the door to a host of serious and expensive plumbing issues.
Laundry – Washing clothes in hard water is less than optimal. It’s difficult for soap and clothing to properly interact due to the added minerals in the water. Hard water decreases detergent’s lathering ability and makes it less likely that detergent will properly wash away. As a result, residue accumulates on clothing the same way soap scum accumulates on skin and shower surfaces. Freshness, softness, fragrance are all sacrificed in addition to appearance: washing over time results in a gray/yellowish tint that robs clothes of brightness. And it’s even worse for towels.
How Can You Fix Hard Water?
The first step is to address how “hard” the water is, which you can discover by purchasing one of the DIY kits on the market. If you discover that the problem is substantial, look into the various filtration systems available to consumers.
For drinking and cooking purposes, consider installing an ion exchange filter, either a pitcher or faucet model (experts recommend that you look for a model that allows you to switch between filtered and nonfiltered water. Ion filtered water doesn’t work as well for plant watering, for example, because of the high sodium content).
When it comes to laundry, you can purchase non-precipitating water condition, which arrests the minerals in hard water, prevents the minerals from interacting with soap and clothing, and allows detergent to function properly.
For your entire home, there are several methodologies from which to choose. The technology behind how these options work can get a little sticky, so we’ll give you a brief overview which you can use as a springboard into conducting your own research.
The main options are salt-based water softeners, salt-free softeners, and filters.
Also referred to as ion-exchange softener
Uses salt/sodium to change the chemistry of the calcium/magnesium in the water, thus removing changing the elements
Leverages a filtration tank system that cleans water before releasing into your home
Less ideal for drinking/cooking water and watering plants
Salt-based models are better at providing the real, slick feeling of natural water.
Salt-free Water Softener
With no salt present, calcium and magnesium are not removed or washed out.
Instead, the water is conditioned so that these elements lose their ability to bind to things like soaps and surfaces
The unwanted elements are still present, so water is not actually “softened”
Leverages an actual filter that allows water molecules through but blocks others, including calcium and magnesium
Softens water, removes any funny tastes/smells
Wastes significant amount of water in the process, making it very inefficient for some homeowners
These methods can also be used on a smaller scale on specific faucets and incoming pipes. Finally, as you research the best method for you, consider cost, maintenance, and installation.
Hard water creates serious problems for millions of Americans. Luckily, there are ways to curtail its effects, reducing it from a major problem to a minor inconvenience. If you’re experiencing some of the harmful effects of hard water and it’s ruining items in your home like your pipes, faucets, and water heater, call the Arco team. Whether replacing damaged parts or giving you the best advice to help you work through your problem, we’ve got your back.