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Water Softening/Conditioning

Ways to kill your water heater

August 19, 2011
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Being able to maintain your water heater can not only save your health but can help keep some money in your pocket. Knowing what kills a water heater and how to prevent that from happening can help you in the long run.

There are several causes that can lead to the death of your water heater. Here are a few to be thinking about.

Excessive water pressure will flex the tank, causing the glass lining to fail and expose steel to the water. Pressure should ideally stay in the 40 to 60 psi range, but we find it up to 150. Pressure reducers fail, even after only a few years.

Another problem is widely variable pressures, usually from having no expansion tank downstream of the reducer, or the expansion tank being improperly charged or installed. It''s useful to carry a water pressure gauge and check your customer''s water pressure.

While it is not a longevity issue, temperature setting can be important to the health of those who use hot water. Often, it’s recommended that people set the thermostat to 120 or below to save energy. It does that, but is also low enough to encourage the breeding of legionella bacteria, that cause Legionnaire’s Disease. We prefer 130, which is hot enough to control bacteria, but cool enough to lessen the danger of scalding, or a nasty fall when the person showering jumps backward to avoid scalding hot water.

Another problem for gas heater longevity is combustion air quality. If the heater burns dirty air, such as from a laundry room or pool chemical room, acidic condensation can form inside the flue and rust it out. A pile of rust on the burner is indicative of that.

Any overhead water leaks also can kill heaters. A missing chimney top cap or plumbing leak or dripping relief valve with no drain line — any of these can ruin a heater quickly. All that said, it’s our experience that not replacing anodes causes far more heater failures than all other sources.

And there is one more issue: Temperature/pressure relief valves, or T&Ps. They should be checked yearly, and replaced if water won’t flow freely, or won’t stop running or dripping when you let go of the handle. Water heaters seldom explode, but when they do, it’s catastrophic. Think rocket launch — through your roof!

We’re interested in “rescuing” water heaters by maintaining them. People seldom do that, even though the price of water heaters and installations have risen dramatically in the past few years, millions land in the dump annually.

In the end, for all of us, what serves our customers best also serves us.

We''ll more on this topic in the October issue of Water Technology.

Randy Schuyler runs and Larry Weingarten, with his wife Suzanne, wrote the Water Heater Workbook. For many years, he ran Elemental Enterprises and during that time serviced more than 4,000 water heaters.

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