scrabble tiles spell save on top of pile of moneyTankless or demand-type water heaters are a type of water heater that only heats up water when one needs it. They are a more cost-efficient way of heating water because they don’t waste as much energy on heating a whole storage water tank. They are also referred to as instantaneous water heaters.

How do they work?

 

diagram of how tankless water heater works

The way these water heaters are designed is quite ingenious. The hot water is turned on at the tap, and cold water is propelled though the pipeline into the unit. Once this happens, either an electric unit or a gas burner heats the water. This type of system practically insures that one will always have hot water available. It will produce about 2-5 gallons of hot water per minute. Keep in mind that a gas-burning water heater will yield larger quantities of flow rates than an electric-powered water heater. The beauty of this is that the demand-type water heater will do all of this without needing a hot water heating tank, saving space, money, and energy in the process.

While the tankless water heater itself is more expensive than the typical storage water heater, it will usually last longer. Tankless water heaters also cost less to operate, and as mentioned before, save energy. All that counters the initial purchase price. In addition, the storage water heater only lasts about 10-15 years, whereas a tankless water heater will last up to 20. It is also easy to keep up with the maintenance of a tankless water heater because its parts are so easy to come by and usually cheap.

What are some common problems with tankless water heaters?

Running out of hot water

One of the most common problems with a tankless or demand-type water heater is that it runs out of hot water too quickly. There are several variables that one must consider when dealing with this problem. One reason this could be happening is that tankless water heaters cannot supply enough hot water when the hot water is being used for multiple things at the same time. For example, if one household is using the dishwasher, the laundry machine, and the shower all at the same time, this will drastically impede the water heater’s ability to supply hot water to all three places. A simple but slightly pricey solution to this problem is to install an additional tankless water heater next to the original to help spread the hot water throughout the household. Another possibility is to install appliance-specific water heaters onto the appliances.

close-up of blockage in pipeMineral build-up

Mineral build-up can be another culprit. Hard water can be damaging and counter-productive for any water heater. Be sure to flush the tankless water heater about every six months or so to insure optimal usage. Consider a water softener to help keep the mineral build-up to a minimum.

flame lighting matchesFailure to ignite

Failure to ignite is a frustrating problem. This is often caused by blockage of the air supply or exhaust. Many tankless water heaters will have a display with an error code to tell that there is an air supply or exhaust problem. The demand-type water heater is most likely struggling with venting or combustion air. Make sure all the vents are clear. Look out for small animals, birds or even wasps. These creatures like to make their homes in or around the outside vents.

Flame failure

Flame failure is another common problem. This typically occurs from an electrical or gas pressure issue. Make sure that it is not because of an overdue gas bill or empty propane tank before calling professionals.

Sound good?

Give us a call if it’s time to change the way your house heats water! We have professionals standing by to help with the next chapter in your home improvement journey.

Whether your water heater broke or your family is growing, you might just need a new water heater. Choosing a new one doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just follow these tips, and this will be one of the easiest things you’ve done!

Research How Water Heaters Work

There are a lot of different kinds of water heaters. They range from tank to tankless and can be powered by gas, electricity, oil, solar or heat pump.

graph showing differences between electric and gas water heatersThe two most common tank water heaters run on gas or electricity.

Electric water heaters use coils that go down into the tank to heat your water. This type is ideal for a smaller household that doesn’t require much hot water. Although electric water heaters might be cheaper to purchase, they’re not as efficient as gas heaters in the long run. They also tend to be more expensive over time.

Gas heaters, be it natural gas or propane, are another common water heater choice. They use a gas burner that is vented through a chimney or small wall vent. Propane gas heaters are used when natural gas is not accessible. Propane tends to be cheaper than natural gas.

Above are great examples of tank water heaters, but there is another option: a tankless water heater.

graph of a water heater in a basementAlso known as the “on demand” water heater, it only turns on when you need hot water. There is no holding tank, which makes this a more efficient option. However, like the electric water heater, this also makes it a more expensive option.

You also need to consider the lifetime expectancy of the heater you choose. Where a tank water heater can hold from 40 to 60 gallons of hot water and last up to 13 years, a tankless heater can last up to 20 years.

Taking all this into consideration, it ultimately comes to what is most suitable for you and your household.

Size and Storage Of Water Heaters

You must factor size and storage into your search for a new water heater. To help with this, think back to how satisfied you were with how your old one worked. Some things to consider: Did you had enough hot water? How long did you have to wait for it to reheat?

graph of water heaters and sizes

If the old water heater didn’t provide enough hot water, you might want to upgrade the size of the new water heater.

For a storage tank water heater, a very important factor to consider is the amount of water that can be held and the recovery rate, which is basically the amount of water that can be heated in an hour. An energy sticker on the new water heater will display the recovery rate as First Hour Rating (FHR).

For example, a four-person household would require a 40- to 50-gallon water tank, whereas a two-person household could skate by with a 30- to 40-gallon tank.

Gas heaters have a better FHR than electric water heaters, which means they have a smaller tank with the same EF rating.

Now What?

Choosing your new water heater doesn’t have to be a headache. Just remember: do your research on types, sizes and storage options.

If you get stuck, give us a call. Here at Knoxville Plumbing, we have experts who can help you evaluate what your family needs and match these up with the heater that will work best for you and your household.

frustrated kid holding his headIt can be very frustrating trying to figure out if it’s time to replace the household water heater, or if it simply needs a little TLC. This article will help shed some light on whether it just needs a repair, or if it needs to be replaced.

There are plenty of signs that a water heater is about to fail. Below are some of the most common indications that it’s time to replace the household water heater. 

Common Signs It’s Time To Replace the Water Heater

rust-colored water running out of a faucet

If the water heater is 10 years or older, it will be in the best interest of the house to go ahead and replace it before it starts causing problems. To check the age of the water heater, simply look on the upper part of it and find the manufacturer’s sticker.

If rust-colored, metallic tasting water is coming out of the hot water faucet, this is another big indicator. Dark, metallic water is a clear sign that the inside of the water heater is beginning to rust. If this is left unattended for too long, it will severely damage the tank. It will also begin to leak and cause more damage to the home. 

sediment at bottom of a water heaterWith older water heaters, it is not uncommon to notice strange noises or rumbling coming from the unit. These are usually caused by excessive sediment build-up accumulating on the bottom of the water heater. As the water heater will frequently change temperature, the sediment will eventually harden. When this happens, it will be harder for the water heater to effectively heat the household water supply. This will ultimately cost more money to run it. 

leak underneath water heaterConsistent “puddles” around the base of the water heater could be a sign that there are fissures and cracks in the hull of the tank. As the metal heats and expands and then cools and shrinks again, this causes these fissures and cracks. While this is normal and should not cause problems for quite some time, in an older water heater it could be a sign that it is time to replace the water heater. But before doing that, make sure that leaky pipes or loose valves are not to blame.

Why Isn’t There Enough Hot Water? 

shivering duckIt’s safe to assume that the biggest problem with water heaters is that there is often not enough hot water being supplied to the household. There are some simple explanations as to why this is happening, regardless of the type of water heater (i.e. gas or electric).

Electric Water Heater Malfunctions and Possible Causes 

yellow lightning boltMake sure that the water heater has a proper connection to the power source, and then, reset the thermostat. There could also be too much sediment in the bottom. As mentioned above, this impedes the function and makes it harder to heat enough amounts of water. A good flushing of the water tank will make sure that all the sediment is removed.

Another culprit might be that the pipes are not properly insulated, and the water is losing heat on its way up to the rest of the household. Another thing to assess is the heating element or thermostat. If this is the case, it would be best to just replace that part, rather than the entire unit. If all those things check out fine, it could just be as easy as raising the temperature.

Gas Water Heater Malfunctions and Possible Causes

close up of water heaterThere are only a few differences when it comes to assessing problems with electric and gas water heaters. The first thing to check on a gas model is the pilot light. If the pilot light has gone out, relight it, and make sure that the gas valve is hooked up securely and properly. Another issue could be that the gas burner needs to be cleaned. The cleaning is a good time to go ahead and replace the thermocouple, too. Just like electric versions, it is important to flush to rid the tank of sediment. Also, keep an eye out for rusty water coming from the hot water faucet.

In conclusion, if the tank itself is presenting serious damage signs, it is smartest to replace the whole water heater. Give us a call, and we will be more than happy to help you make the right decision!

Looking for ways to cut energy costs? New, more energy-efficient water heaters are flooding the modern marketplace. High on the list are water pump water heaters.

This article series starts an exploration of heat pump water heaters.

What is a heat pump water heater?

A heat pump water heater, or HPWH, uses surrounding air to heat water. It takes in air, heats it to a higher temperature and then channels that air into a water tank to heat the water. The HPWH can be a stand-alone unit, or it can be retrofitted on a water tank.

The Geothermal Heat Pump

The most common type of HPWH is a geothermal heat pump. The geothermal heat pump uses heat from the ground during the winter months. During the spring and summer months it uses heat from the surrounding air.

 

Controls

Most units come with control panels displaying multiple operating options. Below is a list of possible modes listed on the control:

  • Efficiency/Economy mode: will only use the heat pump to heat water when hot water is needed
  • Electric/Heater mode: Least efficient option, this will only use the electric element to heat water
  • Vacation/Timer mode: typically referred to as “sleep” mode, this is not on all HPWH models,
  • Auto/Hybrid mode: this is a default setting for everyday use of sustained heat

How the HPWH Works

The HPWH is a far more efficient way to heat household water because it using air already present in the environment.  A common analogy to explain how a HPWH works is a refrigerator. The refrigerator is designed to expel heat and create a cold place. In a similar way, the HPWH pulls in heated air, internalizes it, heats it to a desired temperature and uses that air to heat water for the household’s benefit.

Common HPWH Problems and Solutions

Winter Issues

One of the most common problems with a HPWH is icing up, especially in the winter time. The outside unit will often be covered with frost or maybe even a thin layer of ice. This is completely normal. When everything is working properly, the device has a built-in defrosting system that will help to take care of this problem. However, say the unit is covered in a thick layer of ice, or maybe the coils are surrounded by ice, and in a worst case scenario, the entire unit is completely covered in thick ice and heavy snow. All those problems could obstruct the transfer of heat from inside to the outside refrigerant which would continue to delay the HPWH functions. If this is left untreated, this could severely damage the unit beyond repair.

Here are a few ways to troubleshoot this problem before having to call in an expert:

  • See if your unit is activating its defrosting system
  • Make sure the outside fan is working properly
  • Check that the refrigerant level is where it is supposed to be
  • Inspect the outdoor unit for obstructions,  like ice or snow
  • Make sure there is no water leaking onto the unit from gutters or other places

Never chip away at the ice.

This could damage the fan coils in the device. Instead, use water to melt the ice. Try removing what may be blocking the air flow– like snow or ice. If the HPWH still won’t function, then it is time to call in the professionals to help sort it out.

Summer Issues

We explained above what to do when your HPWH starts icing up in the winter. You may find, however, that your HPWH is icing up in the summer months. If this happens, do not waste any time and call a professional right away. If the HPWH is icing up in the summer, there is a problem with the device itself and it should be looked at immediately.

Another common problem is when the HPWH is constantly running in the summer months. During winter, it may appear to be running all the time, however this is how the device was designed. The HPWH is not designed to consistently run during the warmer months, when the temperature is above thirty degrees. This could mean there is a serious service problem, such as:

  • leaky refrigerant
  • icing issues
  • a problem with the compressor
  • pump is too small for the household needs
  • improper insulation of exterior HP
  • unit is dirty and needs a good cleaning

Whichever the case, in a situation like this, it is best to call in an HVAC professional to help sort all this out.

HPWH: a great choice

Whatever other measures you take to help with energy efficiency, purchasing a HPWH is an excellent choice. Give us a call today to find out how we can help!

It’s something we don’t really think about — until it stops working. When your shower gets cold, that’s when things heat up!

Amidst cries of outrage about cold water showers and cold water dish washing, we scramble to figure out what caused the water heater to stop working. But, before we talk about things that can go wrong with water heaters, let’s take a look at their simple, yet creative design and discover how it is they do what they do to make our daily lives more comfortable.

 

WATER HEATER DESIGN

The majority of residential water heaters are storage water heaters. They are basically tall cylindrical tanks–sort of like a tall metal drum. They vary in capacity from about 20 gallons to about 80 gallons of water. Even though traditional water heaters don’t present a very dramatic appearance, the principles they use to supply abundant hot water to your home are pretty interesting.

 

COMPONENTS

water heater

                  photo credit: US Department of Energy

 

Storage water heaters are comprised of the tank and a couple of tubes, a series of valves, and a mechanism for heating the water. Storage water heaters are either electrical or gas operated. Here’s how all these components work:

  • Tank: The tank is made of heavy metal and is actually the inner component of the cylinder. It serves as a shell to hold the water. Tanks are often covered with some type of insulating material, a decorative “outer shell” and sometimes an additional insulating blanket-type cover.
  • Dip Tube/Cold Water Inlet: Cold water enters the tank at the top and flows through this tube to the bottom  of the tank. Because the water is cold, it stays close to the bottom of the tank where heating occurs.
  • Hot Water Outlet: This pipe is also at the top of the tank. Heated water at the top of the tank exits through this outlet and flows to areas where it is needed.water heaters
  • Shut-Off Valve: This valves closes off the flow of cold water into the tank.
  • Drain Valve: This valve is near the bottom of the tank and is used to empty the tank when servicing is needed.
  • Pressure Relief Valve: This valve serves to regulate pressure inside the tank.
  • Anode Rod: This rod, made of steel overlaid with either magnesium or aluminum, is suspended in the water of the tank to help reduce corrosion.
  • Heating mechanism: In a gas storage water heater, the heating mechanism is a gas burner and chimney system. An electrical storage water heater uses heating elements projecting into the interior of the tank to heat the water.
  • Thermostat: This device is a thermometer and a temperature-control device. Electric water heaters may have individual thermostats for each heating element.

HOW IT WORKS

water heatersStorage water heaters rely primarily on the scientific principle that hot water rises. Cold water enters the top of the tank through the dip tube or cold water inlet, flows through the pipe to the bottom of the tank where it exits the pipe, pushing the warmer water already in the tank upward.

The thermostat setting is usually between 120 – 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermostat should be set nearer the lower end of this range in homes with small children to prevent potential scalding injuries. As the thermostat monitors the temperature of the water inside the tank, it regulates the function of the elements (on an electrical water heater) or the gas burner (on a gas water heater) to heat the water accordingly.

Because heat rises, the hottest water is always closest to the top of the tank. When a hot water tap is turned on somewhere inside the home, the hot water exits the tank through the hot water outlet at the top of the tank and flows to the open tap.

What’s next?

Now that we have a basic understanding of the parts of a water heater and how it works, our next post will take a look at some things that typically cause water heater problems resulting in the dreaded cold shower.

Whether you have a malfunctioning water heater or a leaking faucet or a clogged drain, Knoxville Plumbing is here for you!

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