Water Heaters: What Homeowners Need to Know
It is common knowledge that every house needs a water heater. But, most homeowners don’t know the first thing about what exactly the purpose of a water heater is or how it works. In fact, many don’t even give it a single thought, taking this necessity completely for granted.
When I first moved into my home, we had to wait about 5 days to get heat and hot water. It was February, so it was still very cold. Shivering constantly for those few days and having to shower at the gym, it was a huge eye-opener for me on how important water heaters actually are and how much we rely on hot water to function.
The purpose of a water heater is to supply heat to the water in a building or home. It works behind the scenes and under the ground so it is easy to just expect hot water, without actually knowing how you are getting it. If you have ever seen a house in the beginning stages of being built, you have seen A LOT of pipes. Most of these pipes transport water in and out of the house. Your water heater connects to these pipes in order to function and supply the water with heat.
If you are a homeowner, then be grateful for that machine that sits in your garage, and read on for the most important things you need to know about your water heater.
How much water do you use?
We use water heaters to supply hot water for everyday tasks such as showering, laundry, washing dishes, and more. This takes about a quarter of the total energy that we use in our homes.
When you take a shower, on average you will use about 6-8 gallons of water and if you are a bath taker, bump that amount up to 15-20 gallons! I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that water is heated.
I usually do my laundry once a week and will need to do about 2-4 loads to get it all done. This varies from household to household depending on family size, but doing ONE load of laundry will use 20-30 gallons of water.
Those dirty dishes that you let stack up all week? Busting through those will cost you around 2 gallons of water per minute, while the dishwasher uses 6-10 gallons per load. Yeah, tonight while you do your dishes, you may want to turn that faucet off in between scrubs.
Try to be conscious of how much water you are actually using doing these frequent tasks. And give a quick thank you to your water heater for making sure that water is warm the whole time.
What Maintenance Is Needed?
Now that the value of your water heater is starting to sink in, you may be considering that these incredibly important appliances are probably on the expensive side. They’re also not perfect and over time they wear down, break, and can cause severe damage to your home if not properly maintained.
Here are some ways you can avoid catastrophic damages and make your water heater last as long as possible.
- Once a year, flush the tank of your water heater. Hire a plumber to do this for you, or do it yourself. Read up on the manufacturer’s instructions to learn the correct way to do this for your model.
- You will also want to test your pressure relief valve to ensure that it is working properly. It is recommended to test it every year and replace it every 3-5 years. This is much less expensive than replacing the whole appliance.
- Check the Anode rod annually when the tank is drained. This hangs in the tank to prevent it from rusting.
- Insulate the hot water heater tank. Wrapping the tank in an insulated blanket can improve efficiency up to 40 percent.
What Signs to watch for
The most obvious sign is that you aren’t getting any hot water. This can mean that either the water heater has failed, the pilot light is out, or a circuit breaker tripped.
You will notice that your water heater makes noises. Get familiar with the noises that your water heater makes. Any loud cracks and pops are signals that there could be mineral build up on the heating elements on the inside.
Lastly, look out for any leaking water around the water heater. This indicates an internal failure in the water heater.
Please consult a professional when handling your water heater. Whether you are doing annual check-ups, or notice something wrong, you could do more harm than good if you attempt to handle it yourself without any experience.
If you do have a failure in the heater, disconnect it from the electricity or turn off the gas to the unit and let the water cool down before attempting to remove and replace the water heater.
When it's time to replace your water heater
Most tank water heaters should last you about 10-13 years. Tankless heaters last longer, closer to 18-20 years. Should you need to replace your water heater, depending on whether you choose tank or tankless, gas or electric, you can expect for them to cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000.
Avoid the heavy costs of purchasing a new water heater by doing your part to maintain your current one and making it last as long as possible.