The object of this article is to help you understand your water heater and explain the necessary steps you must take to protect your investment and warranty. Below are some things that threaten to shorten the life of your water heater:
The Greatest Threat
The first and greatest threat to any heater is improper installation. Not only can improper installation shorten the life of a heater, but also shorten the lives of those who live around it. Under certain improper conditions, a heater can generate 65,000 pounds of energy, which is the equivalent of one pound of nitroglycerin. All manufacturers’ warranties stipulate that “installation be made by a qualified person and comply to local plumbing and building codes.” Inspection by your local Department of Building and Safety is mandated by law and their certification will help relieve you of liabilities in years to come.
Hard water deposits. Most water contains dissolved solids (minerals and salts) picked up as water contacts the earth and rocks both above and below the ground surface. We, in greater Los Angeles, receive a large share of Colorado River water which is heavily laden with minerals.
When heated, these solids are precipitated and deposited as lime and silt in the bottom of the tank. The “fall-out” builds up fast, increasing as you use more water at higher temperatures. These lime deposits will eventually insulate the bottom of the steel tank from the water and greatly reduce the heater’s capacity and efficiency.
Eventually, the rising temperatures on the steel tank reduce its strength to the point of premature failure and bum out. (Three quarters of an inch of lime on the bottom of the tank increases temperatures from 325 to 700 degrees. Two inches of lime increases head temperature to over 850 degrees.)
This type of failure is not covered by warranty. Manufacturers inspect tanks for excessive lime build-up and do void warranties if not cleaned and maintained. Hand-hole clean-outs are provided to properly maintain heaters from excessive lime build-up.
Contaminants in the air. The greatest single cause of burner problems in a water heater is lint and dust. Collection of lint or dust on a burner will cause improper mixture of air and gas causing the heater to soot.
If a heater is installed in an enclosed area, sufficient ventilation must be provided through two permanent openings. One should be near the top of the enclosure or room, and one at the bottom. Do not install water heaters in a corrosive atmosphere such as where de-greasing agents or other chlorinated solvents are used, or where cleaning solvents, gasoline or paint thinners are stored. Fumes from these materials are heavier than air, and the pilot alone can ignite them, causing explosion and fire.
Heaters need to be raised at least 20 inches off the garage floor to ensure that the pilot will not ignite gasoline fumes from nearby parked cars.
- Do insist on a plumbing permit and inspection by your local department of building and safety.
- Do clean out your heaters at regular intervals or install properly sized water treatment for prevention of lime build-up.
- Do make certain the system is protected by an adequate listed temperature and pressure relief valve.
- Do provide sufficient fresh air.
- Don’t operate heater in contaminated air.
- Don’t let lime build up, expecting to remove it later. Fuel and heaters are both expensive.
- Don’t permit heater to operate without further attention if relief valve operates frequently – FIND OUT WHY!
- Don’t use your heater room as a store room. Someone is just likely to leave combustible materials nearby.
Bill Provin is President of General Installation Company and has performed service for the water heater industry since 1959. General Installation Company currently provides in and out of warranty service to American Standard, A.O. Smith, Bradford White, Rheem, American Water Heater Co and State Water Heaters. For more information log onto: meganode.com, generalinstallation.com or call 800-824-1117.