December 2005 Edition 

Water Heater Problems

Not Enough Hot Water           
One of the most common complaints regarding water heaters is, "I don't have enough hot water." This section is meant to offer some of the possible causes.
If you move from a place that has a very large water heater, or perhaps an apartment complex with big commercial water heaters, to one with a single 30- or 40-gallon tank, you might well think there's something terribly wrong. If you were served by a commercial heater, you could literally shower forever without running out of hot water. Also, if you move from a place with a gas heater to one with an electric, you'll notice a difference. Electric heaters take longer to heat water.           
In a 40-gallon tank, on the other hand, not even the whole 40 gallons is always hot. Especially if you have high-flow shower heads, you can run out in a big hurry. Just be aware that a tank that size has limitations. That is the most common-size tank in use, and usually it is perfectly adequate for a family of four. But if you've just started the washing machine or dishwasher, don't expect to have a long, idyllic shower at the same time. 
Hot Water Runs Out Too Soon           
If the hot water runs out too soon, consider two things: the shower head and the dip tube. If it's not a low-flow shower head, it may simply use up all the hot water in the tank in short order. The other possibility is a broken dip tube. Remember, its purpose is to keep the cold coming in separate from the hot already there. It's made of plastic. If it breaks, hot and cold will mix at the top.
More than a decade ago Perfection Corp., which makes most of the dip tubes used by American water heater manufacturers, changed its formula for plastic. Sometime after, the new dip tubes began disintegrating under certain conditions, compromising the function of the water heater and in some cases, clogging appliances and aerators with bits of plastic. Perfection changed its formula back in March 1996.           
Eventually, there was a class-action suit against Perfection and several water heater manufacturers and a settlement. Unfortunately, there was a deadline for filing claims, which expired on Dec. 31, 2000. If you discover that a disintegrated dip tube is your problem, it is also your problem to deal with it.            
Anyway, if this is the problem, aside from the hot water running out quickly, look for bits of material in the aerators of your faucets. That's another sign of a disintegrating dip tube. 
Long Wait For Hot Water           
If you have a big house and the water heater is on one end and your bathroom is on the other, get used to frustration. We had a friend with this situation and he was waiting what seems like an eternity (to him, at least) for the shower to turn hot. That's because there's about a hundred feet of piping lying between his shower and the water heater. When he started his shower, all the water in that piping that had cooled off had to be run out the shower and new hot water drawn from the tank before he could step in.           
The usual solution is a pump-feed or gravity-feed recirculation system to keep hot water circulating in piping all the time. There's a tradeoff here. You cut down on water use (all that cold water doesn't have to go down the drain in order to draw hot from the tank), but you increase your standby heat loss and thus, energy bill because that circulating water is constantly radiating away heat. It helps to insulate the pipes, if you can. 
Is Draining The Tank Required? 
When you heat hard water, minerals settle out of it into the bottom of water heaters as sediment. Draining the tank is recommended. However, in Atlanta, we do not have hard water, and draining is not needed. 
What To Buy? 
The best value for a water heater is a 6-year-warranty tank with the maximum amount of insulation you can get. In some cases, R-24 insulation is available, but the least expensive tanks typically have about R-6. This is a place you can save money year after year, just by choosing wisely. Which brands? You can't go wrong with name brands: Rheem, Ruud, Richmond, GE, A.O. Smith, State, Reliance, Censible and Kenmore.

If you have a question, change of address, comment, home tip or would like to send Home Tips to your clients, send your letter to Home Tips, Christian Building Inspectors, Inc., 3697 Habersham Lane, Duluth, Georgia 30096. You can E-Mail your questions to us at We reserve the right to edit questions for length.

Quote Of The Month

"We must seek, above all, a world of peace; a world in which peoples dwell together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard."

John F. Kennedy