Water Heater Woes

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Hot Water Heater Woes

We live in PA and have three boys, ages 14, 12, and 7. We have an 80-gallon water heater. Our water heater is 6 years old and we are running out of hot water. We had a plumber come out and he raised the water temperature from 110 degrees to 130 degrees. He said that our water heater is too small for our family. We run out of hot water before the first person is finished showering. We have to wait at least 30 minutes before someone else can shower. I also run out of water when I do dishes. Do they even make a bigger water heater? Does it sound like my thermostat? We do get some hot water, but it only lasts for about 10 minutes.

Before Replacing Your Old Hot Water Heater

I also had this problem with my hot water heater. My son could not finish his shower without saying that he was out of hot water. I was going to get a new heater since mine was about 10 years old.

My son called a friend who was an electrician to check it out before I went into the expense of a new one. He checked it out with a meter and said that our lower element was burnt out and that the top thermostat was out. He replaced the lower element and put in a new thermostat. Within 15 minutes, I had plenty of hot water and the problem was solved. He told me to never replace a hot water heater unless it's leaking. For $60, my problem was corrected. It took him about 10 minutes to replace both items.
Anne from North Carolina

Purge Out Sediment from Your Hot Water Heater

Have you tried purging it with the purge valve at the bottom of the hot water heater? If you live in an area with hard water, calcium deposits will build up on the bottom heater element and even fill the lower third of your hot water heater, reducing its capacity in water and heating efficiency. Try purging it every three to six months as prevention.

Go Tankless

It may not be the cheapest route to go, but they make tankless water heaters. My friend's parents installed one in part of their house. Basically, the water passes through heated pipes so the water is heated instantly. There's no tank, and everyone always has enough hot water.

Insider Report: Look at the Hot Water Heater Diptube

I have been in the HVAC business for over 30 years, which includes replacement and repair of water heaters. First of all, an 80-gallon water heater's capacity is actually a lot more than you need. Based on your family size, you should be able to get by with a 40-gallon water heater. My family of six, including my wife and four teenage sons, has a 50-gallon water heater. We never run out of hot water. The larger size water heaters are usually necessary in a residence when you are filling a very large whirlpool tub.

Without looking at the problem, I think that you may need a new diptube. The diptube is the part that brings the cold water to the bottom where it is then heated and distributed. If your diptube is disintegrated, damaged or gone, you'd get cold water almost instantly when turning on the hot. I don't know if the plumber was trying to sell a new water heater or not, but 80 gallons is almost double of what you would need. Water heaters have an average life of 10 years, so it may not be a bad idea to replace that part. It's fairly inexpensive.

Start Setting Hot Water Limits

I have a six-bedroom house with eight kids, two bathrooms and a 30-gallon water heater. We rarely run out of hot water. Here's my advice:

  1. Get a shower head reducer or flow restrictor. Low-flow heads range from 1 1/2 to 3 gpm (gallons per minute) and standard heads from 5 to 8 gpm. This one little trick will save you a bundle. Also look for one with a shut off button, so you can interrupt the flow while lathering up and then start up again at the same temperature and flow rate.
  2. Shower at different times. Not everyone needs to shower first thing in the morning or before bedtime. If you shower before bedtime, why shower again in the morning? If you have a child that is a bedwetter, you might consider only morning baths for them. Why bathe twice if you are going to have to do it again? As a stay-at-home mom, I have the luxury of showering in the middle of the day.
  3. Insulate your hot water heater and hot water pipes. That way, your water will stay warmer longer, and you use less energy heating it as well. If your water is only staying hot for 10 minutes, I would wonder if it's going through a very cold area. Check your basement or crawlspace for holes that need to be filled as well.
  4. Make a game of taking quick showers. I remember reading Cheaper by the Dozen as a youngster. The dad, Frank Gilbreth, would apply his time-management principles to everything from brick laying in the work environment to learning another language for his children at home. He even developed a method for efficient bathing! Remember, the longer you spend in the shower with the water on, the more hot water you will need.
  5. Not every person in the developed world takes a shower every day. If you don't have a job or aren't in a sport that gets you hot, dirty and sweaty, then you might be fine with every other day or so. My grandparents used to bathe each week on Saturday nights to get ready for church. If need be, grandma washed her hair in the sink during the week. Grandpa shaved each day, and if needed, he would wash up in the sink as well, but a full bath other than on Saturday night was unheard of. Grandma was a schoolteacher and grandpa was a printer and scout leader. This was the norm for their time. These habits were not unusual for their day, but in our overly commercialized society, we have come to believe we aren't "clean" if we don't shower at least once (sometimes twice) a day.


Make Sure Pipes are Properly Connected to Hot Water Heater

An 80-gallon water heater should take care of a large family especially if it is a gas heater. Even an electric water heater should be large enough to provide enough hot water for your size of family.

Our son recently purchased a duplex and the renter claimed the water didn't stay hot very long. Close inspection showed that the cold water going into the heater was connected to the "hot" water output. The hot water was taken out of the "cold" connection. This caused the cold water to mix right away inside the heater and dilute the hot water. Switching the two pipes to the correct connections caused the water heater to work properly and provide plenty of hot water to two families in this duplex.

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