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How To Inspect a Water Heater

February 17th, 2010 · No Comments

Have you ever been told there is no such thing as a hot water heater? I must have heard this a thousand times growing up. The water is not hot before it goes into the water heater. The people who told us this were actually right but I would make me so mad when they would say this because I think they just wanted to be a smart alec. You can call it a hot water heater and I want give you a hard time.
There are basically two types of water heaters or hot water heaters if you prefer. There is gas and electric. You can tell which type you have by looking at the top and bottom of the unit. A gas unit will have a metal flue and possibly a draft hood. The gas unit will also have a gas line with a cut off (hopefully) at the bottom with a burner. Also if the gas unit is in the garage it should be “18 off of the floor for safety reasons. If you have an electric unit it doesn’t have to be off of the floor. The electric unit will not have gas line or a flue but it will have a 220 line in a conduit going into the top of it.
When inspecting an electric water heater one of the first things you want to check is the water temperature. Most manufacturers have the temps preset to 100-150 degrees F. You have to keep in mind that if the water is over 120 degrees F it can scold a small child. We usually write it up if it over 120. You check the temperature of the water by using a digital meat thermometer in the hot water as it is coming out a faucet preferably close to the water heater. The next thing you want to check for is a reverse water-line installation. You can tell whether the installation is reversed by touching the pipe and comparing it the hot outlet fitting at the top of the tank. If it’s cold where it says hot and hot where cold it’s reversed. A reversed connection results in inefficient operation of the heater. When the inlet-outlet is connection is reversed, the cold water enters the tank at the top and mixes with the hot water as it settles to the bottom near the outlet fitting. So for the same thermostat setting the temperature of the hot water is lower than it otherwise would have been. The next thing you need to check is the element and the thermostat. There are checker for these that can be bought at Lowes or Home Depot. I think it is important to note here that you must turn the electricity off to do this. Another thing that you should know is that if you turn on a water heater with no water in it you will burn out the element. This is something you definitely want to keep in mind if you are dealing with a foreclosure in which the power and the water have been off for awhile.
An internal part of the water heater that you can’t see is the anode rod. It is usually made out magnesium and attracts any corrosives or oxidizers in the water. This saves the tank from oxidation. It is hard to see or inspect this rod without taking the water heater apart to do so. The way you test for this is to run the hot water and smell it for a sulfur smell. You obviously check for leaks and pay particular attention to the joints in the pipes. If two dissimilar metals are touching each other without some sort of dielectric connection, electrolysis will occur resulting in corrosion and then a leak. There is a drain at the bottom of the water heater that you periodically want to drain out settlement. Near the top of the water heater you should see a temperature relief valve or TPR valve. What this does is let off steam if the unit malfunctions and continues to heat the water. The spring in the relief valve will depress and release the pressure to keep the unit from exploding. There are set for certain temperature and a certain pressure which is stamped on the side of the valve. Sometimes after a couple of years the spring goes bad and this will leak. These are relatively inexpensive to replace.
For a gas water heater everything is pretty much the same except that instead of a heating element you have a burner at the bottom of the tank that should be checked for corrosion and rust flaking. The gas line should be checked for leaks. This can be done is a gas leak detector or bubbly water. The draft should be checked for CO with a detector. Also the flue should not be in direct contact with wood or drywall (or any o the flammable material for that matter. I hope this gives you a better understanding of how to check water heaters. I will talk extensively about thankless water heaters in another writing. The next time someone correct with the old “no such thing as a hot water heater” You can ask them something like what does an anode rod do on a water heater. For more info on water heaters check out the audio at or .

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Tags: Home Buying · Home Improvement · Home Maintenance · Plumbing Issues · Pre-Inspections

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