Friday, January 6, 2012

On Hot Water Heaters and Gustav the Plumber

Today, at the office, my post yesterday brought up a few questions about a related subject: hot water tanks. The funny thing is that as compared to boilers, which are prone to more damage and problems, hot water tanks are relatively simple in terms of diagnosing problems and fixing the entire mechanism. One of my first jobs as an apprentice, in fact, was installing a new hot water heater with Gustav, one of those old-school Greek NYC plumbers that fill the stereotypical “crank” role so well that you’re forced to love them.

Whatever our differences, Gus was a great teacher and hot water tanks became one of the easier fixes for me. That being said, I am remiss to report that they are not something that I would suggest a novice undertake fixing, unless you happen to be particularly ambitious. What I can go through here is how to troubleshoot your hot water tank if you find that you’re having trouble getting your daily hot shower or being able to get hot water to wash your dishes. As our designer pointed out to me, this could work as a bit of a companion to yesterday’s post.

Oddly enough, the first part of troubleshooting would be identifying if you have an honest-to-god hot water tank or if you get your hot water from your boiler. This should be evident as boilers with hot water capabilities often are attached to the wall with a coil coming out of them whereas a hot water tank is, well, a tank; there’s also the difference between electric and gas heaters, though electric heaters are very rare these days. Now, comes the issue of size: there’s 30, 40 or 50 gallon units for most homes, and 40 gallons should be adequate for an average one-family home. If, in the morning, the first person gets hot water in the shower but the third one doesn’t, that more than likely means you have an undersized water heater.

Next, check your warranty. If you were smart and got a 10-year warranty, you should be set until that 10-year mark and don’t get greedy: if your heater lasts for ten years, be happy and pony up for a new one. And again, like a boiler, sometimes the problem is the pilot light, which is controlled by a small pump that should be right above the temperature control. Make sure its set to “Pilot On” and pump it if you’re suspicious that its not lit. Also, check that the temperature control is where you want it to be. These are all easy fixes, as stated before, and in the case of leaks or factory defaults, its simply a matter of calling in your warranty or replacing your existing water heater and having a licensed, bonded and insured plumber install it for you. These are really the only two options though, if he were still around, I imagine Gustav would have a few things to say about that opinion and a few, more curse-laden things to say about me.