What is in Water Heater

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What is in Water Heater

What is in Water Heater
Water heaters allow us to take relaxing hot showers.

What is in water heater is the best way to heat water in your home. There are gas water heaters, electric water heaters, heat pumps, and tankless or in-line water heaters.

Water heaters can be purchased at plumbing supply outlets, hardware stores, and home improvement centers.  There are various manufacturers, styles, sizes, and price points to consider.

Installing a water heater is normally a job left up to a plumber, a contractor, or other authorized installer.

However, with the right tools, the right direction, and some determination, it may be possible for a homeowner or other non professional to accomplish the task.

I will describe the history of water heaters, and the different water heater types. I will also explain the right size for you to buy based on your particular hot water needs.

I will also provide some guidance on how to install a water heater so that you can determine if it is a job you would like to undertake.

History of Water Heaters

The water heater was invented in 1868 by William Waddy Maughan, an English painter.  Natural gas was the fuel used to heat the water.
This was designed to be a residential water heater.

This original gas water heater, strangely enough, was not safe to use in homes as the gas had nowhere to escape safely. It was many years later before a flue was developed to allow these dangerous gas vapors to be funneled to the exterior of the home.

In 1889, a Norwegian immigrant by the name of Edwin Ruud, an engineer who settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, developed an automatic tank type storage water heater that heated the water from the bottom of the tank using gas that was temperature controlled.

This innovation gave us the ever ready hot water feature that we have become accustomed to even today.  Ruud’s brilliant design was patented in 1898.

He went on to found Ruud Manufacturing. His company is today one of the largest water heater, and heating and cooling companies in all of North America.

Gas Water Heaters
What is in Water Heater
Gas has been used to heat water for many decades.

Gas water heaters have been around, and doing yeoman work heating our hot water in our homes, and businesses for many decades.

Gas water heaters are fueled with natural gas.  Gas is piped into the water heater by way of gas pipe lines to  the gas valve at the lower end of the heater.

The gas valve facilitates lighting the gas pilot light, and the gas burner. It also controls the temperature of the water.

It also has safety features such as the thermocouple which senses if the pilot light is out, and will then automatically shut off the gas.

The water is heated from the bottom of the water heater through the gas burner.  These heaters normally also have an anode rod that collects sediment, and prevents it from building up on the walls, and bottom of the tank.

This sediment can alter the efficient operation of the heater. The gas vapors are vented through the top of the heater using vent pipe.

Electric Water Heaters

An electric water heater utilizes electric heating elements to heat the water in the tank.   Electricity is delivered to the heater with electric wires, and protected by a metal, flexible jacket.

These heaters are also thermostatically controlled at the heater tank.  Electric water heaters are generally considered safer than gas water heaters as there is no gas or gas vapors to deal with, or to be subjected to.

What is in Water HeaterHowever,  electric heaters are normally more expensive to buy, and cost more to operate.

Also, if you have a power outage, your electric heater will stop heating your water, unless you have a backup generator.

Compared to gas heaters though, electric water heaters have fewer parts to repair and replace.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are a type of water heater that also use electric as their power source, but are quite different than a typical electric water heater.

A heat pump utilizes ambient or surrounding warm air, and directs it into the heater to heat the water.  It has considerably less amperage draw compared to standard electric water heaters.

These heat pumps also have the electric elements in the body of the heater, but due to the presence of the heat pump, are not needed as often to heat the water.

These elements are also used to move heat from one place to another in the tank.  Although these heat pumps cost 2 to 4 times as much as a standard gas or electric water heater,  they can save you half or more on your utility bills.

This means that you will pay more upfront, but over time you should recoup these costs and then some with your substantial utility bill savings.

Tankless Water Heaters
What is in Water Heater
Tankless water heaters have been around for many years in Japan and Europe.

Also known as On Demand, Instant, and In-Line water heaters.  The tankless is the greatest single innovation in this industry since it’s inception.

These water heaters have been in existence in Europe and Japan for many years.

Their awareness, and popularity has steadily grown in the United States over the last few decades.

The water is heated as it passes through the heater within the tankless unit.   It uses natural gas or electric as the fuel to heat the water as do the conventional water heaters that use a tank.

The advantages of a tankless system compared to a conventional tank system are:
Unlimited Hot Water  No worries about running out of hot water if you are the second or third person in line to take a shower.  You will always have ample hot water.

Space Savings  Tankless units are much smaller, and can usually be hung on a wall out of the way.

Cost Less to Operate  Because these tankless units are not on constantly, they use less energy, and allow you to save on your utility bills in most cases.

Lasts Longer  The average life of a tankless heater is about 10-12 years longer than that of a tank heater.

The disadvantages of a tankless system are:
Takes Time to Heat Up  The name instant hot water heater is a bit of a misnomer as these units can take several minutes or more to heat up.

What is in Water Heater
Tankless water heater’s biggest benefit is an unlimited supply of hot water.

Once they are warmed up, however, the supply of hot water is limitless.

The slow start can be remedied with the addition of a circulation pump in your hot water line leading from your tankless heater.

Costs More Up Front  The initial costs are more for a tankless water heater compared with a conventional model.  Generally you will spend as much as 3 times more for tankless up front than you would for a storage water heater.

Can’t Deliver Enough Hot Water for Dual Uses  Normally, tankless water heaters are not able to supply enough hot water for simultaneous demands, such as laundry, and shower.

What Size Water Heater is Right for You

The general rule of thumb that tells you the correct size water heater for your application is, 10 gallons per person.  So, if you are a family of 4, you would need a 40 gallon water heater.

If running out of water is a situation you can’t or won’t bear, I suggest adding 10 extra gallons to minimize that possibility.

Of course, you won’t have to worry about running out of hot water at all with a tankless water heater.

How to Install a Water Heater

Before you attempt to remove, and install a water heater yourself you should check the plumbing codes in your area to be sure it is allowed.

You want to be sure that everything is done safely, and correctly. If your installation is not done by the book, you may be setting yourself up for issues with your family and home’s safety, as well as with your local laws, and with your homeowner’s insurance.

What is in Water Heater
If you don’t feel completely comfortable, call a plumber, or other installation pro.

In addition, make sure you feel comfortable undertaking this job. You should also have all of the tools necessary to perform it before starting.

If you do not feel comfortable, call a plumbing professional, contractor or other authorized installer.

For step by step directions on removing and installing a gas water heater or an electric water heater click here.  Click on Water Heaters, then scroll down to How-Tos.  Click on How to Install a Gas Water Heater, or How to Install an Electric Water Heater.

Click here to shop for water heaters

What is in Water Heater – Wrap Up

What is in water heater is the best way to heat water in your home. There are gas, electric, heat pumps, and tankless or in-line water heaters.

Water heaters can be purchased at plumbing supply outlets, hardware stores, and home improvement centers.

The water heater was invented in 1868 by William Waddy Maughan, an English painter.  In 1889, a Norwegian immigrant by the name of Edwin Ruud, developed an automatic water tank type storage heater.

The 4 types of water heaters are, Gas, Electric, Heat Pump, and Tankless.  Each type has it’s advantages, and disadvantages compared to the others.

The general rule of thumb that tells you the correct size water heater for your application is, 10 gallons per person. The tankless unit provides unlimited hot water.

Before you attempt to remove, and install yourself you should check the plumbing codes in your area to be sure it is allowed.

In addition, make sure you feel comfortable undertaking this job.  You should also have all of the tools necessary to complete the job before starting.

If you do not feel comfortable, call a plumbing professional, contractor or other authorized installer.

Feel free to leave your comments, questions, and suggestions below.  I will respond to you directly. Please also feel free to share on social media by using the buttons below.

Thank you for reading, What is in Water Heater.  Good luck with your plumbing projects.

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6 thoughts on “What is in Water Heater”

  1. Hi, Tom,

    When I moved to the U.S. I was shocked to find that most heaters are electric. In Mexico, most if not all water heaters are gas operated.

    The problem in my house is we don’t have gas service. Even if I wanted to replace my electric heater, I would have to open and account with the gas company. I don’t like the fact that electric heaters won’t work if there’s a power outage. Power outages are more common than gas outages, in my opinion.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. It was a very interesting read.

    1. Hi Enrique, thank you for your comments. That is an interesting fact about Mexico being gas operated for water heaters. Yes, I would agree that electric tends to go out more often than gas. That is an inconvenience for sure when the electric goes out. Take care, Tom

  2. I didn’t know anything about hot water heaters before, but now I really feel like I know what’s in a water heater. It’s interesting to learn the history of hot water heaters and can’t imagine how dangerous they were at first! I like the tankless hot water heaters myself, we have one and it works really well for us.

  3. I have a 30 gallon electric water heater that needs to be drained occasionally due to sediment from hard water. I live alone. How often do you recommend I drain It? Thanks, Tom

    1. Hi Honey, thank you for your comments. The recommendation is to drain at least twice a year. If you have hard water, you may want to consider adding a water softener. That may eliminate or at least greatly decrease the amount of times you will have to drain it. Good luck, Tom

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