18 Comments

  1. Bennett

    Nice job, Steve. I have to say, I’m partial to copper vs CPVC, maybe just showing my age, or having owned a series of century-old homes and believing in things that last, which I’m inclined to think (with no real foundation) that copper would over plastic. Also, while Shark Bite is certainly easy, it’s a lot more expensive than plain or even pre soldered fittings, and since it wasn’t around when I started working on plumbing I learned to sweat pipe and continue to unless I’m working on a job where I can’t get the pipe dry (the residual cold makes it really difficult to get the joint hot enough, so then the compression/snap in feature is worth the extra money). Still, I get using them all over if like this the job is relatively small so the added cost is minimal, and the assurance that things won’t leak, and speed of installation worth it.

    Question — are you planning an insulating blanket for the heater(s)? Maybe new units don’t need them, but generally the theory is that they reduce cooling during the overnight or slow parts of the day, and so save fuel and time needed to get back to optimal temps when you need it (like the rush of everyone wanting a morning shower)…..

    Reply

    1. Hi, Bennett. Thanks for the response. There’s nothing wrong with copper (obviously), I just don’t trust my sweat joint skills. :) I actually installed my 75 gallon unit yesterday, and re-used a lot more of the copper pipe in that project than I did with the 50 gal. Although I did still connect them with the Shark Bite stuff.

      I saw the insulating blankets at the hardware store recently when I was on the water heater aisle, and wondered whether they’d provide any benefit. The sides of these new units don’t heat up that much compared to my older ones, but I suppose that technically, if the sides are warmer than the air temperature, then there’s at least SOME benefit to be had from wrapping them. I’ll pick one up and give it a shot. Thanks!

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    2. Bennett’s suggestion of an insulating blanket got me thinking, so today I took my Fluke IR thermometer into the utility room and checked the difference between the drywall across from the water heater (which should accurately reflect the air temp in the room) vs. the metal side of the water heater. The wall was 79.2F, while the side of the water heater was 82.0F… meaning I’m at barely 2F in heat loss by not using an insulating blanket. I’m wondering if there’s a better way to test this, and would be open to ideas from anyone!

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      1. Bennett

        I don’t know the answer but I don’t think that’s it. I say that because if you’re leaking heat from the hot water heater you’re warming the room and warming the wall therefore the 2° differential doesn’t reflect what came out. I think. Maybe better would be to check the temps first thing in the morning, before it fires up, and compare to those readings above (or get serious and turn it off for a day and take some readings, but I’m not answering to your family for that suggestion!) That might give you a better indication of the impact of heat loss on the space, and thus it’s extent. And by the way blankets also help insulate the water inside the tank from colder surroundings, which makes it fire more often — especially important with installations like mine in an I heated basement.

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        1. Great points, Bennett. Looks like it’s time for some experimentation… maybe I’ll send my family out of town. :)

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          1. Bennett

            maybe it takes some of the fun out of things, but DOE estimates energy savings of $20-45 annually, at a cost of around $30. [http://energy.gov/energysaver/projects/savings-project-insulate-your-water-heater-tank]

            “insulating your water tank, …could reduce standby heat losses by 25%–45% and save you about 4%–9% in water heating costs—and should pay for itself in about a year. “

  2. J Bird

    Steve, Great article. Was the scale and rust pic from your 1997 Water heater or was that just something your found to frighten us? Pretty scary! Once it gets the scale deposits is it done for or can it just be flushed out and then relit? Also, nIce move with the water pressure gauge mounted on your 50 gallon Ruud. Interesting comment that Bennett had regarding to the blanket, would like to know the cost savings. Anyways, thank you for the article and with it and the help of my ambitious neighbor, we are going to be adding an additional 50 gallon water heater to my current set up. Wish us luck! PS. It involves gas piping so if you don’t hear from me again you will understand why. Boom! (Go Hawks).

    Reply

    1. LOL – for those that don’t know, “J Bird” is my across-the-street neighbor Jeremy, and the “ambitious neighbor” he’s referring to is me. :) We spent a chunk of yesterday picking up a twin 50 gallon Bradford White to add to his current setup, and this week we’ll be installing it in series with his existing tank, to take him to a total of 100 gallons — he wants to be able to fill the jacuzzi tub and still have enough hot water to take a shower immediately after to rinse away the bubbles. Watch for a separate blog post about the project soon!

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  3. tsmith35

    Steve, this was a very enjoyable article. I just thought I’d pass along that the quickest and easiest way to remove the anode is with an impact wrench. Don’t use it to fully remove the anode — just enough to break it free (maybe 1/2 turn). Do the rest of the removal with hand tools. After using my impact wrench (3 short bursts), it took me about 30 seconds to remove the factory aluminum anode rod, which I then replaced with an impressed-current (powered) anode. I got the powered anode (SKU27) from waterheaterrescue.com, an excellent source of information on water heater anodes.

    I went through the failed water heater experience less than two months ago. The softened water in the house ate up the aluminum anode in my AO Smith 75 gallon electric water heater. There was literally nothing left but the thin wire core — no aluminum. The water heater came with the house, but I always wondered why the installation date, written on the label by the installer, was only 3-1/2 years after the house was built. I later found, by digging through documentation left by the previous homeowners, that the first water heater lasted only 3 years and 5 months, while the second lasted only 3 years and 3 months.

    I ended up going to an AO Smith 50 gallon high-EF power vented gas water heater, which I installed myself in a different part of the basement (next to my sump pump pit!). I did have a pipefitter do the gas line installation (neighbors would have been upset if I made a mistake), which was pretty easy since the gas main coming into the house is right next to where I put the new water heater. I also installed an aluminum water heater pan, tested out my sump pump, and reworked the PVC piping on the sump pump, since the builders had failed to properly glue all of the joints.

    The rest of the plumbing in the house is PEX with a little copper mixed in, so the relocation was pretty straightforward. It took me two days of cutting/crimping/cursing to run the new PEX, install an expansion tank, run the PVC pipe for the powered vent and all the rest. I installed the powered anode only 11 days after installing the water heater. I was pretty amazed at the massive amount of corrosion on the new aluminum anode. The electric anode should help this new water heater last much longer

    The new water heater has a better first-hour delivery rate (96 gallons vs 81 for the electric) and a better recovery rate (56 gallons vs 21 for the electric). Gas is cheaper than electricity here, so I’ll save about $400 per year, and with better hot water availability.

    By the way, I put ball valves on both the hot and cold lines. The dual ball valves make it easier to flush the tank when it’s due. I also installed the expansion tank with its own bleeder drain ball valve (the bleeder drain lets me bleed off any remaining water once the valve is closed).

    All in all, I am happy with the replacement. It did take a lot of work to go from electric to gas and relocate the water heater, but the end result looks great and performs great.

    Reply

    1. Sounds like a big project… and a fun one! I love the idea of a separate valve for the expansion tank. Makes it easy to bleed the pressure and test it more regularly.

      I’ve been wondering about whether or not those powered anodes actually work. I’ll do a bit more research on them at the site you mentioned, and maybe I’ll even just buy one for review purposes. Congrats on the successful water heater upgrade! :)

      Reply
      1. tsmith35

        A powered anode usually isn’t needed unless you have softened water (sodium eats the anodes) or have problems with stinky water from bacteria that grow in some water heaters (they react with aluminum and magnesium to form hydrogen sulfide).

        As for the ball valve, something like a SharkBite 22305-0000LF should work fine. The big box hardware stores carry them (or equivalents). Make sure the bleeder cap is on the expansion tank side. :)

        I isolate my expansion tank by turning off the cold supply, then I open a nearby faucet to release pressure. Once that’s done, I shut off the ball valve to the expansion tank and turn the cold supply back on, which lets me work without any family complaints. That done, I slowly open the bleeder cap to release any residual pressure. Finally, I do what I need to do on the expansion tank, tighten the bleeder cap, then slowly open the expansion tank ball valve.

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        1. At one of my locations, I do soften and also have the egg smell in the water, so I think I’ll test one out there.

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  4. tsmith35

    Steve, one last thing… put insulation on the cold side water piping as well. It heats up and bleeds off a bit of energy while the tank is sitting idle. I’d post a pic taken with my thermal imaging camera, but I don’t see anywhere to do that.

    Reply
  5. Brian

    Great article.
    I noticed that you completely put Teflon tape on the anode before you installed it because the manufacturer only had a “meager” amount of it on there. That was done by the manufacturer on pupose. Some part of the threads of the anode MUST come in contact with the tank, or else the anode won’t do anything to protect the tank. What you have done is completely isolate the anode from the tank. Any corrosion will now attack your tank instead of the anode. You need to remove your anode and take off some of your Teflon tape. Yes, it will make it harder to remove it later because it will fuse to the tank, but that’s how sacrificial anodes work. There is actually a test to make sure the anode has been installed properly and is in contact with the tank, you touch a wire to the tank itself and then to the top of the anode, (or to the hot outlet pipe if it is a combo anode), to see if you have a complete electric circuit.

    Reply

    1. Hi, Brian. Thanks for the comment! I agree 100% that in order for an anode to be effective, the metal threads of the anode must make contact with the tank. But I’ve confirmed that my anode is indeed being “sacrificed” because there’s less and less of it every time I pull and inspect it every 6 months (I snap a photo with my phone so I can compare from one inspection to the next). Even though I used a generous amount of tape to make removal easier, the threads are still sharp enough to cut through the tape when it’s tightened down, which allows the metal-to-metal contact. But your point is still a great one, and a warning that in the case of a sacrificial anode, not to overdo it with the tape! :)

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