Possible Causes of Reduced Hot Water and How to Determine the Age of Your Water Heater

Possible Causes of Reduced Hot Water and How to Determine the Age of Your Water Heater
February 2, 2012 Lorelie

Water heaters are very useful in many ways.  As the name implies, their main function is to heat your water at home for your convenience.  It is extremely useful in areas around the world that have cold seasons such as those countries that experience winter and other areas that normally have ice and snow most of the year.  Water heaters are also extremely useful for individuals especially the elderly who suffer from bodily ailments like rheumatism, arthritis, and other joint pains.

Lots of people who have water heaters at home enjoy the comforts of having to bathe with hot water anytime they like.  However, like any other equipment, water heaters are also susceptible to problems such as lime buildup, hard water buildup, external rusting and even reduced hot water.

Water heaters are very familiar equipments in many homes in the world.  They can be used while taking hot showers or baths, and they can even be used for your dishwashing chores or for your washing machine, if you need your clothes to be washed with warm water.  Water heaters usually appear like huge metal cylinders or tall drums which are most often placed in the basement or at the laundry room.  For most people, water heaters are basically a drum that is filled with water and equipped with a heating mechanism either on the inside or on the bottom.  Even if they are not that stylish-looking type of bathroom fixtures, water heaters still are pretty much fascinating.  What makes them wonderful machines is that they exploit the heat rising principle in order to provide hot water right into your faucet or showerhead without much effort.  Water heaters may look very simple or ordinary on the outside, but it actually has a very ingenious design on the inside.

Possible Causes of Reduced Hot Water

If the hot water you are using at home is providing you with less hot water than it used to, there are actually many things that could be causing your dilemma, and the extent of the possible problems may also depend on what type of water heater you have.

If your tank is an electric one, then you could assume that a lower element might be defective or the dip tube (the dip tube in water heaters is a plastic tube that sends the incoming cold water to the base of the tank in order to prevent it from mixing with the hot water when going to your faucets.  This actually helps the tank to heat more efficiently as well as it promotes energy efficiency) might be missing.

If you have a gas-powered water heater, then it would most likely be the dip tube.

Sometimes we think that there is something wrong with our water heater for the simple reason that it is not heating up properly, but in fact there is nothing wrong with it at all. It is because in winter, the incoming water temperature is much colder, which in turn causes the remaining hot water in the tank to dilute much faster.  Keep in mind that the cold water coming in is what pushes the hot water out to your shower.  Another possible explanation is that you might have recently changed your showerheads into a higher flow-rate type.

Here are a few facts to learn about water heaters.  A typical water heater will only give you two-thirds of its capacity as usable hot water.  If your tank is a 50-gallon unit, then that would be about 33 gallons.  If your showerheads are restricted to about 2.5 gallons per minute (GPM), then your shower time should be about 15 to 20 minutes before you become aware of a temperature drop.  However, if you have showerheads having 5 GPM, then typically you will have about 8 to 10 minutes of hot water.

You can conduct a few simple tests to actually figure out and see for yourself what is really happening with your water heater.  For instance, you can begin with a completely recovered tank, which means that there must be no hot water used for the last several hours.  You will then need a 5-gallon pail and a thermometer that has a range of up to 160 degrees.  With the thermometer placed in the stream of hot water, you will then fill the pail from the tub spout and note how many times you fill the 5-gallon bucket before you notice the occurrence of a 20-degree temperature drop.  Calculate to see how much hot water that your tank is producing.  If it is not two-thirds of the tank’s capacity, then it is time to have it checked by a professional or have it replaced.

Another simple test will help you find out what the GPM rate of your showerhead is.  Simply hold the pail up to the showerhead and ask someone to turn on the shower.  Fill the pail for 30 seconds and then find out how much water is in the pail.  Double that amount and you have your GPM.  If your pail fills more than one-third of the way in 30 seconds, then it may be the right time to consider getting low-flow showerheads.  They not only conserve water, but also they help “stretch” your usable hot water supply.

How to Determine the Age of Your Water Heater

To help you determine how old your tank is, check out the model and serial numbers of your water heater.

All water heaters possess a Rating Plate that lists vital information such as the model and serial numbers, the manufacturing company’s name, the wattage of the elements installed (on electric units), input BTU rating (on gas units), the length of the warranty, gallon capacity, and many more.

You can find out the age of your water heater by decoding its serial number.  Many manufacturers make it easy by including the month and year built into the first 4 digits of the serial number.  For example, Serial No. 1190A48857 means that the water heater was manufactured in November of 1990 (1190).  Other manufacturers use special formats, but in a similar fashion.

If it is more than 7 to 8 years old, then it may not be worth spending your money to repair that tank.

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