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Electric Hot Water Heaters

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Many homeowners throughout the Southern California region choose to heat their household water supply with an electric heater. That’s not surprising, considering that electric hot water heaters provide some important advantages, including relatively low installation costs and freedom from any potential for gas leaks. However, any hot water system you install in your home will eventually develop problems that make it run less efficiently or stop working altogether. When the time comes to repair your electric hot water heater, trust the professionals at Orange Coast Plumbing. With decades of experience working with older and newer electric water-heating technologies, we have the training and practical skills you need to keep the water flowing throughout your home.

Conventional Storage Electric Hot Water Heaters

There are two primary choices for electric hot water heaters: conventional storage units and tankless units. A conventional storage water heater is the traditional style of heater found in many American homes. Whether powered by electricity or gas, all units in this category feature a reservoir or storage tank that holds many gallons of hot water in readiness between periods of active use. The average residential water heater has a 30- to 50-gallon reservoir, although some homes are equipped with units that hold as little as 20 gallons or as much as 80 gallons. When you make a demand for hot water in a household with a conventional storage heater, that water comes from the top portion of your tank’s reserve supply. In order to keep the reservoir full at all times, your heater will offset this outward flow of hot water by pulling an equal amount of cold water into the bottom of the tank. The unit will heat this incoming water to the temperature set on its thermostat(s).

In an electricity-powered conventional storage water heater, actual hot water production depends on the timely operation of a component called a heating element. This component consists of an outer sheath, made from stainless steel or plated copper, wrapped around a heat-conducting inner wire. Most conventional units made today have two heating elements: one (known as the upper element) located in the middle of the reservoir tank, and one (known as the lower element) located at the bottom of the tank.

Each of the elements, which extend outward from the tank wall into the water, is under the control of a separate thermostat. When one of the thermostats senses a drop in the water temperature in its part of the tank, it turns its heating element on, and that element heats the water until it reaches the thermostat’s current setting. At that point, the thermostat turns the heating element off. In a properly functioning conventional storage heater designed for residential use, the two elements never run at the same time. Instead, during periods of active use, heating starts with the upper thermostat/element (responsible for the water in the top two-thirds of the reservoir) before progressing sequentially to the lower thermostat/element (responsible for the water in the bottom third). When the heater is in standby mode, the lower thermostat and heating element activate periodically to keep the water up to temperature.

In some modern conventional storage electric hot water heaters, the temperature is controlled by microprocessor modules instead of traditional thermostats. Whether your household water heater is equipped with microprocessors or thermostats, you can choose to set the temperature of your hot water at any point between roughly 90° F and 150° F. If the temperature exceeds an upper limit (typically 170° F) for any reason, the unit will shut down until reset manually.

Tankless Electric Hot Water Heaters

Tankless hot water heaters don’t store reserves of hot water for future use. Instead, they create an on-demand supply of heated water when you turn on the hot water taps in your household. In an electric tankless heater, when you request hot water, cold water enters the unit through a connected plumbing line and triggers a component called a flow sensor. This sensor “wakes” the heater up and activates its heating elements. Models currently on the market typically have anywhere from one to four of these elements. The water flows past each element in a zigzagging path on its way through the heater and quickly rises to the temperature set at the unit’s thermostat. The heated water then enters your plumbing lines and travels to the opened tap(s).

A tankless hot water system can only produce so much heated water during any given minute of operation. The maximum flow rate in a residential unit can be as low as two gallons per minute, or as high as five gallons. In many cases, electric tankless heaters fall on the lower end of this range, since they can’t maintain as high a hot water output as units powered by natural gas or propane. However, some electricity-powered heaters produce a significantly higher flow rate.

In addition, some units make up for their output limitations by slightly decreasing their flow rates during high-demand periods of hot water use. This flow reduction means that each open tap will receive a bit less water, but it helps keep hot water available at multiple taps in your household. Some homeowners choose to increase their overall hot water capacity by installing two or more tankless electric units and using them as point-source water heaters instead of whole-house heaters.

Whether electric or powered by natural gas or propane, the average tankless water heater is significantly more expensive than the average conventional storage water heater. Still, there are reasons to prefer a tankless unit over a conventional storage unit. For example, since they only consume energy during periods of active use, tankless water heaters usually cost less to operate than conventional water heaters. Tankless units also tend to last longer than conventional storage units, require less space for installation, and frequently come with superior product warranties. Waste-conscious households may also appreciate the smaller landfill contributions their discarded tankless water heaters make when compared to discarded conventional storage heaters.

Maintaining an Electric Hot Water Heater

The steps required to properly maintain a conventional storage water heater powered by electricity largely resemble the steps required to maintain a gas-powered conventional storage heater. They include checking the unit for any indication of leaking or rusting, verifying the function of the temperature/pressure relief valve, verifying the function and setting of the thermostat, and draining some of the water from the bottom of the tank in order to avoid any excessive sediment accumulations. Maintenance of electric storage heaters should also include an inspection of all wiring, as well as inspection of the microprocessors on units equipped with this technology. As with gas-powered heaters, some experts call for a twice-yearly servicing schedule, while others call for an annual schedule.

Tankless electric hot water heaters also have their own specific maintenance needs. The most common issue you can avoid by keeping up a regular servicing routine is the accumulation of mineral deposits left behind by the cold water entering your unit. If these deposits build up on the surfaces of the heating elements, they can make those elements work much harder than normal to bring your water up to temperature. Unfortunately, since the hardness of the water supply varies from area to area, no single maintenance schedule applies to all tankless electric units. In an area with soft water, you may go years without experiencing significant mineral buildup. However, in an area with hard water, you may need annual servicing to take care of this issue.

At Orange Coast Plumbing, our expert staff can help you develop an ongoing maintenance plan that effectively preserves the working life of your conventional storage or tankless electric hot water heater. The plan we create will be specifically geared toward the requirements of your heater’s technology, as well as any additional issues unique to your household or equipment setup. We will also happily take on the responsibility for carrying out routine servicing and ensuring that your heater is set up for healthy, long-term performance.  

Signs That Your Electric Hot Water Heater Needs a Repair

Some of the problems that can degrade the function or efficiency of your conventional storage electric hot water heater are shared by gas-powered conventional units. The list of possible overlapping issues includes such things as a lack of hot water production, excessively slow recovery from periods of heavy hot water use, leaks and a dripping relief valve. However, electricity-powered units also have their own technology-specific indications of serious problems. Relatively common issues in this category include heating elements and/or thermostats that make odd noises during use, service wires that are hot to the touch, service wires with signs of charring, and wiring that visibly produces smoke.

As a rule, you will also notice that something’s wrong if your tankless electric heater experiences problems serious enough to require a repair. Some modern units come equipped with a digital readout that actually displays a visible error code when significant issues arise. Whether or not you have the benefit of a built-in error code system, common indications of a repair-worthy problem include water that never reaches your desired temperature, water that never heats up at all, insufficient water flow and rapid fluctuations in the temperature of the water reaching your taps.

Diagnosis and Repair

Like the issues affecting gas-powered water heaters, the issues affecting electricity-powered units typically have multiple possible causes. For instance, a conventional storage electric water heater that doesn’t produce hot water may have underlying problems that include a damaged or poorly calibrated thermostat, improperly installed wiring connections and loose wiring connections. Potential problems leading to noisy thermostats and heating elements in a conventional storage unit include loose thermostat wiring, improper thermostat mounting and lime accumulations on the element surfaces. If the water produced by your tankless electric water heater is too cold, the list of possible underlying issues includes a faulty power supply and an excessively high flow rate for the cold water entering the unit.  

Even if your electric hot water heater produces error codes when problems arise, it can be difficult to track down the actual source of the issues affecting your unit. That’s why only a highly experienced plumbing professional can make an accurate diagnosis and create a detailed repair plan that addresses all relevant issues. At Orange Coast Plumbing, all diagnostics work and repairs are performed by our staff of factory-trained, certified plumbing experts. When you call our offices and arrange an appointment, our technicians arrive on time and make a careful assessment of your heater’s condition. After completing this assessment, we’ll tell you what we’ve found and recommend a remedy that will get your system back online. Once you approve the work, we’ll complete the repair with high-quality replacement parts matched to your heater’s make and model.

Electric Hot Water Heater Replacement

Water heaters sometimes develop problems that are too extensive or severe to address with a cost-effective repair. Your inoperative heater may fall into this category if it’s reaching the end of its expected lifespan, if component failures have produced widespread damage, or if you find yourself repeatedly spending money to fix recurring problems. During the assessment process, our experts will inform you about any issues that may make heater replacement a good idea. If you choose to replace your unit, we can walk you through the process and install a new heater that meets your technology preferences and household needs. We can also install a new heater during a home remodel project or during new home construction.

The Electric Hot Water Heater Experts

For almost 40 years, Orange Coast Plumbing has been the preferred plumbing option for the residents of Orange County and Los Angeles County. That’s because we feature an unbeatable blend of certified and insured professional technicians, top-flight customer service, Better Business Bureau accreditation and 24/7 availability for emergency calls throughout Southern California. Whether you have a conventional storage electric hot water heater or a tankless electric heater, you can expect courteous communication, an affordable pricing structure with no hidden fees, and a guarantee that all finished work will meet your expectations for durability and quality.  

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Orange Coast Plumbing is the best. My water heater had burst and water was everywhere. The
dispatcher calmed me down and told me how to turn the water off and sent Diego out to help me. He
was great too and replaced it that same day. I will be calling them again.
- Kayce Keaton
I had water leaking thru my ceiling on a Saturday. I called and was assured that I could get service and the
plumber had the problem taken care of in just a few hours. The plumber who showed up was clean, friendly
and told me what needed to be done in terms that I could understand.
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My water heater was leaking all over my garage. Toby came out and
was able to replace it the same day at a fair price. I was very
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