Gas Hot Water Heaters

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Your best Option when Working with Natural Gas

Gas hot water heaters use natural gas or propane to supply the energy required to meet your household’s hot water needs. This type of heater, which typically produces hot water more efficiently than a unit powered by electricity, is common in homes throughout Southern California and the rest of the country. Over time, your gas-powered hot water heater can develop serious problems that call for a speedy repair or (in extreme cases) a complete replacement. When your gas hot water heater malfunctions, call the experts at Orange Coast Plumbing. With training and experience gained through four decades of service to Orange County and Los Angeles County, we’ll pinpoint the problem affecting your unit and quickly restore the convenience of abundant hot water in your household.

Conventional Storage Gas Water Heaters

There are two main types of gas hot water heaters: conventional storage heaters and tankless heaters. A conventional storage hot water heater is designed to heat up a supply of water and store that water at temperature in a reservoir tank. A small unit may hold no more than 20 gallons of hot water at a time, while the largest available household units can hold as much as 80 gallons in reserve. The heaters in most homes have a capacity of 30 to 50 gallons.

When you turn on the hot water taps in a house equipped with a conventional storage heater, the water you need flows from the top of the reservoir into your plumbing lines. By design, this type of heater keeps the same amount of water in its reserve tank at all times. In order to compensate for the volume of water drawn into your plumbing, the heater pulls in an equal amount of cold water from a line that extends from the top of the unit to the bottom of the tank. This water is brought up to the desired temperature when the heater’s thermostat detects its presence and sends fuel to the burner, which starts the ignition process.

There is one potentially major drawback with conventional storage gas water heaters: energy wastage. Some of this wastage occurs when heated water sits inside a reservoir tank between periods of use and gradually undergoes a temperature drop. To make up for this heat loss, the burner must activate and use additional fuel to bring the water back up to temperature. Older storage heaters can also lose about 20 percent of all the heat they generate through their vertically mounted flues, which carry away the dangerous combustion gases produced by burning natural gas or propane. The wasted heat simply rises up through the flue and vents directly outdoors.

The water heater industry has come up with two popular solutions to the inefficiency of older, gas-powered conventional storage designs: power vent tanks and condensing tanks. In a power vent heater, a fan actively pulls combustion gases out of the unit’s burner assembly and channels those gases outside through a small-diameter, horizontal vent pipe. This arrangement effectively gets rid of combustion byproducts while reducing the amount of lost heat. Some power vent systems, known as sealed combustion heaters, also help decrease your overall energy usage by relying on outside air to vent combustion gases instead of the conditioned air circulating inside your home.

In a conventional storage gas water heater with a condensing tank, an electrically powered fan pushes a mixture of natural gas or propane and air into sealed combustion chamber. When the fuel burns inside this chamber, the resulting gases pass through something called a secondary heat exchanger instead of passing directly into a flue. This exchanger draws off most of the heat that would have been lost in a traditional water heater, and uses that heat to increase the temperature of the water stored in the reservoir tank. A well-designed and well-maintained condensing storage heater can cut the energy wastage associated with a traditional storage heater from roughly 60 percent of the total fuel use all the way down to just 4 percent.

Tankless Gas Hot Water Heaters

As their name indicates, tankless gas water heaters don’t have reservoir tanks. In fact, they don’t store hot water at all. When you turn on the hot water taps in a house equipped with this type of heater, cold water enters the unit through a connected supply line. In response to this incoming water, a component called a flow sensor activates the heater’s natural gas- or propane-powered burner, which in turn activates a heat exchanger. This exchanger transfers the heat from the burning process to the cold water and brings the water up to the temperature set at the thermostat. Next, the heated water travels out of the unit and into your plumbing lines. Every time you need hot water, this process begins again.

Unlike a system based around a conventional storage heater, which can produce significant delays in hot water output if your household needs ever exceed the amount of water stored in its reservoir, a system based around a tankless water heater never makes you wait for hot water while a tank fills up. Still, a tankless water heater does have a maximum flow rate (usually somewhere in the range of five gallons per minute, although some units have much higher flow capabilities). In addition, a faucet located across the house from your tankless water heater will typically not receive hot water as quickly as a faucet located just a few feet from the heater. As a rule, gas tankless water heaters can maintain a higher flow rate than electric tankless water heaters.

Tankless heaters cost substantially more money to install than storage water heaters. However, they have become popular for a number of reasons. First, they require less energy to run and typically contribute to a significant reduction in monthly utility costs. You can also install a tankless unit in a space much smaller than that required to install a storage unit. Additional important advantages include a longer average lifespan than storage water heaters and longer product warranties, as well as the ability to avoid contributing as much waste to your local landfill when your water heater inevitably reaches the end of its useful lifespan.

Maintaining a Gas Hot Water Heater

You can significantly extend the working life of your gas hot water heater by establishing and following a regular maintenance schedule. For a conventional storage unit, crucial steps in an effective maintenance routine include checking for leaks, inspecting the relief valve (responsible for preventing tank overpressurization), making sure that the heater is receiving an adequate flow of air, and partially draining the tank in order to eliminate any sediment accumulations. A tank filled with lots of sediment may need to be completely drained or flushed. Some experts recommend performing these tasks once every year, while others recommend a shorter six-month timespan between checkups.

The chief maintenance issue for a tankless gas water heater is the accumulation of mineral deposits on its heat exchanger. Over time, deposit buildup can make the exchanger in your unit lose much of its operating efficiency. In turn, a drop in efficiency will inevitably cut into the energy savings that often serve as the main reason for choosing a tankless heater over a conventional storage heater.

It can be tricky to establish a maintenance routine that keeps mineral deposit accumulations in your tankless gas heater under control. That’s because the rate of mineral buildup on a heat exchanger can vary greatly along with the hardness (i.e., mineral content) of the water supply in your area. In areas with very hard water, problems can develop quickly enough to justify an annual inspection and exchanger cleaning. However, in areas with very soft water, you might not need to address this issue more often than every few years.

Whether your gas-powered hot water heater is a conventional storage or tankless model, the experts at Orange Coast Plumbing can help you develop a maintenance routine that keeps your unit in good functional condition throughout the year. And after working with you to create an appropriate routine, we can also complete each scheduled maintenance task to an exacting standard of care. That way, you’ll never have to worry about performing any of the work yourself.

Signs That Your Gas Hot Water Heater Needs a Repair

Conventional storage gas water heaters can develop a broad range of problems that decrease their efficiency, make it harder for them to deliver adequate amounts of hot water or even make them active safety hazards in your home. Relatively common issues include inadequate hot water production, a burner that won’t produce a flame for combustion, a burner with an excessively high flame, leaking from the temperature/pressure relief valve, and unusually slow refilling between periods of usage. Additional problems you may experience include strange odors associated with the combustion process, the production of excessively hot water, soot buildup and a pilot light that’s too small, too big or won’t stay lit during heater operation.

Like conventional storage units, tankless gas water heaters typically display telltale symptoms when they develop problems that may call for some sort of repair. Common issues you may encounter over time include a complete lack of hot water production, excessively low-temperature water, water that’s too hot for safe use, and fluctuating water temperatures that alternate between hot and cold. Additional frequently encountered issues include a burner that fails to ignite, a burner that makes excessive amounts of noise during operation and unusually low water pressure. Some units are equipped with digital readouts that produce a series of error codes when problems arise.

Diagnosis and Repair

Whether you have a conventional storage unit or a tankless unit, all of the issues most likely to affect your gas hot water heater have multiple possible causes. For example, inadequate hot water production in a conventional storage heater may stem from such diverse problems as sediment accumulations in the tank, dirty burner apertures or improperly configured pipe connections. In a tankless heater, potential underlying causes of sub-temperature water include insufficient pressure in your gas supply lines, sediment accumulations on the heat exchanger and debris accumulation in the flue. A leaking relief valve on a conventional storage unit may be the result of issues such as an excessive buildup of water pressure or sediment accumulations. Potential causes of burner ignition problems on a tankless unit include an improperly installed flue/venting system and a damaged gas control valve.

Even if your system is designed to produce error codes, only a highly trained plumbing professional can properly assess the condition of your malfunctioning heater. At Orange Coast Plumbing, we rely exclusively on our staff of licensed, certified and insured plumbing experts, all of whom receive factory training in the latest heater technologies and repair techniques. When your gas-powered unit goes down, we’ll send one of these seasoned specialists to your home at your earliest convenience. After inspecting the unit and determining the underlying cause of the problem, our technician will devise a cost-sensitive repair plan aimed at restoring your vital hot water supply as soon as possible. Once you approve this plan, we’ll implement the repair with high-quality parts specifically designed for the make and model of your conventional storage or tankless heater.

Heater Replacement

Some heaters have problems that are simply too severe to remedy with a repair. Unfortunately, in such a situation, the only viable option is heater replacement. You may also want to consider replacing your heater if your current unit requires frequent, expensive repairs. The experts at Orange Coast Plumbing can help you determine if a replacement makes more sense than a repair. We can also perform fresh system installations for your new or remodeled home.  

Count on Orange Coast Plumbing

Orange Coast Plumbing first opened for business way back in 1977. Since that time, we’ve been fully committed to providing communities throughout Southern California with the very best in comprehensive plumbing services. The core of our rock-solid reputation is a time-tested combination of traditional plumbing expertise and a constant exploration of the latest technological advances in our field. We round out this expertise with exemplary customer service, 24-hour availability for all emergencies, Better Business Bureau accreditation and a commitment to getting the job done at a price you can afford.  

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