Being knowledgeable about your home appliances helps you make informed decisions or prevent the stress and struggles brought about by a broken unit. If you have a water heater or plan to buy one, here is all the information you need to know about it, including the different types, parts, and how they work.

What Is a Water Heater?

A water heater is a large metal cylinder with a heating element. It is usually kept in the utility room, basement, or closet. It has a thermostat that raises or lowers the temperature of water you need for your home to do chores like cooking, cleaning, or bathing.

There are two types of water heaters: tank and tankless water heaters. Let’s begin by looking at how tank water heaters work.

How Tank Water Heaters Work

Depending on the time of the year, water coming into your home will either be cool or cold. The temperature of this water isn’t sufficient to use in the dishwater, for laundry, or to take a bath or shower. You will need an appliance that can heat up water to the required temperatures. And this is where water heaters come in.

Most water heaters you will find in homes have a tall drum (a big metallic cylinder) with pipes connected to your water system. Of course, there are other modern types that we shall look at that don’t have a tank.

Most people use traditional water heaters that have a large cylinder filled with water and a heating element inside, usually at the bottom. They are powered by natural gas, propane gas, electricity, or oil. For water heaters that use gas and oil, there is a combustion chamber within the tank that is connected to the heating elements. For heaters that use electricity to heat up the heating elements, electric current is passed through a resistant material which converts it to heat.

Electric water heaters use a thermostat mounted at the side of the tank to sense the water temperatures. When the water reaches the required temperature, the thermostat will trigger a switch to turn off the electric current. And if it goes below the set temperature, it will trigger the switch to allow the current to flow. Gas water heaters also use a thermostat, but in addition to that, they use a sensor known as a thermocouple. If the water in the tank is below the required temperature, the thermostat will signal the gas control valve, which works with the thermocouple to turn the burner on.

When you set your thermostat to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the water inside the tank will be heated to that temperature, and the burner will periodically turn on and off to maintain the heated water at that temperature since hot water is less dense and thus will rise to the top, whereas the cold water goes to the bottom where it is heated. The outlet pipe is located at the top of the tank to take out the hot water to where it is required.

Parts of a Water Heater

1. Gas supply valve – This is used to turn the gas to the water heater on and off.

2. Thermocouple – This is a device used to monitor the pilot flame within the water heater. If the flame is too much, it shuts off the gas supply valve.

3. Burner – This water heater part ignites the natural gas into a flame that heats the tank. The electric water tank has a burner that uses a resistant material (usually nickel-chrome alloy) that converts electric current to heat.

4. Thermostat – The thermostat controls how hot the water inside the tank gets. You can set the temperatures from 120 to 180 degrees. But, manufacturers recommend that the right temperature for your water heater be between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because these temperatures do not pose a scalding risk. Moreover, it is hot enough for household use.

5. Drain valve – At the bottom of the tank, you will see a valve that allows you to drain the water out.

6. Insulation – Water heater tanks have a white wrap that traps the heat inside. Make sure that the insulation is in good condition to always save on energy bills.

7. Heating elements – These devices transfer the heat from the burner to the water.

8. Dip Tube – This is a tube that delivers the cool or cold water from your home water pipes to the water heater. They are normally found at the bottom because cool water settles at the bottom, where it meets the heating element from the burner.

9. Anticorrosion Anode Rod (also known as the sacrificial node) – It is made of aluminum or magnesium with a steel core. They are sacrificial because their job is to corrode from the minerals present in the water. When they are fully corroded, the minerals will start attacking the water heater’s metallic part, including the heating elements and the cylinder wall.

10. Hot water outlet – This is where the heated water exists from the tank to the required areas in the house.

11. Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve – When there is excess steam in the cylinder, this valve allows some pressure to be released to prevent it from exploding.

12. Overflow pipe – This is where the excess pressure or steam is released into.

13. Flue pipe – Gas water heaters use propane or natural gas as the source of heat. When these gases burn, they produce carbon monoxide, which is evacuated by the flue pipe.

14. Draft diverter – This part gathers the carbon monoxide gas from the flue pipe before releasing it to the exhaust vent at the top of the tank, which safely releases it outside.

An electric water heater has the same parts except for the thermocouple, gas valve, flue pipe, and draft diverter.

People prefer tank water heaters because they are cheaper to purchase and don’t require much maintenance. But, they come with high utility bills because water has to be kept hot inside the drum for use whenever you need it. It is advisable to set the thermostat at lower temperatures when you do not require hot water, then turn it on higher when you want to use it.

How Tankless Water Heaters Work

Tankless water heaters don’t store hot water for future use. Instead, they heat water on demand.

When you turn on hot water, a sensor will send a signal to the tankless water heater to heat water to the preset temperatures. If you are using a gas tankless water heater, the signal will turn on a fan inside the unit, which draws in air that opens the gas valve to ignite the burner. On the other hand, electric tankless water heaters have a sensor that activates the heating unit.

Many people are now switching to tankless water heaters because they are energy-efficient, last about twice as long as tank water heaters, and provide more flexible options. On the downside, they come at higher up-front costs than their counterparts and are not ideal for families. It can run out of hot water when one person uses hot water in the bathroom, while the other uses it for laundry or dishwashing.

Water heaters are quite easy to understand and work with. If you feel like your water is not heating like it used to, it cools too fast or produces weird noises, then something is amiss. If you are in Dartmouth, NS, and surrounding areas, contact Shines Energy today to schedule an appointment for water heater services, including installation, maintenance, and repair, or for any information regarding water heaters. We also offer indoor air quality and purification services. Contact us!

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