As we enter 2009, I hope all of you, my friends, have been able to hold your own through the rough times of the past year. What a ride we’re on, eh? I just wanted to remind everyone that our customers need us now more than ever. The heating plants have been running now for some time, and the “startup kinks” have been worked out, so I want you to start thinking about domestic water heating.
In my experience, domestic water heating now uses about the same amount of energy, yearly, as domestic space heating—good for us. The large Jacuzzi-style tubs sold at the big box stores require a lot of hot water—good for us. The investment our customers have made in new and larger water heaters is substantial—again, good for us. Now comes the maintenance issues; this, too, can be good for us if we don’t simply give it away.
Remember in the old days, the water heater was something we didn’t pay much attention to, was it? Sure, we went through the motions of tuning up the oil burner, but we never paid any attention to the tank, did we? With the cost of a water heater replacement, we owe it to our customers to keep the tank in as good a shape as possible, and that means maintenance. Good for us!
These are some guidelines for you:
Check the temperature and pressure relief valve on your water heater, sometimes referred to as the T&P valve. Look for evidence of corrosion, leaks, improper installation or modification (believe me, there are many), etc. A T&P valve that is missing, modified or blocked is extremely dangerous and can lead to an explosion that can cause severe damage or even fatalities at a building. Check out this Web site for an example www.waterheaterblast.com. I now replace mine yearly. If you explain to the customer the safety issue, I’m sure they will pay you to replace the one on their water heater.
Look for evidence of leaks in the hot water tank. Some leaks will not appear until it has become a major problem. Sometimes the leak starts as a slight drip that drips into the combustion chamber and vaporizes with the heat. Also, don’t overlook improper installations either. For example, most water heaters are intended to be installed in a vertical position. Installing a hot water tank horizontally or in a hole in a crawl space is likely to cause early failure of the heater—violate the manufacturer's guidelines and it may be dangerous. I have seen them; they are out there.
If the oil-fired water heater does not have its own draft regulator installed and working properly, it is impossible to tune the oil burner for optimum performance. And don’t forget to check the drain valve. Water heater manufacturers recommend that their water tank be drained periodically. When water is heated, minerals in the water become separated and fall to the bottom. Flushing the tank will help remove any debris or mineral deposits that have accumulated at the bottom of the water heater tank. Removing this debris can extend the life of the hot water tank, especially where electric and gas fired water heaters are involved. But since few people remember to open and drain the tank, it may be that the drain valve does not open easily, or worse, it won't close. Your customer should be informed that this is their responsibility, but it is your responsibility to make sure it operates correctly.
Where is the heating system electrical shutoff switch (the emergency switch) located? It should be located in an area that can be accessed from a remote location to the equipment. The head of the stairs is quite common, outside the mechanical room is another. Some homes have the emergency switch hidden in a kitchen cabinet—not a good thing. Advise your customer the purpose of an emergency switch.
The anode rod in the water heater tank is a sacrificial part of the unit. Its purpose is to prevent the tank from the effects of electrolysis by corroding. It's a small job to pull and replace the anode. It’s a small price for the customer to pay for to protect their investment. Don’t overlook this item as a source of income. If the complaint is that the hot water smells like rotten eggs, I would definitely check the condition of the anode rod.
Since my space here is short, we will continue with a few other items to look at on the old water heater next month. Find out how long it takes for your customer to get second or third degree burns and how fast they can dial their lawyer in case it happens. Don’t get burned by a mistake. Until then, let me hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.