Not Enough Hot Water

With so many fixtures and appliances relying on a healthy supply of hot water, running short on a regular basis is enough to put your daily household schedule (not to mention your comfort) in a real bind. Yet the solutions often are relatively simple. If your existing hot water heater used to meet your daily needs but now lags behind, it could be due to one a few common problems. In addition to checking these out, take a hard look at your hot water consumption-there may be a reason you're now using more than before.

Damaged Dip Tube

The dip tube is a plastic pipe inside the water heater that delivers the cold water supply to the bottom of the tank, where heat is applied to it. The heated water is drawn from the top of the tank. If the tube is cracked, split or broken anywhere, the cold water might be mixing with the hot at the top, resulting in lukewarm water at the tap. A bad dip tube can be replaced; consult the heater's manufacturer.

Bad Element on Electric Heaters

Electric water heaters typically have two heating elements, one upper and one lower. If one burns out or otherwise fails to work properly, you'll still get some hot water, but the hot water temperature might be lower than normal (indicating the upper element is bad) or the quantity of hot water might be reduced (indicating the lower element is bad). In some cases, the thermostat controlling each element is the cause of failure and should be reset or replaced.

Heat Loss

Hot water temperature drops en route from the water heater to the fixture or appliance. How much heat is lost depends on the length of the hot water pipe and the air temperature surrounding the pipe. If the pipe runs through an unheated crawlspace or basement or along an exterior wall, the hot water temperature drop can be significant, especially in winter. The solution here is to insulate the hot water pipes. Also consider a hot water recirculating system for distant fixtures.

Sediment in Tank

Sediment buildup at the bottom of a heater tank reduces the efficiency and effectiveness of the burner (gas heaters), often resulting in lower hot water temperature at the tap. Help reduce sediment by draining one gallon of water from your tank each month.

Thermostat Setting

While 120 to 125 degrees is the recommended hot water temperature setting, heat loss and other normal factors may make this too low during the colder months of the year. Try bumping up the setting by 5 degrees or so during winter, but always beware of scalding temperatures at the tap, especially if there are kids or elderly residents in your home.

Easy Ways to Reduce Hot Water Consumption

If your water heater is in good condition but undersized for your household, reducing your hot water usage is the easiest and cheapest solution.

  • Install low-flow showerheads. All new showerheads provide a maximum of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), compared with up to 5 or more gpm of many older heads. Some new heads are as low as 1 gpm.
  • Install low-flow aerators on bathroom faucets, especially if you have kids who tend to leave the water running.
  • Use a cold-water rinse for all laundry loads. Warm water rinses no better than cold, so there's no reason to use it.
  • Run only full loads in the dishwasher and clothes washer.
  • Let the dishwasher do the work. Don't waste a lot of hot water pre-rinsing dishes in the sink; just scrape off the food (or soak dried-on food) with a little rinse water.

Get the most out of your hot water heater. Help it run efficiently by reducing the amount of water you use. If you think it's time for a new water heater, decide which type is best for your needs.

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