Is My Water Heater Dying?

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by larryleveen, Oct 22, 2008.

  1. larryleveen

    larryleveen New Member

    Messages:
    43
    Location:
    WA
    I have a tank gas water heater that was installed before we bought the house. I am guessing it is about 10+ years old. It has performed very well the past several years (lots of hot water for the two of us) even with the thermostat being turned down to a minimal amount to save energy.

    Recently, though I noticed that my morning shower (the "second shower" of teh morning as I get up later) just wasn't as hot as usual. We have always been good at conserving water with shorter showers and a flow restrictor during "soap up", and I don't think it is a behavior change on our parts. No matter how the shower tap was adjusted, the temperature would not go up. I set the thermostat dial up higher in a couple of steps and that has helped, but I wonder if this unit is on its way out.

    FYI, we have not done _any_ maintenance to the unit and are not aware if we need to.

    I'm just trying to figure out if there is anything we can do to improve the performance of the water heater, or if I need to plan for replacing it. Any help or suggestions are appreciated.
  2. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,334
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    It sound like your dip tube has gone south. This is fairly easy to check. The dip tube is a plastic tube that slips into the cold water intake at the top of the tank and reaches to the bottom of the tank so that the incoming cold water goes to the bottom of the tank where it heats and at the same time forces the hot water to the top of the tank where the outlet is located. When the tube fails, the cold water mixes with the hot water at the top of the tank so the water will never get to normal temperature. To check and replace if necessary, just shut the water off, disconnect the inlet pipe on top of the tank. The dip tube is a flanged tube that just hangs by its flange in the top of the inlet. Fish it out. If it is broken, just get a new one from virtually any hardware store or plumbing department. If the tube is too long, trim the lower end of the tube so that the tube goes nearly to the bottom of the tank. You have to worry about being too precise, just close. Then just drop the into the tank and replace the intake.
  3. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,334
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Also, don't worry about the piece of old tube inside the tank. You can't get it out and it won't hurt anything.
  4. larryleveen

    larryleveen New Member

    Messages:
    43
    Location:
    WA
    holy cats -- no dip tube at all!

    So, there was no accessible flange and dip tube to pull out once I had removed the cold water supply!

    I wondered if there was possibly another attachment for the dip tube other than a flange (hey, I'm a newb and wouldn't know), so I stuck a very thick rigid wire that is curved into the tube to try and feel how far down any attached tube might go -- the wire would drag on the inside of the tube wall and then "release" as it came out the other end. There was no resistance once the wire was just past the bit of pipe sticking out of the tank, and the wire could easily contact the inside of the tank wall! I take that to mean that there is no dip tube at all attached anymore. That would also explain bits of white plastic-looking debris in the aerators of faucets in my home, wouldn't it?

    So, it looks like I really need a dip tube indeed.

    Also, I've never EVER drained the hot water heater. Seems pretty simple from the instructions here, but I welcome any other comments about this or the dip tube issue.

    Lastly, I'm going to crosspost (?) the dip tube issue as it's own thread, so I'm apologizing in advance.
  5. Ladiesman271

    Ladiesman271 Homeowner

    Messages:
    221

    Your incoming cold water is now colder (AKA winter season) than before. Turn up the thermostat temperature for the hot water.

    What is the temperature of the hot water? If you don't know the temperature, measure it.
  6. larryleveen

    larryleveen New Member

    Messages:
    43
    Location:
    WA
    respectfully disagree....

    A few reasons your suggestion doesn't seem right:

    - We've used the WH for years and never had this problem in any season.

    - There was no flanged dip tube in my heater when I just checked!

    I think the dip tube _might have been_ attached by a different method than a "hanging flange", but has now broken off.

    I'm open to other ideas, but I think I found the issue -- just hope a replacement dip tube will fit if the old one had a different attachment method.
  7. Ladiesman271

    Ladiesman271 Homeowner

    Messages:
    221
    At 10+ years for the water heater, I would probably change out the heater near term (AKA before it leaks). Your anode rod is probably shot at this point in time.

    Give the plumbers the make and model of the water heater. Perhaps they can give you an idea of the remaining life of that water heater.




    .
  8. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,917
    Location:
    New England
    Replacing a dip tube is cheap, and will restore the tank to what it was before it broke up. No guarantees on how much longer the whole thing will last...could be weeks, or years.
  9. it is dead, dead, dead.....

    if your heater is 10 yrs old,

    and the dip tube has broken off in the heater,

    it is dead.....


    an old corroding dip tube is laying in your heater
    and in time , it will start breaking up into
    small peices and it will start to clog up all your faucets..




    change it before it does you more damage..
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2008
  10. larryleveen

    larryleveen New Member

    Messages:
    43
    Location:
    WA
    From what I've read, nobody can predict the remaining life of anything well (water heaters OR the economy). It's clear that the unit is "in its golden years" though. While I am all about prudence, and would love to reclaim more space in our utility room by going tankless (save your flames for the water, please), I think I have good reason to try to keep our current unit going for a bit:

    1. The particular place our GHWH is located -- a concrete floor utility room that has almost no wood -- wouldn't spell disaster if it leaked. I go through that room twice a day at least, so I would notice an issue pretty fast and could shut off the water.

    2. It costs $4.20 for a dip tube from Ace hardware. If that restores the hot water "stamina" then I consider it a worthwhile expense, and I'd even throw an extra $20 at the unit for a new anode. If the new dip tube doesn't help, then I'll replace the unit.

    Sound reasonable (though I really like the previous post's point which I reply to next/below)?
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2008
  11. larryleveen

    larryleveen New Member

    Messages:
    43
    Location:
    WA
    specify dip tube potential to damage plumbing

    Hmm, that's a great point. I gotta say, it was pretty disconcerting that I couldn't prove/sense that there was ANY dip tube in my heater when I checked today, yet my aerators recently had white chunks in them (I haven't done the vinegar test yet though, but am assuming it's dip tube bits and not calcium-whatever).
    As silly as it might seem, can you elaborate on what damage a corroding dip tube might cause for the rest of a plumbing system. I know I'm asking you to speculate a bit, but it's all about weighing info and making a decision about whether to replace the water heater now or later.
    Is there any way to backflush a plumbing system by running water through a hose connected to a faucet and letting the backflow come out the HWH drain valve into a connected hose to a safe place?

    Thanks!
  12. lawsuits and recalls from the mid 90s

    if you have a water heater that is about 10
    years old, it could have been at the tail end of
    the big dip tube fiasco of the mid 90s....

    these cheap dip tubes broke up and dissolved into chunks
    that totally clogged up washerless faucets, washing
    machines, and dishwashers...

    your tube is presently sitting down in the boiling section
    of your heater and will eventually break down into
    small peices of egg shell particles that will eventually
    get sucked up the hotline and spread through the home...


    you cant get it out in a reasonably easy fasion...

    I cant do it, and I wont waste the time trying to,

    so most likely you cant do it either..

    but if you can find a way to do this
    please call me with your idea
    so that I can patent the idea and then reitre.......


    you cant back flush something that has this plastic tube
    dissolveing in it


    simply change the heater....

    Last edited: Nov 28, 2008
  13. It's over with,


    replace the water heater.


    Thread Over, DONE KAPUT, Fin' Complete. Grand Finale, Horse is dead, not breathing.



    Funny how the cadillac is running on 2 cylinders and because it sounds like it's running......there's no harm with the black clouds rolling out the pipe thinking it won't kill you or the kids.
  14. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,334
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    I will give you a different point of view based on my own experience. I have a Richmond (Rheem) heater that I installed in 1996. Yes, there were problems with dip tubes supplied to manufacturers during the 1990s, and I had one of them that I had to replace about 6 or 8 years ago. I have flushed the tank 3 times since then, and while I have flushed some remnants of the old dip tube, I have had zero debris show up in my sinks or shower. I will grant the nay sayers could be right, a dip tube may not cure the problem or if it does, it may be short lived. But it is a cheap gamble to try it and if you get lucky as I did, it could prolong the life of your heater for a long time.
  15. Ladiesman271

    Ladiesman271 Homeowner

    Messages:
    221


    Not a bad idea. I went tankless (gas) years ago.
  16. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,917
    Location:
    New England
    Tankless depends a lot on where you live, how cold th ewinter water is coming into the house, and your expectations. Given a good WH with decent insulation, a tank is still cheaper and requires almost no maintenance. A tankless will cost more to buy, install, and do regular maintenance to, and it may not end up that much (if any) less expensive.

    My indirect tank on my boiler is sized such that I could essentially take an endless shower and may not ask for heat inbetween uses, so the standby losses are almost zero.

    A tankless system may require an upgrade to either your gas supply or electrical supply to provide decent hot water flow, especially in the winter (my incoming winter water temps can approach freezing). I also found that low flow turn-on can be a pain.
  17. larryleveen

    larryleveen New Member

    Messages:
    43
    Location:
    WA
    I live in the Pacific Northwest near Puget Sound. It doesn't get very cold here because of the moderating effect of the water. Therefore I think that inflow temperature would not be very low.

    The two of us use little hot water compared to your average American household, and also are good about using flow restrictors when soaping up in the shower.

    We are very interested in tankless for saving _floor space_ in our utility room which makes tankless attractive.

    I have been told that I _would_ need an upgrade in the size of the gas line for a tankless system.

    So, with that in mind, I am interested in comments about how appropriate folks think tankless might be for us.

    It is my understanding that "the devil is in the details" when it comes to tankless installs. Most bad experiences come from lousy workmanship, but someone who knows their stuff can do it and make it work properly.
  18. kingsotall

    kingsotall Plunger/TurdPuncher

    Then a new thread would be appropriate for comments associated with said topic.
  19. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,334
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    I agree this thread is getting into an entirely different topic, but I will tag one comment to it. Tankless heaters have been shown to cost more over the long haul than conventional heaters. They are a great idea, but have not reached the point of being practical yet.
  20. vidman64

    vidman64 New Member

    Messages:
    1
    At what point does electric become more economical

    I have a gas water heater, about the same age and it is experiencing the same problems, and I will check the tube to see if it is still there. But, if I determine that the heater is kaput, do I just look at therm charges on my gas, and kwh charges on my electric to make a decision on what to buy?
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