Is Your Tap Water Causing Water Heater Problems?

Water quality can negatively affect water heater function and durability. Let’s take a look at the facts and strategies for protecting your heater.

How Tap Water Quality Affects Your Water Heater

Tucked away in a closet or basement corner by itself, the water heater is one of the most expensive and crucial elements of the modern home. And yet, for many people, it is also one of the least understood appliances. Did you know, for example, that the quality of your tap water can play a significant role in the efficiency and lifespan of your water heater?

A 2013 study by Pacific Northwest National Laboratories for the US Department of Energy found that the hardness of public water does indeed affect water heater function. Depending on the type of water heater and the quirks of the local water source, these effects can be drastic.

“Hardness” refers to levels of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals dissolved in a given amount of water. Hard water has more of these minerals, while softer water has less. Hard water is so called because the increased minerals create soap scum and make it more difficult for soap to work effectively. The water also leaves behind small deposits of minerals. These deposits can build up over time; these deposits are called, “scale.”

In electric and gas storage-type water heaters (i.e., models that use a tank), minerals settle at the bottom of the tank as hard water is held there. If not regularly removed, the scale deposits can become thick enough to insulate the water from the heating elements. This results in a shorter working life for the heater. It also drives up your energy bill, since it takes more power to heat water once the scale has built up.

Soft water, on the other hand, is much less likely to create scale deposits. Some people are concerned that artificial water softeners can also cause corrosion, since they add sodium to water as part of the softening process. However, this is not the case. Water softeners add less salt than most people eat in a day and far less than the amount of sodium needed to cause corrosion.

Identifying and Treating Tap Water Problems in Your Water Heater

If you’re concerned about the effects of tap water on your water heater, first find out if you have hard or soft water by contacting a qualified water treatment specialist or asking your local water supplier for the results of their most recent quality assessments.

If you have an electric or gas water heater and find you have hard water, check for scale deposit buildup in the bottom of the tank, especially if it covers the heating element. Remove the scale by draining the tank or contact a plumber to assist with this process. Repeat this process every 1 – 2 years. You can also lower the set temperature to discourage buildup in the future.

Inspect the water heater for any signs of corrosion. Check the tank’s anode rod. The anode rod is  a metal bar designed to attract corrosive molecules. All water heaters with tanks should have anode rods. Some rods require periodic replacement, while powered anode rods last longer. Inspect the rod every 1 – 2 years and replace when it shows signs of corrosion. It’s critical to check for corrosion if your hot water has a strong odor or brownish color.  

Protecting Your Water Heater

While water that is very hard can do real harm to water heaters, most or all of this is preventable through educating yourself about local water quality and performing proactive maintenance such as yearly tank inspections and the methods explained above.

For households with hard water or too much iron, you may consider a traditional or compact water softener or iron removal system. A reverse osmosis filter, meanwhile, removes many other contaminants, leaving your home with safe, high-quality water. A qualified water treatment company can test your water and recommend a solution that is best for your home.

At Hague Quality Water of Maryland, we can help you assess the health of your water heater, repair any issues, and recommend and install a replacement unit when necessary. We can also work out a regular maintenance schedule, so you can rest assured that your water heater is always in tip-top condition.

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