Complete Guide to Hot Water Heater Components

As we come out of the winter season, the time of year when our water heaters work the hardest, it’s a good time to pay a little bit of attention to your water heater.

Your water heater is a relatively simple device, invented over one-hundred years ago and remaining almost completely unchanged in design. It’s so simple, we’re going to break down the major parts of your water heater, what they do, and how you can stay on top of the condition of your water heater, and if needed, arrange for a hot water heater repair in Houston.

First, we’ll go over the parts and components that are common to both gas and electric fired water heaters.

The largest component of your water heater is the storage tank and is made from carbon steel that is infused with a glass coating on the inside to prevent corrosion. Due to the differing coating process used by various manufacturers, the coating of the tank is often not as evenly spread as it should be. The uneven glass coverage will accelerate the corrosion process in a tank, causing it to have a reduced lifespan.

Water heaters with a steel storage tank use a device called an “anode rod,” which is a steel wire core coated in either magnesium or aluminum. When placed in a steel water tank, the less reactive metal in the anode rod will “sacrifice” itself to protect the tank by corroding faster than the tank steel.

The dip tube is connected to the water supply inlet at the top of the storage tank and carries cold water to the bottom of the tank to be heated. These dip tubes are usually made of out a polypropylene plastic that after just a few years in hard water will begin to deteriorate. Once the dip tube begins to fail, there will be evidence of a cold-water leak near the top of the water heater.

The discharge pipe is also located at the top of your water heater tank, and as the name would suggest, this is the pipe through which your hot water flows to the rest of your home. Like every other component of your water heater that we discuss in this blog, your discharge pipe is made of metal. Like every other metal component in your water heater, it is susceptible to leaks caused by corrosion and constant heating/cooling cycles.

The cold-water supply valve is also located at the top of your water heater tank (yes, it can be crowded and confusing up there), and is used to stop water from flowing into your storage tank. It is CRUCIAL to know not only where your cold-water supply valve is for your water heater; you need to know how to be able to turn the supply off in case of a leak. There are several YouTube videos that can show you exactly how to turn off the water supply, or call Richard or John in the office, and they’ll be happy to talk you through the process!

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (and old for that reference) supply valves that are made of any type of metal will begin to rust and corrode within a few years of use. If your home is still sporting the original water heater supply valves from when it was built…chances are it’s a great time to consider replacing them with a hot water heater repair in Houston service call from Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning.

Some components are exclusive to the type of water heater you have, either gas or electric, and oddly enough, are also susceptible to wear and tear through their normal useful life.

Obviously, exclusive to gas-fired water heaters, the gas burner assembly is made up of several components, all of which need to be inspected and serviced regularly. The main burner provides heat for the water tank, the thermocouple monitors the status of the pilot light and informs the ignition switch whether to fire. The thermostat monitors the temperature of the water in the tank and engages gas flow when the water dips below a specific temperature.

If you’re experiencing a failure in just one of the gas burner assembly components, Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning recommends replacing the entire assembly during a single hot water heater repair in Houston service call.

The heating elements in electric water heaters are also known as immersion heaters, as they are fully immersed in water for the extent of their useful life. Every electric water heater has two of these heating elements, one at the top and another at the bottom of the tank. These devices are inserted into the storage tank through two threaded openings and screwed into place.

Failure with an electric water heater element is imminent (see what I did there?) as it is made of reactive metal and will eventually corrode and cause electrical issues. In most cases, the reason for an electric water heater repair call will be for the lower heating element, as this is the hardest working of the pair. Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning recommends replacing both the upper and lower heating elements at the same time so that the workload between the two remains similar.

Finally, at the tail end of our journey, we must give at least an honorable mention to the service of the drain valve. Widely ignored in the plumbing community, kind of like Rudolph at the North Pole, the drain valve is EXTREMELY important to the life of your water heater. It is this valve that allows for draining the contents of your water storage tank and flush out any sediment and other impurities that may be in there.

Water heater maintenance, regardless of whether it’s a gas or electric unit, is the most crucial factor in how long your water heater is going to last. When properly maintained, and with good water quality, your water heater should last anywhere between seven and twelve years.

If you’re experiencing problems with any of the components of your water heater, call Nick’s Plumbing and Air Conditioning Services to set up your water heater repair service call with us. Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning have been the Houston water heater repair experts since 1979, and with over one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand happy customers, we look forward to being YOUR plumbing company.

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