Thursday, May 24, 2012

Replacing gas fired water heater

After raising and dispersing successful, non-dependent, self-reliant sons in our 'Traditional Family' home for many years, the house infrastructure is gradually cycling through periodic decline, requiring periodic renewal. I lie awake some nights thinking of what is due for attention. We have a sprinkler system to water the lawn. It is set to 'auto-on' at 5am.

 As it opens the valves, the natural gas fired water heater, in a hall utility closet containing the gas fired furnace, voices it's condition with a loud rumble due to the rapid decline in water pressure. Over the years after repeating the replacement cycle, we have noted that sound usually indicates the heater tank is accumulating hard, thick mineral deposits that cover it's heat transfer element, as well as the inside tank surfaces. Replacement is imminent.

Of course being a procrastinator, I pay little attention as possible to the repeated 'grumbling' warnings. I opened the closet doors to switch the furnace system off, closing the diverter doors over the furnace heat exchanger for the summer season. We have a unique evaporative cooling system in the dry deserts of the Southwestern USA. It must be enabled by duct opening, to the evap unit mounted on the roof. While the utility closet doors were open, I noted an amount of water in the safety capture pan below the old grumbling water heater tank.

Past experience told me it finally failed. The process to locate a replacement was begun. The first tank after ten years in our home, leaked, and the raised floor of the closet suffered the fate of water logged plywood. Only the final puddle of water noted by wife in bare feet, brought attention to the problem. I was working a full time job at the time and had no such time for a 'Do It Myself' project of such magnitude. My pay allowed us to call for a replacement water heater after 10 years of hard use. The tank chosen by wife was by frugal necessity, a low priced model professionally installed.

At the five year point, it Rumbled. I had some time available, and lots of energy at that point in my life, so she and I physically removed the tank to inspect it. Draining is recommended, seeing as water is one US pound a Pint and the tank contains 40 US gallons. Turning OFF the water heater gas flame long before draining, reduces the temperature. A long garden hose from the drain valve, carries the water to the front lawn.

Upon removing the external water line fittings of that heater tank, we noted the 'stalactites' and sediment clinging to every surface inside the tank. Forming a wand from 1/4" copper tubing fastened to our garden hose, made a forced water jet that knocked loose the mineral deposits, which drained away out of the drain pipe hole and other fitting orifices, as we rolled the tank around in the grass lawn.

That experience taught us lessons for the future. The economy tank had a cheap plastic drain device that leaked and clogged, as the periodic drain-off of sediment was performed. I replaced it with a better quality brass faucet made for the purpose. I noted the 'Dip' cold water inlet tube had been cheap clear plastic and cooked away in the 120 degree environment of the tank. I replaced it with a heat resistant type that swirls the water upon entry, supposedly self cleaning? The process on that second water heater, took all day for the two of us to accomplish. The refurbished economy tank lasted for over ten years.

That memory was distant in my mind, as I contemplated the task now at hand once again. Locating a new replacement was begun with a few phone calls to find approximate pricing. Samon's, a local distributor of plumbing and electrical items, was first on the list with a State
  • select brand at US $344.99. 'Lowe's and 'Home Depot' were somewhat comparable in price. 'Sears' was a bit higher.

    Lowe's was the first stop to orient myself to the project. The plumbing dept representative was very informative on all models of 'Whirlpool' brand. He told of the various features and advantages. I went from the cheapest model to a mid level type, eventually choosing the economy model. Taking it home in the back of the SUV (why we own one) and calling 'heavy duty' son for assistance, I looked forward to the task on the next day.

    During the middle of the night I reviewed my new purchase in my mind, after awakening (hate it when that happens). The man at Lowe's mentioned a source of information 'On Line'. I awoke in the middle of the night and did my search on-line. The Whirlpool 'complaints' stood out on the search list. Disturbed about the list of  the year 2012 complaints against Whirlpool, I returned the unopened box early the next morning. I noted the weight of the unit at 118 US pounds. The return desk clerk immediately cut open the unopened New box to inspect the heater? I asked why. Seems that there are a number of 'customers' that buy new devices, opening the box with great care and re-boxing their Old unit for return and cash back. Those type of 'humanity' do not deserve to Exist in this world.

    Now shopping again, I went to Samon's. Questions were answered to my satisfaction. The first note was the quality brass drain valve. Asking about the cold water 'Dip' tube revealed a special high temperature type similar to the one I had installed in the other heater many years ago. A lower mesh wrapped filter material around the very substantial circular base frame,  provided enhanced protection from igniting stray vapors. The sealed combustion chamber with little square glass observation port,  provided even more safety.

     The factory warranty was 6 years on the unit I selected. Another model that cost substantially more, was listed ten years warranty. The only perceptible difference was a larger diameter wrap case, with thicker insulation for colder ambient installation. The weight of the model I chose (this is important) was 20 US pounds 'More' than the economy Whirlpool brand. Satisfied with the 'State Select' brand and the attractive price, I returned home to prepare to install the new appliance.

    Son arrived and we began to remove the old unit. I had previously shut down the city water supply and drained the leaking unit, disconnecting all pipes after shutting OFF the gas valve. I apparently forgot how difficult and heavy the tank was to remove from the utility closet in the tight hallway. It took us a couple of hours total, using rudimentary jacks and straps to raise the tank above the safety pan I had installed years ago.

    The safety pan was installed under our second unit to capture any leakage, which it did. I found out that a major cause of 'in home' fires, is a gas fired water heater tank, that quietly leaks, rots the wood support structure and falls gradually, igniting the surroundings while emitting deadly carbon monoxide. Hence the reason for the 4 inch deep safety pan under the tank.

    Always helpful son, loaded the old rusted unit into his truck for disposal. We worked and sweated through the lifting and installation of the new unit. If not assisted by a strong and resourceful helper and having some degree of technology in your background, I would strongly suggest having a professional install these appliances.

    After carefully monitoring the pressure test and tightening fittings, exhausted son left for the day, I finished the process of connecting and testing, making sure to use code compliant gas line Yellow Teflon sealant tape on the gas inlet fittings. Attaching the flue involved a bit of adjustment, as the location somewhat shifted for the unit.

     A soapy water solution tested for leaks. No bubbles. Following the instructions for igniting, resulted in the flame appearing in the little glass window. Darkness is required to observe the flame color. Blue is perfect. A yellow flame was apparent for a short duration while settling in. The impulse button Piezio ignition is a pleasant upgrade from the old 'match lit' systems of the past. The process indicated pressing the button 90 times while the gas line purged any air from the regulator to the little 'pilot' flame.

    The water is now hot, 120 degrees and no leaks. The system 'circulating' hot water from the 'Grundfoss' Pump is on a small electronic timer (mechanical integral timer failed) so we have warm water as soon as we open the faucets. We are ready for hopefully at the least, ten more years of service.

     Our city water wells are of a medium mineral content, so collecting deposits is always a problem shortening the life of even the 'glass lined' tanks. I did pull out and note the far more substantial heat deflector core inserted down the central flame chamber. The new 'State Select' unit presumably has a smoother whirling pattern of flame than the old economy unit. Maybe with the improvements, we can expect longer life and more efficiency?

    There are many new technologies to consider today. Computer boards with system displays are now in several controllers. 'Flash' boilers that heat water On demand. Hybrids that use a compressor heat pump as well as electric types that have computerized 'rate peak' times co-ordinated with the power generating companies. Propane burning for Mobile Homes, solar heating systems for 'Off-Grid' remote locations are another direction on the market. The cost variation is wide, from thousands of US dollars, to the low hundreds.

    Every system has it's advantages and disadvantages, depending on each individual's installation, lifestyle and requirements. "The more complex, the costlier, the more maintenance intensive"... is my rule. Serving as a technician for my lifetime career, alerted my experience based on complexity. I usually settle for basic simplicity in my life.

    Such is everyday life in the Greatest Nation the world has ever known. The United States of America. "One Nation Under GOD"

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