I received a call the other day about hot water. It seems that my friend wanted more from her hot water heater. She had recently installed a new one, and her problem was that it took a long time for the water at her bathroom sink and shower to get hot.
"Didn't you have the same problem with your old water heater," I asked.
She replied that she did, but now that she was focusing on hot water, and since she paid such a large amount for this new heater, she felt that she should not have to wait so long for the hot water to arrive. "Also it seems like a waste of good water." I explained that even though she has a new heater for water, it was still a long distance from her bathroom, on the 2nd floor, to her utility room in the basement at the other end of the house. I described a circulating pump that could be installed to keep hot water constantly available in her master bath. In the end she decided to let the water run until it was hot, but she had made several statements that intrigued me.
Her husband was too busy, so she had to deal with the whole water heater replacement. "It was amazing," she said that she had "learned so much." She admitted, at the outset, that she didn't even know where her hot water heater was, what it looked like, or what fuel heated her water. She didn't think her husband knew these things either. She did know that she had municipal water because she paid the bill.
She said that even though the plumbing bill was painful, she actually became fascinated with the whole process. These were things she had never really thought about.
Somehow the water comes into the house cold, about 55 degrees, and it goes into a big white tank where it is heated by burning natural gas and then it gets pushed up to her shower.
"I had to make so many decisions. I even decided to change the fuel that heated the water, hoping I would save money in the long run." The old heater, which had sprung a leak and was 12 years old, was powered by electricity. Her furnace uses gas, so changing it over to gas wasn't too big a deal. However, "we had to vent it, unlike the electric model, and there wasn't a flue to vent it into. We chose a high efficiency heater that could be vented into a plastic pipe through the wall of her basement to the outside. "The worst part of the whole thing was that while we were making these decisions, we didn't have hot water for several days."
"The best thing is that now I think I know a lot more about that part of my house. The plumber was a cute fellow too, but very smart, and explained a lot to me that helped my husband and me make decisions. If you dig into it, this subject of heating water is really very complicated. Even though I think I just scratched the surface, I'm happy it happened. I don't feel so stupid about my how my house works."
Next month we will dig deeper into the world of the water heater: the different types, the major fuels, and the relative efficiencies of different kinds of heater-fuel combinations.
In the meantime, we welcome your questions and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org