Your water heater isn't as efficient as you'd like it to be, but you're not sure of the reason. Maybe it's a factor of age. Maybe it's a poorly designed or installed appliance. Or maybe there's another reason. While you might not associate hard water buildup with your water heater's function, minerals that get into the appliance through the water line can cause major problems.
If your hot water heater is working overtime just to keep your showers tepid, it's possible that the water itself is at fault. Before investing in a new hot water heater, take a look at how hard water can impact this type of plumbing appliance.
Hard Water Basics
Understanding how hard water can affect a water heater first requires a basic knowledge of the problem itself. Hard water is the same water that runs through your pipes — you drink it, wash your dishes in it, brush your teeth with it, and bathe or shower with it. The only difference between hard water and what you might consider "regular" water is the mineral content.
Hard water includes higher amounts of dissolved calcium and magnesium. Drinking or brushing your teeth with hard water shouldn't cause serious health problems — in small quantities, the minerals in the water may actually even have some health benefits, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The real downside of hard water, then, is its negative impact on appliances and plumbing systems.
The extra minerals in the water don't necessarily wash away but stick behind, creating a filmy buildup on your dishes, shower walls, and inside of your hot water heater.
Water Heater Efficiency
When hard water sits in your hot water heater, the minerals start to build up on the sides and settle on the bottom of the tank. The left-behind residue, commonly known as limescale, on the tank's floor forces the hot water heater to work harder just to heat the water. In other words, the buildup prevents the efficient transfer of heat from the heating element to the tank and water.
The harder your hot water heater has to work, the more energy it uses. This results in higher electric or gas bills (depending on what type of appliance you have) and may cause your unit to fail prematurely.
Along with reducing energy efficiency, limescale sediment inside of the tank can coat the walls. This adds an extra, and totally unnecessary, layer of insulation. While it might seem like the more insulation your water heater has the better, this isn't the case.
A thick limescale layer can cause overheating, burning out your appliance. This can result in a serious situation that requires immediate attention and probable replacement of the water heater itself.
Layers of mineral sediment leave less room in the tank for water. The more limescale you have, the more times your tank has to refill. By reducing the amount of usable space inside of the appliance's tank, you're also lowering the energy efficiency.
Over time the layers of limescale may cause your water to turn prematurely cold, or you may notice that the water heater is running more often than normal.
How can you fix a limescale problem in your hot water heater? There are two ways to look at the problem: the first is as a water issue. If you have hard water, using a whole-home water softener can eliminate the issue.
The second part of the equation is the actual limescale that's already in the tank. You'll need to have a professional plumber inspect and drain your tank. The plumber will then recommend repairs or replacement, based on the extent of the damage. Whether you clean the tank or get a new one, if your water continues to remain hard, you'll have a repeat problem. An experienced plumber can help you avoid future hard water issues with your hot water heater.
Do you need help with your water heater? Contact Ritz Plumbing for more information.