Our house is not haunted, but just try to tell that to our guests. "Our water heater makes funny noises," I warn. First timers respond with a smile and a nod ... and forget.
"What was that noise?" is the predictable next-morning question. Some say it sounds like a big, clumsy man on the roof. Children tend to think more of a monster-in-the-wall theory.
It's the water heater. It makes funny noises. I've never understood why, and since hot water keeps coming through the pipes at the right time, we've just learned to live with the loud rumbling.
Houston handyman Jim Brown says we're lucky. The thing should have failed by now given the hardness of the water in our area. At the very least, we've been spending way too much money to keep Big Belch running.
The problem is sediment. When the water containing high levels of calcium and minerals is heated or frozen, the dissolved salts precipitate out. You'll see it in the bottom of a glass that contained ice and was left undisturbed several hours. It's the residue left in a pot after boiling water. Your water heater is like a big tea kettle. Over time you will hear your water heater rumbling when it is heating. It isn't about to blow up, but it is now much less efficient.
Mineral deposits can cause several problems. In all cases, they take up space, so your water heater holds less water. After cutting them open, Brown said that he's seen water heaters with deposits 2 feet deep -- over 40 percent of the tank capacity displaced by sediment! Research shows that for every 1/2 inch of sediment on the bottom of a gas-fired water heater, 70 percent more fuel is required to heat the water.
Manufacturers recommend that we regularly drain and flush our water heaters to get rid of the sediment. How often depends on the mineral load in your water, the amount of hot water used and whether a water softener is part of your system.
To drain, Brown says to first turn off the power. If your water heater is gas powered, twist the dial on the thermostat from the on position to off. If it's electric, flip the circuit breaker off at the service panel that controls the water heater, or flip off the main breaker. Next, shut off the cold water supply by twisting the water valve (located atop the heater) clockwise until it stops. Then, attach a garden hose to the drain valve at the base of the heater, and run the other end of the hose into a light-colored bucket in order to view the sediment.
Open the drain valve, and turn the cold water supply back on to flush out the sediment. Be careful: The water coming out is hot! The first water exiting the heater carries the most sediment. When water runs clear, shut off the drain valve; detach the hose; and turn the power back on. Caution: If your water heater is gas-powered, call the gas company for specific instructions before attempting to relight it yourself. In many cities, the company will come to your home and do that for you with no charge.
The owner's manual that came with your water heater will give specific instructions for routine cost-saving maintenance.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2018 Creators Syndicate Inc.