Electric water heaters

One common plumbing service item is no hot water.  An electric water heater basically has four electrical parts on it.  Most have an upper element, an upper thermostat, a lower element, and a lower thermostat.  As cold water flows into the tank, the upper thermostat senses the water temperature and turns on the upper element to warm the water if needed.  When the water temperature reaches the setpoint of the thermostat, the upper element turns off.  The lower thermostat/element combination works the same way, but only comes on once the upper thermostat is satisfied.

The most common failure of an electric water heater is a burned out element.  If there is no  hot water, it is most commonly the upper element that is not working.  If there is some hot water, but it runs out quickly, it is most likely the lower element.  Of course, the thermostats can be the source of the problem as well.  There are some tests that can be done with an electric meter to help determine if the parts are working properly.

If there is water leaking from the tank, it is usually time to replace it.

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Why is there water around my furnace?

Water puddles were meant to be outside, not in your basement.  A random puddle showing up on the basement floor takes some detective work to determine its cause.  Most times we blame a plumbing failure as the cause, however don’t rule out other sources.  It makes sense to check the plumbing to be sure, but the water may be coming from your furnace.

When your air conditioning runs, it produces condensation.  There should be drain piping running from the furnace to a floor drain nearby to drain away the condensation.  Over time, these drain lines can build up with debris, and other undesirable contents.  It is not unusual for these drains to clog over time.  The water then backs up and finds another way to exit.

The most common way to repair this issue is to cut the pipe and pour a cup of bleach down the drain.  Compressed air also works to blow out the clogs.  The easiest way to put the drain back together is to connect it with a flexible rubber coupling.  This way, the piping can be taken apart easily should the problem arise again.

Water can also be leaking due to the system freezing up (as discussed in a previous post).  Cleaning the condensate drain is an item that should be added to your yearly maintenance list.

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High Water Bills

Many times water leaks are not detected until we see our water bill.  Then comes the fun part of trying to find the leaks.

One of the most common culprits is the toilet.  If a toilet flapper is not sealing properly, it will allow water to seep into the bowl.  Over time, this will lower the water level in the holding tank, causing it to re-fill.  An easy way to check if this is happening, is to put food coloring, or some kind of dye into the holding tank.  If the flapper is leaking, the colored water will appear in the toilet bowl.

Sometimes the re-filling mechanism will get stuck and fill continually.  Also, a broken handle or trip lever can cause the flapper to remain open, and allow water to run continually.  With all these different parts, the toilet is usually the guilty party for excessive water usage.

Slow drips on faucets can also add up over the period of a month.  Look at faucets regularly, especially if you have a bathroom that does not get used very often.  If there are water stains in any fixtures, it is a good sign of a leak.  Outside hydrants are another faucet that may not be seen on a regular basis.

The hot water tank also has many parts that can develop leaks.  Check around the plumbing connections, as well as under and around the tank.

Repairing leaking faucets and fixtures will save you money over time.

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Why is there ice coming out of my furnace?

When the first hot spell of the season hits, one of the symptoms of air conditioning trouble is ice forming on the indoor coil.  There can be several different reasons for this.

If there is a lack of airflow through the coil (usually positioned above the furnace), ice will begin to form.  As the system continues to run, more ice forms, eventually blocking off all the airflow.  Lack of air flow can be caused by a dirty air filter, or a clogged coil.  Changing your air filter regularly is an easy maintenance item for any homeowner.

Another common reason for ice forming is low refrigerant levels.  In either case, the ice needs to be thawed for the system to be diagnosed.

There are other reasons a unit can “freeze up”, but these are the most common.

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What is a frost free hydrant?

A common maintenance tip we hear every autumn is to remove your garden hose from the outside faucet.  But what if you have a “frost free” hydrant?

A frost free hydrant has a long stem behind the handle extending back between 8″-12″ with a set of washers at the end.  When you turn the hydrant on, it allows water to flow out of the hydrant.  When it is shut off, the water is stopped at the back of the faucet, 8″-12″ inside the house.   This is the reason that the water will continue to flow out of the hydrant for a little bit after it is turned off; it is draining out of the tube between the shut-off point inside the house, and the spout outside.  Since the water drains out of the faucet when it is shut off, the faucet is called frost free.  When it is working properly, all the water to this hydrant is 8″-12″ away from the exterior of the house.

When a hose is left on a frost free hydrant, it traps the water in the faucet.  If the trapped water is exposed to freezing temperatures, the expansion of the freezing water will cause the hydrant to burst.  Most times these leaks are not discovered until spring when you turn the hydrant on for the first time.  Usually, the hydrant only leaks when it is turned on, since the split is usually in the 8″-12″ tube.

So the answer is yes, even a frost free hydrant needs to have the hose removed before freezing temperatures arrive in autumn.

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Heat Pumps

What is a heat pump?

Many customers have been curious as to what exactly a heat pump is and what it they do.  A heat pump  really is no different from a regular central air conditioning system, however it has the ability to heat your home during the winter.  Because a heat pump can both heat and cool your home, it is  very economical and efficient home comfort system.

How does a heat pump work?

Questions as to how the heat pump actually works often come up as well with customers.  A heat pump works very similar to a refrigerator.  You can feel unwanted warm air being blown out of your fridge’s exhaust fan.  A heat pump works just the same by pulling heat that is outside and then heating your home with it.  The process is then reversed when you need your heat pump to cool your home.  The heat pump will then pull warm air out of your home and send it outside to make your home cool down.  The ability to both cool and heat your home makes the heat pump very economical.  A refrigerant liquid circulates from the outdoor to the indoor units.  This liquid absorbs and releases heat while circulated from the indoor to the outdoor unit.

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How long does a sump pump last?

In Central Ohio, sump pumps are a necessity.  Unfortunately, we don’t often think about our sump pump until it fails, or can’t keep up to the demand.

We are often asked how long a sump pump should last.  This is a question with no good answer.  Each application is different.  The longevity of a sump pump is most dependent on how often the pump turns on and off.  The most common failure of a sump pump is in the switch.  Occasionally, the motor of the pump will fail, but usually the failure is in the switch.

There are several different types of switches available on sump pumps.  We use a vertical float switch on our sump pumps.  This is a float that slides up and down on a rod, turning the pump on when the float reaches the trigger point.  We have had very good success with this type of switch.

Another type of switch is just a mechanical type float switch without the vertical rod to guide it.  We have found this type of float prone to catching the side of the sump pit, or get stuck in various other ways, causing the pump to run continually.

A third type of switch is a fixed diaphragm switch.  This switch is activated by water pressure. When the water rises in the pit, it exerts a certain amount of pressure, causing the switch to turn the pump on.  As the water is pumped out, the pressure is relieved turning the pump off.  We have had a higher rate of failure with this type of switch.

Usually a non-working sump pump is first discovered along with a flooded basement.  It is a good idea to regularly check your sump pump to make sure it is in working order.  You may also want to consider an alarm or a battery backup system, especially if you have a finished basement.  Hanging out in your man cave wearing wading boots is no fun.

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