Purchasing Your First Tankless Water Heater? What Should You Know About Maintenance?

If you've recently made the upgrade from a tanked water heater to a more energy-efficient on demand or tankless model, you may already be noticing a difference in your monthly utility costs. However, while these heaters can often pay for themselves in the form of lower electricity or gas bills and federal energy tax credits, they do require somewhat different maintenance and needs than you may have grown accustomed to with past tanked water heaters. This can include regular descaling if you live in an area with untreated hard water. Read on to learn more about how you can easily keep your tankless heater operating like new for years. 

Check your water quality

One common problem with tanked water heaters occurs if the water flowing through the heater has a high mineral content (usually referred to as "hard" water). As this water is heated inside the unit, the minerals may settle in the bottom of the tank, building up over time to fill the unit with lime, iron, and other deposits and displacing hot water in the process. After a certain point, the minerals inside the water tank can't easily be removed and the tank (often weighing several times more than it did when installed) must be removed and thrown away.

While tankless heaters don't hold large quantities of water for an extended period of time, they do still process a great deal of water on a daily basis and are therefore just as susceptible as tank heaters to hard water damage. When a tankless water heater's pipes and components become clogged with mineral scale, they'll often cause the water heater to overheat, shutting down the unit and cutting off your home's supply of hot water until the unit has cooled. Continuing to override this safety mechanism in an effort to restore access to hot water will likely destroy the water heater in short order. Without taking some effort to either treat your water before it reaches the heater or treat the water heater with descaler on a regular basis, you may be shortening the life of your unit and wasting money. 

One way to maintain your water heater is by installing a whole-house ion exchange or reverse osmosis water softener. Both of these types of water softeners can remove iron, calcium, and other minerals from your water supply, extending the life of your appliances and reducing scum buildup on your showers and sinks. Once your household water has been "softened," your water heater shouldn't require any additional descaling treatment on a regular basis, as the water flowing through it is mineral-free enough to avoid harmful buildup. 

Clean and descale

If an additional household appliance isn't in your budget or you have other reasons for wanting to avoid a water softener, you'll need to get into the habit of descaling instead. The frequency with which you perform this task will largely depend on the relative hardness of your water and the amount your household consumes, but if you begin noticing that your water heater isn't providing quite as much water as it once did, it may be time for a thorough cleaning. 

To descale your water heater, you'll first need to cut both the power and the water supply to the unit. You'll then remove the purge port valves and attach a piece of tubing to each valve -- this tubing should be long enough to comfortably reach your waste bucket. After draining the hot water from the unit, you'll then be able to fill it with white vinegar or another biodegradable descaler (like citric acid) to flush and remove any minerals. After flushing the unit with water to remove any residue left behind by the vinegar or citric acid, you'll be able to remove the tubing, close the purge port valves, and restore power and water to your water heater. 

For more information, contact a company like Mechanical Energy Systems


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