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KC Water Heaters

(913) 962-7000 Water Heaters installed by licensed master plumber.

A water heater can be one of the most dangerous appliances in your home because of the carbon monoxide that is created from the result of gas combustion. Unlike a furnace a water heater relies on warm air rising in order to safely vent CO2 outside your home. In order for the vent to work properly it's important that it's installed in accordance with code. 

There are several situations that we come across in which the flue has too far of a horizontal run and can result in downdraft or back draft. Not only is this unsafe for the people living inside the home it can also cause issues with your water heater causing the pilot to extinguish. 

The general rule for a horizontal run of the flu pipe is no more than 75% of the overall rise of the flue. If you measure from the top of the water heater all the way up to the top of the flu at its highest point you should have no more than 75% of that length for your total horizontal run. The total horizontal run may not always be visible from the basement alone at some flus will continue to run horizontal in the attic in order to vent at the desired location. 


Vent offsets 

The total horizontal distance of a vent plus the horizontal vent connector serving draft hood-equipped appliances shall be not greater than 75 percent of the vertical height of the vent. 

Posted: October 3, 2015, 6:12 pm
As a plumbing contractor who deals with water heaters on a daily basis I get a lot of questions about tankless water heater's. There are a lot of misconceptions associated with tankless water heater's so I wanted to go over a few of the main drawbacks to tankless water heaters. 





The first misconception is that a tankless water heater will give you instant hot water. They are sometimes called instant water heaters because they're heating the water as you use them. You're not going to have hot water instantly when you turn on the faucet. It's actually going to be the opposite effect, it will take longer for the water to get hot at the fixture because the first two seconds of the water running it's got to heat up and so you're you'll actually have cold water that comes through for the first couple seconds. 

The second misconception is that a tankless water heater will save you money. A tankless water heater actually has a higher cost of ownership than a standard traditional atmospheric water heater. While the operating cost can be up to $50 a year less on a tankless, the maintenance cost can be 3 to 4 times that savings. If you fail to keep up with the maintenance on the tankless water heater it will stop working in as little as seven years and at that point you'll have to replace it. 

The third misconception is that they will last longer than a traditional water heater. While they do have longer warranty, warranties don't mean a whole lot when they don't cover labor or parts. The average lifespan for a traditional water heater is about 15 years. Tankless units haven't really been around here in the US long enough to get an accurate reading of average lifespan. 

I also want to point out that there are many applications for tankless water heaters and I actually have one in my own home. I installed a tankless for space reasons and I'm also on propane instead of natural gas. With the higher cost of propane and the ability to perform my own maintenance I will have a payback of under 10 years. 

Posted: August 19, 2015, 5:40 pm
Recently KCTV 5 new ran a story that covered changes that will affect the way we heat our water. While the article did a good job of explaining the changes and how they would impact the average homeowner, the article did have some misleading information on one important detail.



The news team chose to interview AB May to help gather information for the article. A company that just so happens to be one of the biggest advertisers of all the plumbing companies in Kansas City. At the end of the article they reported that the average life for a water heater was only 7 years. We went back and took inventory on the last 53 water heaters that were replaced over the last 3 months. 



This is a true representation of the average life of a water heater. I can't imagine how many people after seeing this news story decided to replace a perfectly good water heater because of the misinformation provided by the news outlet. It's bad enough that the government is regulating water heaters and causing a significant price increase, the last thing we need is the media to convince homeowners to replace their tanks before they need to.
Posted: March 21, 2015, 7:02 am
The Department of Energy has once again increased the efficiency requirements for water heaters. Unfortunately some manufacturers and wholesalers have used this as an opportunity to increase markup on water heaters. While price increases will vary greatly from one wholesaler to another, the manufacturers have increased their pricing across the board.

One of the biggest reasons given for the price increase from the manufacturers was due to the research and facility costs necessary for design modifications. While most water heaters have only faced minor modifications, other tanks require more sophisticated technology and drastic changes in production. The water heaters that will be impacted the most are the commercial water heaters over 55 gallons and specific residential applications that have space restraints.

For water heaters under 55 gallons the new efficiency requirements can be met by adding an additional 2" of insulation, increasing the size of the tank. While the increased insulation only increased cost by roughly $10 per tank, the increase from the wholesaler is closer to $75 per tank. The additional cost is designated to cover the research and production changes necessary for those that have space restrictions. 

Water Heater options for confined spaces

The new efficiency requirements can be met without increasing the size of the tank by adding a flue damper to the top of the water heater. This of coarse means that you will need an electrician to run 110 service to the new water heater to operate the damper. This also means that the water heater will not operate without electricity, not to mention the added expense of hiring an electrician.

This is where the price increase really kicks in. The current pricing that has been provided from the manufacturers will almost double the cost of a traditional water heater as they are priced today. The homeowners that will be the most affected will be those with smaller houses that have space restrictions. 

My personal Opinion

If adding an additional 2" of insulation will save the homeowner money in the long run, many will choose to spend the extra money for higher efficiency. The new regulations would be a good idea if not for the situations where space is limited. 
Posted: March 15, 2015, 11:49 pm
Most residential and commercial water heaters have Anode Rods that are also referred to as sacrificial rods. The anode rod is designed to help prolong the life of the water heater by attracting sediment to the rod instead of the outside of the tank. The most common types of anode rods used are made from either steel, aluminum, zinc, and magnesium.

Most residential water heaters will use an aluminum anode rod for their standard tanks. An aluminum anode rod is of the least expensive options and will last longer than most other anode rods. The AO Smith GCV-50-300 residential water heater has an aluminum anode rod with a steel core to protect against corrosion. The GCV has a 6 year warranty and is one of the most common water heaters installed by plumbing professionals. The same water heater is available in a 10 year warranty, the only difference in the tank is the anode rod used magnesium instead of aluminum. This is a bit surprising due to the fact the magnesium actually breaks down faster than aluminum. Without an anode rod the tank will rust out sooner.

If aluminum was consumed you would experience arthritis like symptoms and could upset your stomach.

A magnesium anode rod is slightly more expensive than other materials but can actually offer health benefits if consumed in drinking water. The downside to magnesium anode rods is that they dissolve much faster than other materials and may need to be replaced after 6 years.

Zinc anode rods are often mixed with aluminum or steel and are not as common today as in the past. The zinc can react with different metals to promote growth of bacteria. Many people that report a sour smell from their hot water have a zinc anode rod to blame. The anode rod can be replaced which should resolve the problem.

Water Softeners impact on an Anode Rod

A traditional salt water softener can break down an anode rod much faster than the normal rate. It is recommended that homes with a water softener replace the anode rod every 3 years to help protect the tank from corrosion.

 Health Risks of Aluminum Anode Rods

The actual risk of using an aluminum anode rod is debatable. Wikipedia stats that under normal circumstances Aluminum is not water soluble and is well tolerated by both plants and animals. You should also consider that most of the time you will not drink from the hot water supply lines unless you have a circulating pump and a bad faucet cartridge that allows hot water to mix in with the cold.


Posted: October 9, 2014, 2:25 am
Over the last 5 years there has been a growing curiosity regarding tankless water heaters. Most people seem to like the idea of only heating water as you need it rather than constantly having 50 gallons of hot water on standby. Not only does it seem to make more sense but it also takes up a lot less space. You also don't have to worry as much about the possibility of a tankless water heater leaking all over your floor. When it really comes down do it there are 3 main factors that make owning a tankless water heater a tough sell.

Performance

One of the biggest misconceptions about tankless water heaters is that you will have an endless supply of hot water. While it is true that you will never actually run out of hot water, you may experience a significant drop in the flow rate at which the water is delivered. 

Most tankless water heaters have a rating that is measured in Gallons Per Minute (GPM). What you may not realize is that the GPM of each unit is going to vary with the temperature of the incoming water as well as the desired temperature for delivery. Here in Kansas City, our water lines are buried 36" below the surface to prevent them from freezing in the winter time. This also keeps the incoming water cold during summer months. The average water temperature is going to be about 65 degrees, while the average desired delivery temperature is about 125 degrees. The tankless unit needs to be able to increase the water temperature by 60 degrees to meet the family needs. This is known as temperature rise. Problem is that most of the ratings for tankless water heaters assume only a 40 degree rise. As the temperature rise requirement increases, GPM will decrease. 

Reliability

Most people take for granite just how reliable a traditional atmospheric gas water heater really is. For many people they will never have an issue with their water heater. When a traditional unit has a problem they also have the luxury of calling almost any plumber in town and can feel confidant that they will be able to make the repair. In most cases it's the thermocouple or gas valve, it cost a few hundred dollars and you're back up and running that day.

Tankless water heater are far more technical than a standard unit. There are more moving parts, more electronics, and they can be more difficult to troubleshoot. In most cases a tankless water heater repair will require a special technician that will often be part of a large company. You may also have to wait several days on shipping since these parts can be expensive and unique to the model.

Cost of Ownership 

One of the biggest incentives for homeowners to consider switching to tankless has been the energy savings that can result from a lower utility bill. The average tankless unit has a yearly operating cost of around $194 per year while the average atmospheric unit has a yearly cost of $282. The initial cost of a gas water heater is anywhere from $800-$900 going with a quality tank installed by KC Water Heater. The average tankless installation will be anywhere from $2600-$3200 depending on the model selected and the installation requirements. This would suggest that a tankless unit would have a 20 year payback, assuming the unit doesn't ever need repairs.  

The thing that most people forget regarding costs is the maintenance required for a tankless unit. If you don't perform a yearly flush on a tankless unit the performance will drop significantly and eventually will stop working all together. The cost to perform the yearly flush is about $150-$200 per year.




Posted: August 27, 2014, 1:37 pm


Checking the flue size


If you are considering adding a second water heater you will need to be sure your flue is large enough to support additional BTUs. Here is an example of a home in which the homeowner wanted to add a second water heater to help fill up a large tub. The water heater flue was a 5" Type B double wall pipe serving two appliances with a total distance of 30'.

The first step in determining if a flue is large enough to support an additional water heater is to add up the BTUs for the existing water heater and furnace. This home had a furnace that was sized at 150,000 BTU and a water heater that was 40,000 BTU for a total of 190,000 BTU.

The maximum BTUs allowed for this situation was 193,000 BTU so we were able to determine that adding a second water heater would not be safe. If this house had a 6" flue the maximum BTU would have been 300 BTU.

In most cases you will be using a single wall connector to connect the second water heater. In most cases a 4' Y is required when combining the second water heater. If you currently have a 5x3 Y off your main flue you will most likely need to replace the boot with a 5x4 Y. 


Series vs Parallel



When installing a second water heater you can setup it up in one of two basic methods. The first method is shown in this picture is referred to as Parallel. In a parallel piping system both water heaters work independently to heat there share of the water. 

A Series piping method is setup for the water to be heated in the first unit and then pumped into the second unit. The series installation is a little easier to install and has a few other advantages. The main reason we like to install a second water heater in Series and so that you can turn the first unit down to a low temperature to preheat the water. This will still give you an increased supply of hot water but will run more efficiently than two water heaters both running at operating temperature. 
Posted: May 14, 2014, 2:41 am
A shark bite connector is an easy way to swap out a old leaking water heater. The shark bite fitting is actually designed to connect to a copper or plastic supply line without any soldering or special connections. The fitting slips over a 3/4" pipe by pushing the end over a piece of pipe.

The problem is that these fittings have a rubber seal that break down. The sediment can clog up fixtures and will reduce the overall quality of the water coming through the fixture.


Quick connect fittings have a higher failure rate on hot water lines. The water coming out of the top of the tank is hotter than the delivered temperature and can increase stress on this type of fitting.

Thermal expansion is another major concern when using quick connect fittings on or near a hot water heater. It's common for water heaters to start to swell along the top when the water heater is near the end of it's life.

Check out the images in the gallery below to see examples of how supply lines can shift as a result of thermal expansion.


Posted: March 28, 2014, 10:46 pm
The Department of Energy has established new regulations the will inevitably change the way we heat our water. While the yearly cost to operate your water heater should drop by roughly $25 per year, the initial cost for a water heater will jump from $300-$500 all the way up to $800-$1400. You may also be paying more for additional labor that is required on most energy efficient models.


A new way of venting


Most of the water heaters that meet the new energy requirements are of the Power Vent variety. These power vent water heaters vent similar to a high efficiency furnace. Instead of emitting the gas combustion through the flue or chimney, power vent models vent through the side of the house. If your water heater is located near an exterior wall it will be an easier transition. For those that have water heaters located in the center of a finished basement you may need more than a plumber to complete the installation. In some homes drywall will need to be removed to run the new vents.



Fortunately there are some water heaters that still use conventional venting methods that will meet the new efficiency requirements. One water heater that meets the new requirements using conventional venting is the AO Smith Effix water heater. This unit has an Energy Factor of .70 and an annual operating cost of $262 per year with a 40 gallon tank. There is a hefty price tag on the purchase of this new water heater, the cheapest we have found online is about $1300. However you should think twice about purchasing a water heater online.

Posted: March 22, 2014, 12:13 am

Water Heaters often get damaged during shipping

Just because there isn't any visible damage like a scratch or dent don't assume that your water heater wasn't damaged during shipping. The inside of a water heater is lined with glass which is going to be greatly compromised if the material is cracked. A cracked glass liner won't result in the tank leaking immediately but will definitely have an impact on the overall life of the tank.

 While most of our water heaters come in on a big truck, occasionally we have to special order a water heater that is not typically stocked. During special order water heaters have a much higher incident rate. The scary thing about that is you can't always tell if a water heater has been dropped or fallen over.

Warranty issues are more difficult to work out

Whenever someone has a problem with a product their first thought is to take it back to the store they bought it from, or call the person who installed it to have them swap it out with a new one. A water heater is a little more of a challenge to return because you have to drain it and uninstall the water heater before you can take it back. In most cases you will also have materials that will need to be purchased in order to install a new one.

The warranty period for most water heaters is at least 6 years. Trying to ship a water heater back to a seller that sold you a water heater from 5 years ago could certainly be a challenge. Even if you are able to get in contact with the original seller, sending back a 300lb water heater is a challenge in itself.

Manufacturers may not honor warranty if not installed according to code

In many cases a tankless water heater must be purchased along with the necessary intake or exhaust venting materials in order for the warranty to be honored. Other manufacturers of standard water heaters such as Bradford White and AO Smith have started to require thermal expansion tanks to be installed on all commercial tanks. If the tank wasn't installed in accordance with plumbing code the warranty will not be honored.

As a professional who replaces water heaters everyday, I am amazed in how many water heaters have code violations that often impact the reliability, performance, and safety of the tank. A water heater should only be installed by a licensed master plumber who has the experience and and skill set to safely complete the installation. 

Water Heaters installed by KC Water Heater
Posted: March 15, 2014, 2:46 am
A common misconception that many people have is that a water softener will help increase the life of their water heater. While there may be some benefits to having a water softener, increasing the life of your water heater is not one of them.

In the past the water softener sales pitch had included benefits to your plumbing system. The idea behind increasing the life of your water heater is that you would reduce the sediment that builds up inside of the tank. Sediment can have a negative impact on your water heater efficiency and overall life of the tank, so it's a good idea to flush your water heater every 6-12 months.

Anode Rod & Glass liner


If you have a water softener you should replace your anode rod ever 3 years. Most plumbers know this and will make the recommendation if they install a water heater. The salt from the softener will eat away at the anode rod and will usually disintegrate within a few years.

Newer water heaters have a glass lining on the inside of the tank. This glass liner has hundreds of air bubbles that create pockets that are susceptible to the sodium from the water softener. Much like the deterioration of an Anode rod, the glass liner of the water heater also seems to break down.

Bonding Interruption 


We recommend installing a jumper cable if you have a water softener. A water softener can interrupt the grounding of the water lines. Stray currents that can result from flowing water can have a negative impact on the life of your water heater.

Water Softener creates a closed loop system

All water softeners have check valves installed that will restrict water from flowing in a backwards direction. These check valves are required in order for the water softener to work properly. This creates a problem with the water heater due to the fact that water expands when it is heated. If the water cannot flow away from the water heater when the pressure builds it will create a high pressure buildup inside of the tank which often results in premature tank failure. For more information about thermal expansion tanks visit the rest of our blog.
Posted: March 13, 2014, 2:50 pm


This is a 14 year old Bradford White water heater that is installed just outside of Johnson County in Stilwell, KS. The home had been previously piped in CPVC.

The homeowner replaced the CPVC with PEX tubing before finishing his basement. The CPVC can become brittle over time and may snap off and cause flooding.

You can see that the top of the water heater is swollen which is usually what Bradford White water heaters do. The homeowner also noted that the pressure seemed unusually high right when the water was first turned on.

A thermal expansion tank was installed in order to make the new AO Smith water heater hold up a little better.


There was a number of upgrades added to the new water heater installed. The first was to change the direction of the tank to make it serviceable since the basement was about to be finished.


The next upgrade was to remove the existing saddle valve that had been installed by an HVAC contractor when putting the home humidifier. Here is a picture of a saddle valve that we removed that had become completely clogged with sediment. 



 The other upgrade that I was actually really surprised about was the drip leg for the gas line. A drip leg is the extension of the gas line beyond the height of the water heater inlet. The gas line should be fed from the top and feed into the water heater from the side of the gas line which should extend another 6" past the t in order to prevent condensation from feeding into the appliance.

Posted: March 10, 2014, 1:26 am

This is a squirrel that had made it's way into the chimney vent which was also the flue for the water heater and furnace. The flue cap had somehow fallen off which allowed for the squirrel to make it's way down. Unfortunately the squirrel had become trapped at the bottom of the flue where it connects to the water heater. This caused a venting problem for the heater and fortunately if shut off. 
The homeowner tried to relight the pilot several times and it just kept going out. Eventually if wore out the ignitor and we decided to replace the water heater. As soon as I pulled off the flue for the old water heater this dead squirrel popped out. 

Posted: March 10, 2014, 12:44 am
It's really common for people to call and ask if we can fix a leak in there water heater. On most occasions a leaky water heater means you will have to replace the entire tank. There are however a few exceptions where a water heater can be leaking and not necessarily need to replaced.

Leaking out the T&P valve 

 

A water heater that is leaking out of the temperature and pressure relief valve does not necessarily need to be replaced. This valve is a safety device that is required on every water heater sold in the US. This valve is designed to open up when the temperature of the water exceeds 210 degrees or the pressure exceeds 150 psi. These valves only cost about $10 and once they are opened up they will usually start to leak. It's also important to understand that these valves don't always work properly. The inside of the t&p valve can get blocked with sediment which will prevent the valve from opening.

If the T&P valve has started to leak from your water heater it's usually an indication that thermal expansion has taken place. You can usually replace the valve to get the water to stop leaking but it will most likely start to leak again after a few days or weeks. A leaking T&P valve is a good indication that you need to install a thermal expansion tank. After installing a new expansion tank you should also replace the T&P valve. 

Water dripping out of the drain valve or boiler drain


If you have water leaking out the bottom of the tank drain valve it's also an indication that thermal expansion has occurred. You have a few different options when this type of leak occurs. The first option would be to replace the drain valve. This will require turning off the gas or electricity and completely draining the water out of the tank. Once the water heater is empty you can unscrew the drain valve with a cresent wrench or pair of channel locks. 
If you are really on a budget and just want to get by you can always purchase a cap from the hardware store which will usually stop the water from coming. It's important to understand that this is not a permanent solution. If thermal expansion has caused the leak there is a good indication that your tank or tp valve could start to leak in the near future. 

Leak from the top or bottom of the tank

When you have a leak that is difficult to find the source or if water seems to be pooling around the top of the water inlet and discharge it's a good indication that the inner tank has failed and your water heater is beyond repair. Check above the water heater to be sure that it's not one of the overhead pipes leaking down. 
When a gas water heater starts to leak it will usually work for a few days until the pilot light goes out. In some cases it can leak for weeks and still continue to operate and perform adequately. The downside of not replacing your water heater immediately upon noticing a leak is that the leak can get worse. Removing an old leaking water heater can cause damage to flooring as well as other parts of your home. We usually recommend turning the gas and water off as soon as you find a leak and draining the tank to prevent further damage. 

Posted: March 8, 2014, 1:32 am




 

A thermal expansion tank is now required by code in most parts of Kansas City when replacing a water heater. The expansion tank is designed to help protect the water heater from premature failure due to thermal expansion.

"My old water heater didn't have an expansion tank and it lasted a long time, why do I need one on my new tank?"

The requirement of thermal expansion tanks is something that has slowly started to take throughout various parts of the city. Kansas City, Kansas was one of the first areas to require expansion tanks on all new homes built which was back in the late 90's. Kansas City Kansas is notorious for premature water heater failure. Part of the reason is due to the extremely hard water that if found in the area. The other contributing factor is the city water supply.

The city water supply can wreak havoc on water heater if certain factors are present. One of the biggest issues has to do with the way we protect our potable water supply. A backflow preventer is usually located in either the meter pit in the front yard. A Pressure Reducing Valve or PRV can also act as a backflow preventer by not allowing water to leave the house. Many of the newer homes in Johnson County have pressure reducing valves which creates a closed loop system. When any type of backflow preventer is present it is referred to as a closed loop system.

The problem with closed loop systems

The reason that closed loop system causes problems is from thermal expansion. When water is heated it expands at a rate of roughly 3% on a 70 degree rise. When the water can't escape the inside of your house this increased volume doesn't have anywhere to go and creates a pressure build up inside of the tank. This increased pressure can cause toilets to flush on their own, fitting failure, leaky faucets, and premature water heater failure. The expansion tank not only protects your water heater but your entire plumbing system.


An expansion tank will not last as most water heaters

While most water heaters have at least a 6 year warranty, expansion tanks often only carry a 1 year guarantee. Brands like Amtrol and Backstop are a little higher in price but carry 5 or 6 year warranty. An expansion tank is very easy to check, I can usually tell by tapping the side of the tank with my hand.

The inside of a thermal expansion tank has a rubber bladder that is filled with air, usually about 70 psi. If the bladder fails, the tank will become waterlogged and unable to protect against thermal expansion. A valve stem located on the bottom of the expansion tank, much like on a car or bicycle tire, which can be checked with a tire gauge. It's important to check your expansion tank on a yearly basis to ensure that it has not failed. This is especially important once your water heater exceeds the warranty period of the tank.
Posted: March 2, 2014, 2:48 am
A large percentage of the homeowners we do work for ask about tankless water heaters. They want to know if that is the type of water heater they should be choosing for the next install.

One of the advantages to tankless water heaters is that these units take up far less space than a standard 40 or 50 gallon water heater.

Posted: November 13, 2013, 4:09 pm