Water heaters. They will eventually leak, no doubt, our job is to be able to recognize the signs of leakage and advise our customers about replacement before a major problem arises. But will they listen to us? Maybe, maybe not; so, we need to protect ourselves when one does leak. First and foremost in our line of work is to document every contact with the customer.
You hear all the ‘experts” saying to save energy, the temperature of the water should be no more that 115°F, and I agree. The safest temperature to prevent scalding is 120°F or lower. Also, water over 105°F is too hot for me to stay in. Think of a hot tub. Its temperature is set at around 106°F, and it’s hot.
The problem here is that the Legionella thrives in this temperature and is commonly known as Legionnaires’ disease. The Special Pathogens Laboratory states ‘Temperature is a critical determinant for Legionella proliferation. Colonization of hot water tanks is more likely if tank temperatures are between 40° and 50°C (104° to 122° F).” So we are being told to reduce the temperature of the water into the range where the enemy thrives? Sorry, not me. I think we should keep the tank temperature at a point where the temperature will kill off Legionella. That temperature is 63°C or 145.4°F. So if we set the temperature at a point where it will fend off Legionella, we run the risk of scalding in less than 3 seconds. Boy, talk about being between a rock and a hard place. But wait, there is a safe way to accomplish this. It’s called a good quality domestic mixing valve.
Domestic mixing valves have been used in the commercial field for as long as I can remember, but not in the residential sector. Maybe it’s time for a change. If we kept the temperature of the water in the tank at above 150°F and set the domestic mixing valve at around 110°F, we can have the best of both worlds. I personally have been operating like this for years without any problems. Domestic mixing valves are now becoming a recognized item in many state building codes. But there are some additional items that will probably be needed.
A thermal expansion tank will probably be needed since the temperature rising in the tank will increase the pressure inside the tank. Many municipalities are requiring a check valve on the water main to protect the community water source. Once this is done the need for a thermal expansion tank is necessary since the water will no longer be allowed to back up into the street mains.
A drip pan should also be installed in case the tank does leak. The drip pan should be of sufficient diameter so that if the relief valve discharges, the excess water will be contained. If the pan is piped to a safe location, well there may well be no damage, only a profit to be made. But don’t forget that water freezes, so pipe that drain line to somewhere where it will not freeze and block the discharge pipe, OK.
There are devices on the market that will further protect your customer’s property (and your butt) that you should make your customer aware of. Remember, if you tell them and they say no, the problem is theirs, but document it. Taco makes a nice product to do this as well as Watts and others. You can also get devices that connect to a home alarm system for those who want more protection.
Bottom line is that the water heater is eventually going to leak no matter how good we or the customer try to prevent it. The temperature of the water is an important issue with us and the customer. The safety of its operation is up to us and we need to make our customer aware of all the safety devices available to them. Let them be the one who says no! It’s not good to see a child scolded because of an aquastat failure, trust me, I know! I hope you never get the experience.
Until next month, keep warm, keep safe, and be happy for all the opportunities out there.