LESLIE: Mike in Texas, you’re next up on The Money Pit. What can we do for you today?
MIKE: Yes, ma’am, I had a question about my water heater. Number one, I try to drain it periodically and it takes forever to drain that thing. And I thought I’d heard, a year or so ago on the show, there is a way that you can pour something through your water heater – it’s electric – to help clean that stuff out. I’ve got really hard water where we live out here in West Texas. And it – I mean extremely hard.
MIKE: Just about five years old. And I’ve already – twice now I’ve had to replace the lower heating – the element.
TOM: The coil? Yeah.
MIKE: Yeah. And I always replace both of them.
TOM: Do you have a water softener?
MIKE: No. Uh-uh.
TOM: Well, look, that’s your first step right there.
MIKE: Money-wise, this is not an option right at this time, so …
TOM: Yeah. There’s a couple of different kinds of water softeners. The salt-based solutions where you have to keep feeding them with salt is one type. But there’s also an electronic water softener which – what it does is it’s sort of electronically is a coil that wraps around your main water pipe. And it charges the hard-water particles.
And by charging them, it kind of – think of them – it’s not really magnetizing but it’s like when you have magnets and they’re all the same polarity and they repel each other? So when it charges these particles, it does – it forces them to not stick together; they bounce off each other. And because they don’t stick together, they don’t clump. So, it’s a less expensive way of getting a water softener. So that’s an option.
In terms of the water heater itself, you said it takes a long time to drain. When you do drain it, do you open up the pressure-relief valve or do you just open the bottom up?
MIKE: Well, I didn’t at first but then I said, “Well, I need to go ahead and release this valve up.”
TOM: Because you’ve got to let air in is what I’m saying.
MIKE: Right. Yes.
TOM: You’ve got to let air in. That’s going to speed it up.
TOM: So, once the water gets past the height of the valve – and of course, you’ve got the power off and it’s cooled down, I hope.
TOM: And you open that pressure-relieve valve up, then the water will come out faster. But the problem with some of those valves is once you open them, sometimes they don’t completely shut and you end up having to replace them.
TOM: The hard-water material gets kind of jammed up in the mechanism. I’ve had those where I’ve had to pop them open and closed a few times to get them to kind of reseat properly. But I would say that the best thing for you to do is to try to – even if you have to save up for it – is use one of the – even the electronic water softener. Try to get some of those water particles to not stick together. And then just continue to empty the water heater out now and again to try to release some of the buildup – sediment buildup – that’s at the bottom.
It shouldn’t really affect the efficiency, because that sediment is going to be at the bottom. When it – when you have a gas water heater and the sediment’s at the bottom, it actually acts like an insulator because the heat’s underneath it. But because your coils are embedded up higher in the water heater, it probably won’t affect the efficiency.
MIKE: I switched over to electric. I’m on propane down here and I had a gas heater and I was just having more trouble and …
TOM: Yeah. Well, I think you know what the solution is and it’s trying to get to the bottom of the hard water. And unfortunately, your appliances are going to continue to misbehave until that’s taken care of.
TOM: They just don’t work well with all that sediment in the water.
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