Preventing Common Apartment Water Heater Problems

Water heaters are an extremely critical part of an apartment building’s operation. The average life span of commercial water heaters is between four and eight years, depending on the water quality, location, and its environment. Most owners often overlook them until they need repair. Luckily, most general maintenance problems have easy solutions that can ensure lower cost and improve longevity.

The most common problems are caused by improper air circulation and negligence. Developing awareness about your particular water heater is the biggest aid in avoiding problems. Mixing/crossover in the water system is often confused as a problem and will be discussed below.

Get to Know the Forgotten Appliance

The sheer size of a commercial water heater can be somewhat intimidating, and many owners are reluctant to familiarize themselves with the appliance. Because there are many different types on the market, knowledge is power. It is important to know which type of water heater is installed. These include: standing pilot, an electronic ignition, boiler and storage tanks, High Efficiency heaters with a hot surface ignition, and tankless water heaters.

Managers should know the location, its model and serial number, if it is gas or electric, how to reset it, and the contact information of a technician should the it experiences a serious problem. Gas water heaters require oxygen, fuel (natural gas or propane), a source of ignition — such as a pilot or spark (electronic ignition) — and water.

Without fresh air, the flame cannot survive and the water will not heat properly. Air starvation can cause the flame or pilot to extinguish; soot to collect in the system, and the build up of dangerous carbon monoxide gas. So, making sure it has access to ample air and open spaces is a simple way to avoid the premature failures.

Warm Water

When using showers or sinks, if the water does not get hot in a timely manner, it may be time to investigate the function of the water heater and the water system itself. As previously mentioned, mixing or crossover is a problem caused by the mixing of cold and hot water. This leads to lukewarm water all around the complex. Single-handled showers or faucets are often the culprits. Additionally, the recirculation line can cause this problem if the check valve is malfunctioning.

An entire apartment complex that shares one water heater will all be greatly affected if mixing is present. The apartment furthest away from it will experience the worst symptoms: a lack of hot water, or, if they’re lucky, lukewarm water. By having them serviced annually, problems such as mixing can be diagnosed and repaired early. This can prevent expensive repair costs later if they are missed.

Mineral Deposits

Water quality can affect the corrosion of anode rods. These are the devices intended to protect the glass lining from corrosion. The calcium present in hard water settles at the bottom of the tank, and decreases the life of the water heater. It acts as an insulator, impedes the heating process, and can cause premature heating element failures due to overuse. If calcium buildup occurs, the costs to heat the water will rise significantly as the unit’s efficiency plummets.

Water softening is a process which substitutes sodium ions for magnesium and calcium that causes serious deterioration to the anode rods.

Location, Location, Location

The environment and location of the water heater can also affect its efficiency. Water heaters require lots of clean air to burn and vent, so air infused with foreign compounds can lead to premature failure. Flammable items and vapors from bleaches, soaps, salts, cleaners, paint, or gas that contaminate the surrounding air, and should not be stored next to it.

If stored in or near a laundry room, there is considerable danger of damage from soot caused by lint runoff from dryers and even carbon monoxide. Lint can clog orifices, catch on fire, block fresh air vents to the water heater closet, and make a water heater operate at minimal capacity.

Finally, the weather can also affect function. Be sure the appliance is properly covered to prevent weather damage if installed outdoors. Weather that cannot be avoided, such as rain, wind, or salty ocean air can cause nuisance service calls, so try to protect it from the weather as much as possible.

Most problems can summed up in three words: “lack of maintenance.” Develop or contract a Preventative Maintenance Program, and watch your expenses disappear until it’s time for a replacement for a more efficient unit.