How a water heater works

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Having your own well has a lot of perks but also some downsides. This article runs through both ends of the spectrum.


  • How a Water Heater Works

    If you are hoping to better understand how a water

    heater works in order to fix it in the future or if you

    are simply curious this article will go through the

    basics. While there are a number of different designs

    of water heaters the most used the iconic cylinder

    shape that you will find the basement or garage of

    your house. The system used in these cylinders is

    actually very simple.

    1. Incoming Water Water is fed into your house through plumbing. The

    water can come from your own well or the town

    watershed. Either way it flows through the pipes, passing the shut-off valve and enters the water heater

    where it sits. The heater is constantly full of water waiting to be used.

    2. Heating the Water The cold or cool water will enter your water heater through the dip tube through the top of the tank and

    travel down to the bottom. At the bottom of the tank the water will come into contact with the heating

    mechanism. Electric water heaters will have heating elements inside of the tank (usually in the form of

    wired coils around the pipes) while gas water heaters will have a burner and chimney system (the

    burner is placed directly below the cold water at the bottom of the tank).

    On the outside of a tank there is a thermostat which is set to the desired temperature (recommended

    tempertatures are between (120-180 degrees Farenheit).

    The thermostat is usually located below a protective cover

    plate and has a knob you can turn to set the temperature.

    The thermostat also measures the current heat of the

    water. The heating mechanism will stay on until the water

    reaches the set level. The pipe entering and existing the

    water heater is an elongated U-shape. As the water heats

    up it will naturally raise to the top of the tank above the

    colder, denser water. This principle of heat rising is the

    base principle of how the heater works and it is how the cold

    water and hot water are separated. As the water heats up it

    continues up the water heater eventually reaching the heat-

    out pipe on top of the tank (these pipes should be marked so

    you dont accidentally burn yourself). The water leaving the

    water heater through this pipe is the hottest the water in

  • the tank will ever be.

    3. To Your Shower The hot water will sit on top of the water heater until you wish to use it. The water in the heater is also

    pressurized so when you release the spout upstairs in the house the water pressure will push the hot

    water up and out of your showerhead. If you are constantly requiring hot water you will find that the

    water heater will not be able to heat up the cold water fast enough to keep up with demand (you might

    need a larger heater). The water heater design is very simple and rests on the principle of hot water

    rising above cold, dense water. If you are interested in creating a self-sustaining water flow in your

    house look into groundwater mapping and installing your own well. Good luck in your future repairs.

    Photo Credit: Christopher, smynsbrg


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