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Plumbing 101 – The Mysteries of Hot Water

Because we take clean hot water for granted in the US very few people give any real thought as to how a system performs or how hot water is furnished. However, regardless of size and performance, water heating systems all function on the same basic principles and if you know and understand those principles you should be able to work on most equipment.

So what is hot water? It is water that heat energy has been added. Its pretty basic, the more heat added to the water the hotter it gets. Hot water is so important to everyday life that there are some businesses that can’t function without it. Let’s face it we could tough it out in the home for a few days without hot water but it would get real cold….I mean old, real quick. Here are just a few of the benefits of having domestic hot water systems.

    • Health benefits – having hot water allows us to clean and sanitize more effectively.
    • Comfort – Hot water is set at a certain temperature and that temp is maintained so it is always available.
    • Pleasure – as water is heated it is usually easier to swim in. In addition hot water has a therapeutic affect by increasing blood flow to promote healing.
    • Time Saver – Because we can heat water automatically in certain appliances like clothes washers and dishwashers it leaves us with some extra time to do other things. Now if we could just invent something to take all the dishes out of the dishwasher and put them in their respective cabinets we would have it all figured out.

How Does Heat Effect Water?

When water is heated it expands and moves within plumbing piping. So if we take the way back machine we know that water molecules move faster and faster and farther apart as heat is applied. The physical state of water can be changed to steam as additional heat is applied. As the temperature rises so does the pressure inside the piping or heating vessel causing it to expand.

Hot Water, Plumbing and the Consumer

The mystery of hot waterThe function of a hot water system is to supply hot water to consumers to adequately meet their needs at a preset temperature. Usually the temperature can be adjusted to a certain degree and for domestic hot water it’s usually between 105°F and 140°F. The amount of available water is regulated largely by the recovery rate of the heating equipment. The recovery rate is the amount of time it takes to heat incoming cold water that is replacing the hot water being drawn out of the heater. Anytime hot water is drawn off the heater cold water rushes into the heater to replace the drawoff thereby lowering the overall temperature in the heater. The pressure increases inside the piping system every time a water heater turns on to increase the temperature lost do to usage, this is called Thermal Expansion.

Issues with Thermal Expansion on Hot Water Systems

So if you have water heater that isn’t used very much during the day, thermal expansion will occur all day. As the pressure increases and decreases it produces stress on the hot water piping an all of it’s equipment. Here are the harmful effects the can occur do to continuous stress.

  • Rupture pipe and fittings that may be weakened by corrosion.
  • It can collapse the center flue of a gas fired water heater possibly allowing the dangerous backflow of carbon monoxide into living spaces.
  • Increases and decreases from thermal expansion can cause the failure of some components installed on a hot water systems like solenoid valves and o-rings on washing machines etc.

How Does Heat Effect Water?

When water is heated it expands and moves within plumbing piping. So if we take the way back machine we know that water molecules move faster and faster and farther apart as heat is applied. The physical state of water can be changed to steam as additional heat is applied. As the temperature rises so does the pressure inside the piping or heating vessel causing it to expand.

Consumer Safety and Excessive Water Expansion of Water

Every code we know of across the US requires a temperature and pressure relief valve on the heating vessel. If water expands to an unsafe temperature or pressure level the relief valve will trip or engage to relive the pressure or temperature. If our domestic water heaters didn’t have this safety feature each and every one manufactured would be a possible bomb in the house.

 

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