Category : water heater

The Future of Water Heaters Looks Pretty Interesting…

hot water heater

At Oliver, we’re always interested in new plumbing developments – especially if they’re beneficial to homeowners. Recently, we came across an article in the Washington Post about the future of water heaters. Chris Mooney explains the potential future relationship between water heaters and the power grid:

Grid Interaction

“New research suggests that in the future, one of the most lowly, boring, and ubiquitous of home appliances — the electric water heater — could come to perform a surprising array of new functions that help out the power grid, and potentially even save money on home electricity bills to boot.

The idea is that these water heaters in the future will increasingly ‘grid interactive,’ communicating with local utilities or other coordinating entities, and thereby providing services to the larger grid by modulating their energy use, or heating water at different times of the day. And these services may be valuable enough that their owners could even be compensated for them by their utility companies or other third-party entities.

“Electric water heaters are essentially pre-installed thermal batteries that are sitting idle in more than 50 million homes across the U.S.,” says a new report on the subject by the electricity consulting firm the Brattle Group, which was composed for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Peak Load Management Alliance.

The report finds that net savings to the electricity system as a whole could be $ 200 per year per heater – some of which may be passed on to its owner – from enabling these tanks to interact with the grid and engage in a number of unusual but hardly unprecedented feats. One example would be “thermal storage,” which involves heating water at night when electricity costs less, and thus decreasing demand on the grid during peak hours of the day.”

Deciding Factors

“Of course, precisely what a water heater can do in interaction with the grid depends on factors like its size or water capacity, the state or electricity market you live in, the technologies with which the heater is equipped, and much more.

“Customers that have electric water heaters, those existing water heaters that are already installed can be used to supply this service,” says the Brattle Group’s Ryan Hledik, the report’s lead author. “You would need some additional technology to connect it to grid, but you wouldn’t need to install a new water heater.”

Granted, Hledik says that in most cases, people probably won’t be adding technology to existing heaters, but rather swapping in so-called “grid enabled” or “smart” water heaters when they replace their old ones. In the future, their power companies might encourage or even help them to do so.”

How It Would Work

“Typically, a standard electric water heater — set to, say, 120 degrees — will heat water willy-nilly throughout the day, depending on when it is being used. When some water is used (say, for a shower), it comes out of the tank and more cold water flows in, which is then heated and maintained at the desired temperature.

In contrast, timing the heating of the water — by, say, doing all of the heating at night — could involve either having a larger tank to make sure that the hot water doesn’t run out, or heating water to considerably higher temperatures and then mixing it with cooler water when it comes out to modulate that extra heat.

Through such changes, water heaters will be able to act like a ‘battery’ in the sense that they will be storing thermal energy for longer periods of time. It isn’t possible to then send that energy back to the grid as electrical energy, or to use it to power other household devices — so the battery analogy has to be acknowledged as a limited one (though the Brattle report, entitled “The Hidden Battery,” heavily emphasizes it).

But the potentially large time-lag between the use of electricity to warm the water and use of the water itself nonetheless creates key battery-like opportunities, especially for the grid (where utility companies are very interested right now in adding more energy storage capacity).

It means, for instance, a cost saving if water is warmed late at night, when electricity tends to be the cheapest. It also means that the precise amount of electricity that the water heater draws to do its work at a given time can fluctuate, even as the heater will still get its job done.

These services are valuable, especially if many water heaters can be aggregated together to perform them. That’s because the larger electricity grid sees huge demand swings based on the time of day, along with smaller, constant fluctuations. So if heaters are using the majority of their electricity at night when most of us are asleep, or if they’re aiding in grid ‘frequency regulation’ through instantaneous fluctuations in electricity use that help the overall grid keep supply and demand in balance, then they are playing a role that can merit compensation…”

Great River Energy

“…using electric water heaters to provide some of these services has long been happening in the world of rural electric cooperatives — member-owned utilities that in many cases control the operation of members’ individual water heaters, heating water at night and then using the dollar savings to lower all members’ electricity bills.

Take, as an example, Great River Energy, a Minnesota umbrella cooperative serving some 1.7 million people through 28 smaller cooperatives. The cooperative has been using water heaters as, in effect, batteries for years, says Gary Connett, its director of demand-side management and member services.

“The way we operate these large volume water heaters, we have 70,000 of them that only charge in the nighttime hours, they are 85 to 120 gallon water heaters, they come on at 11 at night, and they are allowed to charge til 7 the next morning,” Connett explains. “And the rest of the day, the next 16 hours, they don’t come on.”

Thus, the electricity used to power the heaters is cheaper than it would be if they were charging during the day, and everybody saves money as a result, Connett says.

But that’s just the first step. Right now, Great River Energy is piloting a program in which water heaters charging at night also help provide grid frequency regulation services by slightly altering how much electricity they use. As the grid adds more and more variable resources like wind power, Connett says, using water heaters to provide a ‘ballast’ against that variability becomes more and more useful.

“These water heaters, I joke about, they’re the battery in the basement,” says Connett. “They’re kind of an unsung hero, but we’ve studied smart appliances, and I have to say, maybe the smartest appliance is this water heater.”…

A Smaller Footprint

“…in the future, it may be that our power companies try to sign us up for programs that would turn our water heaters into grid resources (and compensate us in some way for that, maybe through a rebate for buying a grid-interactive heater, or maybe by lowering our bills). Or, alternatively, in the future some people may be able to sign up with so-called demand response ‘aggregators’ that pool together many residential customers and their devices to provide services to the grid.

And as if that’s not enough, the Brattle Group report also finds that, since water heating is such a big consumer of electricity overall — 9 percent of all household use — these strategies could someday lessen overall greenhouse gas emissions. That would be especially the case if the heaters are being used to warm water during specific hours of the day when a given grid is more reliant on renewables or natural gas, rather than coal. Controlling when heaters are used could have this potential benefit, too…”

Water Heaters: Electric vs. Gas

hot water heater

If you’re in the market for a new water heater, you may be wondering what type would be best for your home. Two of the most popular water heater types are electric and gas-powered, and while each has its own benefits, one may be more suitable for you than the other.

Here are some of the major differences between the two:

                                                                            Electric                                          Gas

Upfront Cost                                                      Lower                                         Higher

Operational Cost                                               Higher                                        Lower

Life Expectancy                                             10-15 years                               10-15 years

Available Styles                                                 Tank                                            Tank

                                                                           Tankless                                      Tankless

                                                                          Heat Pump                                   Hydronic


Energy Factor Rating                                      0.75-0.95                                    0.60-0.70

Typical Four-Person Family Size                  80-gallon                                     40-gallon

We know that choosing a hot water heater may be a little overwhelming – especially since there are so many different styles. For more information about the difference between a traditional tank water heater and a tankless, check out our blog here. When it comes to fuel type, electric water heaters tend to cost less to install than gas water heaters, however, electricity usually costs more than natural gas, so which you choose may depend on other factors like size, capacity, and more.

Talk to one of our water heater installation experts. We can evaluate your home and help you decide on the best type of water heater for you and your family.

Is Your Water Heater Using Too Much Energy?


self-cleaning hot water heaterHave you been pretty energy efficient lately (turning off appliances, lowering your thermostat, etc.) but still notice that your gas or electric bill is high? The culprit may be your water heater. To find out if it is, ask yourself these questions:

What’s the energy efficiency rating?

Take a look at your water heater and find the sticker that says “Energy Guide.” You should see the heater’s “estimated yearly operating cost” marked on a scale. Where the number is marked on the scale will tell you how energy efficient your water heater is and how it compares to similar models. (If you can’t find this label, search for the water heater model on the manufacturer’s website.) If you have an estimate that is on the lower side of energy efficient, you may want to consider replacing your water heater with one that uses less energy.

How old is it?

Is your water heater more than 15 years old? If so, it could be doing more harm than good. Most water heaters last between 10 and 15 years. After that, their energy efficiency declines and you may see a bill that steadily increases in price for no real reason.

Is it full of sediment?

Hard water can contain sediment like calcium carbonate, grit, iron, magnesium, sand, and other particles. Over time, this sediment can settle at the bottom of your water heater and reduce its energy efficiency. It can also reduce the overall strength of the heater and can drift into mechanisms and cause problems. At Oliver, our water heater maintenance experts suggest flushing out your water heater at least once a year to get rid of any lingering sediment.

What temperature is it set to?

Many homeowners keep their water heaters at around 140 degrees, but water that hot can mean more burn injuries. The Energy Department recommends setting your water heater to a temperature of 120 degrees, which is enough to heat your water and save you energy. On average, for every 10 degrees you turn your water heater down, you’ll save around 5% on your energy bill, so if yours is set high, consider turning it down.

Is it the right size?

Having a water heater that’s too big or too small for your household is one of the main reasons you may be seeing higher energy bills. On average, a 30-gallon tank is sufficient for 2 people, a 40-gallon tank is good for 3-4 people, and a 50-gallon tank suits 4-5 people. Double-check the capacity of your water heater and the number of people in your home. If yours isn’t the right fit, talk to one of our specialists.

If you’ve concluded that your water heater may be using more energy than necessary, give us a call today. We’ll have one of our water heater maintenance experts assess your situation and recommend a solution.

Common Signs of Plumbing Problems



Have you ever heard a funny noise or noticed water in places that it shouldn’t be? Plumbing systems can be tricky to understand and equally tricky to fix, so if you think you have a plumbing problem, trust our plumbing repair experts to assess and correct the situation. Here are some common signs of plumbing problems:

When you flush your toilet…

Your tub or shower drain gurgles.

This could mean you have a blockage in one of your vent lines. The job of the vent lines is to equalize drain pressure and expel potentially dangerous gasses. When there’s a blockage, however, the air that is normally supposed to be pulled through the vent can’t be pulled properly and it looks for another opening to do so – in this case, your tub or shower drain.

It frequently backs up.

If you flush your toilet and it seems to back up on a regular basis, it may be a sign that your septic tank is full and needs to be emptied. In another scenario, tree roots may have grown into your pipes and could be causing a blockage.

When you turn on your faucet…

There’s a screeching, rattling, or bubbling sound.

This could mean that you have a crack or break in a water pipe and it’s letting in pockets of air. It’s best to call our plumbing repair experts before the problem gets worse.

Your water drains slowly.

If your water drains slower than usual, you can probably fix the problem (which is most likely a simple clog) on your own, with a natural drain cleaner. If that doesn’t work, however, you may need our help to professionally remove your clog.

When you turn off your faucet…

There’s a “hammering” noise.

This noise can mean that your air chambers have failed. When you turn off your faucet, the fast-moving water that was rushing through your pipes comes to a sudden halt. When you have a properly working air chamber, it will compress when you turn off the faucet and lessen the sudden halt of water. An air chamber that is water-logged can make a loud sound.

When you run your washing machine…

Water backs up into your shower or tub.

If you notice water in your tub or shower when you do laundry, this could mean you have a sewer problem. Your water may have nowhere to go and may be following another drain line (in this case, your shower or tub) in order to escape. This could also happen to your toilets.

You notice water leaks…

Whether it’s a leaky faucet, water heater pipe, toilet, or another plumbing fixture, the best thing to do is call our plumbing repair experts. We can tell you why your fixture is leaking and what you can do to fix it.

Have a plumbing problem that’s not on our list? Let us know so we can add it!

How Do Self-Cleaning Water Heaters Work?

self-cleaning hot water heater

We may not use our heat year-round, but we certainly use our hot water heaters. From showers to laundry to dishwashers, and more, there’s a lot of water that travels through the water heater tank, and with it comes minerals and impurities. How often you need to clean your tank depends on whether you have a regular water heater or a self-cleaning model.

Here, we shed some light on the difference:

Whether you have an electric water heater or a gas water heater, it will be equipped with a dip tube. The dip tube runs straight down through the middle of the tank and as your cold water flows into the tank, the dip tube carries it to the bottom in order to distribute it properly. Without a dip tube, the water would simply sit at the top of the tank and wouldn’t be heated thoroughly.

Water flows into your water heater on a regular basis, which means that over time, sediment can collect at the bottom of the tank. (Sediment is simply the impurities that are in your water, such as calcium carbonate.) While water heaters are equipped with an anode rod that collects minerals, it’s still a good idea to get rid of other collected sediment by draining it out. Most water heaters come with a drain valve at the bottom of the tank that you can open. This valve will drain the sediment out of the tank (this should be done occasionally to keep the tank clean and operating well).

In a self-cleaning water heater, you’ll find a curved dip tube in the tank instead of a straight one. This dip tube will be equipped with a fitting that swirls the water around instead of simply dispensing it to the bottom. By swirling the water, it keeps the sediment moving and requires less draining.

Hot water heaters can last anywhere from 8-12 years, depending on their make and features. No matter what kind of water heater you own, our water heater installation experts recommend draining 2-5 gallons of water every one to three years to extend the life of your tank.

5 Fall Plumbing Tips

fall plumbing

Fall is in full swing, which means freezing temperatures are right around the corner. Every winter, our plumbing experts tend to dozens of home plumbing issues and mishaps. To prevent a surprise home flooding or big repair bill, try these five tips:

Get a hot water heater inspection.

Your hot water heater will probably be working overtime this winter, so before the cold sets in, schedule an appointment with one of our hot water heater repair specialists to make sure that your water heater is in its best condition for the cold weather.

Know where the main valve is.

Take a minute to show everyone in your home where the main water valve is and how to shut it off if necessary. Just knowing this can help prevent gallons of water from flooding your home, should a pipe burst or break.

Insulate your pipes.

Look around your home (especially in the basement) and find the pipes that are openly exposed. Since these pipes are left open to cold air, they have a greater chance of bursting. By insulating them with fiberglass, pipe sleeves, or insulation tape, you’ll keep them warm and free-flowing throughout the winter.

Disconnect outdoor hoses.

Because garden hoses are made from rubber, constant freezing and thawing weakens them and could cause them to crack. Instead of keeping them outside, disconnect them from your spigots and drain them. Then, store them somewhere that doesn’t get below freezing.

Maintain your gutters.

It’s fall, which means there are leaves everywhere – including your gutters. Make sure you clean out your gutters on a regular basis because once winter hits, any gutter debris that freezes could block water drainage (and lead to lots of problems).

How Water Heaters Work

hot water heater When you think of taking a shower or running your dishwasher, you think of hot water – but you probably don’t think about how that hot water becomes hot. Today, there are many types of water heaters on the market, including electric, gas, and tankless. Each has the same job, but each operates a little differently, so our water heater installation experts are here to explain how they work:


Direct water heaters can be powered by electricity or gas and look a lot like big metal cylinders. They both have two tubes at the top of the tank, and cold water enters through the first tube and travels down to the bottom of the tank.

If the water heater is electric, the heating mechanism in the tank will begin to heat the water to whatever temperature you set (usually between 120 and 180 degrees). If the water heater is gas, the heating mechanism comes in the form of a gas burner located underneath the tank and a chimney through the middle of the tank. In both water heaters, once the water is hot, it rises to the top of the tank. When you turn on a faucet or appliance to use hot water, the water will exit the tank through second tube and travel to where you need it.

Because these electric and gas water heaters are traditional tank water heaters, you’ll have anywhere between 30 and 80 gallons of hot water on reserve.


Indirect water heaters are just like direct water heaters, but instead of having a heating mechanism right in the system, these water heaters are heated with a separate boiler. These water heaters are equipped with a tube that extends from the boiler into the water tank. To heat the water in the water tank, the boiler pumps its own hot water through the tube. As the fluid travels through the tube, it transfers its heat to the water that’s in the tank, heating it up.


Unlike direct and indirect water heaters, a tankless hot water heater operates on an as-needed basis. This means that instead of heating large amounts of water and reserving them in a tank, a tankless water heater heats water when you need it. This type of water heater also has two tubes, but once cold water enters the first, it passes through a coil system instead of traveling to the bottom of a tank. This coil system instantly heats the water as it passes through and the water exits through the second tube to wherever you need it.

Which water heater you choose depends on your home size, family size, heat source (electric vs. gas), budget, and more. Our water heater installation experts can help you decide which is best for you. Give us a call today!

The catch is, there is no catch.

Over the past two days, I had the opportunity to meet the winners of our Oldest Water Heater Contest, and it was a really great experience! Both couples turned out to be really nice people, and were good sports about me being there to take some pictures to share with our readers.

Mr. & Mrs. Scott of Aston

Mr. & Mrs. Scott of Aston were the official winners, with a 23-year old water heater.

I’m going to backtrack a little here – I know a lot of people (including the winners!) were pretty confused at how we ended up with not one, but two, grand prizes to award. When we sorted through the contest entries here in the office and tallied up the age of the water heaters, not everyone on the team was aware that some manufacturers use a 20-year date code cycle. So, for example, a water heater with a serial number of AC12345 could either be from March of 1984 or March of 2004. And this led us into a situation where the customer correctly reported their information to us, and it checked out as a valid serial number which was the oldest of the entries we received. Of course, as soon as our plumbing team saw the water heater, they discovered the mistake. Rob, our plumbing manager, made the decision on the spot to award a second prize so that we could both keep our commitment to the Seminole’s and also to the family with the actual oldest water heater, the Scott’s.

Mr. & Mrs. Seminole

Mr. & Mrs. Seminole were the “bonus” winners!

Which brings me to something that really caught my attention as we arrived for the installations. After the initial “Oh wow, I never win anything, I still can’t believe this is happening!” they asked how much the installation of their free water heater would cost. It took a few minutes for both Bernie, our VP of Sales and Marketing, and Rob to really bring home the fact that free is free and there wouldn’t be a charge for any of the work. It got me thinking that we’ve all become conditioned to The Catch. We’ve all had that moment of elation where you think you’re getting a great deal, only to be let down when you find out about all the hoops you need to jump through or that it’s a “deal with major purchase only”.

Sometimes, though, the catch is that there is no catch – it really is a free water heater (or two!). So I want to thank Rob and his plumbing team for sponsoring this contest, our friends at Rheem and US Supply for supplying the prizes, all of our customers who entered, and especially the winners for letting us stop by and take some pictures to share with everyone. Being a part of that was a pretty great way to end my week!

Joe the Plumber brings the water heater in for installation

Plumbing manager Rob Wagner, right, and Plumber Joe McLaughlin prepare to install the water heater for Mrs. Scott

Until next time,


PS – Check out more pictures from our contest winners’ installations on our Facebook page!