The Forgotten Water Heater

The Forgotten Water Heater

Feb. 26, 2018


The electric domestic water heater:  one of the most ubiquitous building components that you will find, and probably one of the most ignored.  Let’s face it – they either work or they don’t, right?  This is often the case.  Domestic water heaters, whether they are gas fired, electric, or heated by other means, seldom get the attention they deserve.  Unfortunately, one of the common failure modes for water heaters is a leaking tank.  Depending on where the water heater is located, this could result in anything from a minor mess, to a major problem effecting multiple other building systems.  Why wait for an imminent failure to do something?

The photo shows an aged electric water heater and tank with some evidence that it may have already started leaking in some places.  Certainly the pressure relief valve looks newer, so that was probably replaced in the not to distant past, and it appears that the rust round the top rim might be a result of water weeping around the top fitting.  A closer examination would be useful.

A trained eye can also tell that this is not a new water heater.  In fact, though not pictured above, the nameplate indicates that it was manufactured in 1986!  It is remarkable that it is still in operation.  The BOMA guideline for electric water heaters is only 10 years, so this one has certainly lived its expected lifespan. 

What do you do with this information?  Maybe there isn’t money in the current budget to replace it right now, but it should definitely be part of the next budget discussion.  This is one of those classic decision making challenges:  weighing the risk of failure (especially when there is evidence of the start of a problem) vs. “if it ain’t broke…”. 

There are several strategies that can be employed to help with this decision process and it is important that your organization choose one that best fits your company values, and then use itconsistently.  While this particular example is about a relatively simple domestic water heater, the process of deciding what to do and when to do it with respect to maintenance and capital replacement activities is of real importance to the effectiveness of your facilities operations.  Maybe for something like a water heater, your organization decides that it is a suitable strategy to let it run to failure, but it is critical to have a strategy and apply it consistently across all of your building systems.

If you are unsure how to do this, where to start, or how to perform the risk analysis in your facilities, team up with a professional that can help you get this done.  It is an investment that will pay itself back many times over lower operations and maintenance costs.

There are likely even more issues here.  Can you spot them?  Post them in the comments on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.