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Question
our gas hot water heater is having some trouble...  it works great in the summer, but since fall/ winter we run out of hot water much quicker- showers are cut short, and we can't get enough hot water for a bath.   this is our 2nd winter in the house, but last year we'd just moved in, and were 'roughing it' thru major renovations, so i'm not sure we would have noticed.

we live in the bay area (no snow or freezing temps), the water heater is in the basement of our TINY (640 sq ft) house, and is ~15ft from the shower/tub. a portion of the water pipes are outside. the water heater is 9yrs old, and made by 'Reliance'.

is there something in the heating mechanism that could be wearing out or working slower than it should?  or is the water cooling down quicker once it leaves the tank (because of the outside temp)? or something else-?  

we know we need a bigger heater (or possibly tankless), but i was hoping to hold out a bit longer.

Answer
Water heater dip tube illustration
Water heater dip tube  
Hi Kaye,
What has likely happened is that a part called the "dip tube" has fallen off of the cold water inlet pipe. (see included illustration) As you use water from a water heater, the water is drawn off the top of the tank and out through the hot water pipe, usually the left side, it should be marked with a capital H or Hot. As the hot water is drawn out, cold water also enters in to the tank at the same time. This water comes into the cold water inlet pipe, usually on the right. Attached to this cold water pipe is a long plastic tube called a dip tube that directs the cold water to the bottom of the tank. If the dip tube is missing, the cold water mixes with the hottest water at the top of the tank and ultimately the effect is it appears that you do not have enough hot water.

Replacing the dip tube might fix this problem. It really depends on how old the water heater is. The average lifespan of water heater is about 8 to 10 years. Anything older than that is a good candidate for replacement because it will soon start leaking.

Replacing a standard "storage" type water heater usually runs around $500-$600. Installing a tankless water heater in its place can run $2000 or more and they usually don't last  much longer than a conventional storage type heater.  The only benefit is that, if correctly sized, you will never run out of hot water. All the manufacturers try to tell you that there will be big savings on gas and energy consumption but if you actually crunch the numbers and do the ROI, including the significantly higher cost of installation, those savings don't really offset the additional cost. The biggest claim for savings is that a tankless water heater illuminates "standby losses" that a conventional storage water heater is subject to. In my opinion, the numbers don't work. Do your due diligence before deciding to fall prey to a sales pitch. Just saying!
Good Luck,
Dana

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Dana Bostick

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Pretty much any residential plumbing questions. For "item specific" details such as a specific model of fixture, I will need to research and there may not be any useful information available. Note: I live and work in Southern California. We do not, as a rule, use hot water or steam heating systems, oil fired boilers or private water wells so my knowledge in those areas is pretty limited. There are others here on AllExerts that can probably answer those questions better.

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Retired, Licensed General Contractor with Plumbing license. Active Home Inspector, Litigation Consultant and Infrared Thermographer, Online Marketing specialist.

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30+ years in the building trades, Licensed General Contractor (Retired), Certified Infrared Thermographer Internet Entrepreneur, Amazon & eBay Merchant (deals-by-dana)

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Listed FHA Fee Inspector, FHA 203(k)Consultant, HUD Mobile Home Inspector

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