Plumbing in the Home/Water Quality Problem

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QUESTION: Hi--

For the past couple of weeks, I've noticed my hot water has been cloudy; the cold water seems to look okay.  There is some road construction going on nearby and the water has been shut off several times so I thought that might have affected my water quality.

When I spoke with someone from the water company, they said it may be the water heater, since the problem is only with the hot water coming out, rather than with both hot and cold.

The water heater is about 25 years old, a gas Ruud heater, in a home with one occupant.  Do you have any ideas what the problem might be?

Thanks.

ANSWER: Hello Ed, I believe the problem you are experiencing is caused by a couple things. First a twenty five year old water heater is incredibly old for a water heater. There has got to be a significant amount of mineral deposits in the bottom that have precipitated out of the water over that length of time. Because of this, when the heater burner is on it causes a percolating effect inside the tank and basically stirs up the deposits. Usually this goes unnoticed but if the water supply has been shut off  several times in a short period, this will aggravate the situation because the smaller particulates will loosen up due to the pressure drop. Also any deposits on the insides of the pipes will loosen and travel to the faucets.
With all that being said, I would not worry about it because it is normal to see this. This will eventually clear up  over time. But keep in mind that as long as the heater is there it will most likely show up every time the water supply to the tank is shut off. The quickest fix is a new heater. It will clear this up and probably save you money since they are much more efficient than the models of twenty five years ago.

J

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for your response.  I have several follow-up questions:  First, if the cloudiness in the water is from the mineral deposits in the water heater, is it hazardous to use that water for cooking, bathing or ingesting?  When the water fills the sink it looks like dirty bath water, which is very unappealing.

Second, would it help to drain the water heater, after hot water has not been used for a few hours so the particles can settle, to remove the deposits?  Or, would it help to let the hot water run (in the bathtub) for 10 minutes, 1/2 hour or an hour to clear the deposits out of the heater?

I would hate to have the heater replaced if it is working properly otherwise; I needed a plumber last year to fix a leak in my crawl space where the incoming water line was connected to the house.  He fixed it but I wasn't happy with his general demeanor.  I have no idea of who would be a satisfactory plumber in my area, providing quality service at a reasonable cost.  If needed, what should be the cost of a new 40 gallon gas water heater?

Thanks.

Answer
The cloudiness is not hazardous and is safe. Draining the heater will not remove the sediment if anything it will stir it up more. The bottom of the tank is convex  and the drin is located above the bottom the sediment will not be totally removed. In fact only very little will be able to be removed. Running the hot water will also disturb the loose particles because the fill tube attached to the cold side brings the cold water into the bottom of the tank internally. Your best bet is to ride it out and eventually it will settle. Try this, let the water run in a sink until hot , then fill a large clear glass with hot water and see how long it takes to settle out and become clear. the residue at the bottom of the glass will give you an idea as to how bad the deposits are. A film covering the bottom of the glass may indicate a heater replacement is the only way out

Plumbing in the Home

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Jay Nicholas

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Plumbing & Heating (warm air, hot water & steam heat)

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40 years in the business, 35 years as a lic. master plumber in NY State. Retired

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Graduated Magna cum laude at the School of Hard Knocks

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Commercial, residential and light industrial. You name it ...I have probably worked on it

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