Few odors are more distinct and more annoying than the smell of sulfur. It's that rotten egg, spoiled food, something died in the drain smell. Or is it?
When the smell of rotten eggs starts radiating from the water fixtures, many homeowners will assume it has something to do with the drainpipes. They will spend time and money on home remedies trying to clean the drains without realizing the issue actually has to do with their hot water heater.
Water heaters don’t last forever. Below we describe the warning signs you should look for in a broken water heater, and then we’ll take you through Water Heater 101 to give you everything you need to know to make a smart purchase.
The Warning Signs
First of all, why rotten eggs? That sulfur smell originates because of two reasons:
- The warm environment creates a perfect environment for sulfur bacteria.
- A reaction between the anode rod in your hot water heater and the sulfate in the water. Basically, your anode rod is worn out.
Replacing an older rod with a new one usually gets rid of the smell, but sometimes it doesn’t.
Here are a few other warning signs that indicate a new water heater is necessary:
Rusty or discolored water from your faucet
- Muddy or increased sediment in hot water tank
- Water develops metallic taste and/or smell
- Loud cracks or pops coming from water heater
- Leaking water around the water heater where none has been before (take immediate action on this one!)
Water Heater 101
A quality water heater will last anywhere from 10 to 15 years depending on how well you maintain it.
When you’re purchasing a new hot water heater, two main criteria should be considered: fuel type and storage type.
Water heaters are no longer limited to electric or gas options. Plenty of energy efficient models are now available. Read through the criteria for each fuel type to determine which best fits your needs.
Electric: uses one or two heating elements to heat the water and is typically less expensive than other types. High efficiency options are available and sizes range from 2.5 to 70+ gallons.
Gas: uses a burner to heat the water. It can’t be stored near combustible material and needs air circulating around it. It’s typically more expensive than electric water heaters, but it’s also more efficient. Sizes range from 30 to 70+ gallons.
Heat Pump (Hybrid): uses energy from the air to heat the water. It’s typically larger than standard electric water heaters and more expensive up front, but it’ll save you money over the long run. Sizes range from 40 to 70+ gallons.
Solar: uses energy from the sun to heat the water. You will need a backup system for cloudy days, and like the hybrid, there’s more cost up front, but you’ll save more long-term. Sizes range from 34 to 70+ gallons.
The type of storage will largely depend on the size of your household. Below are two common storage types you can choose from.
Storage Tank: by far the most common, these tanks are designed to heat and store water for future use. Consider the tank size you need for your household and the recovery rate (the amount of water it can heat in an hour). Look at the energy efficiency of the model and the yearly operating costs on the EnergyGuide label before buying.
Tankless (on-demand): these tanks don’t store water, they heat it as it passes through. The amount of water pressure is limited. Most can produce about 3.5 heated gallons of water per minute.
Not all water heaters are created equal, and even the best water heaters need to eventually be replaced. It’s important to know the warning signs and to understand when a new water heater is necessary.
Do your research before heading to the nearest hardware store to develop a general idea of what kind of fuel type and storage type best fits your needs. It will make the process of buying go a lot more smoothly.
What are your experiences with hot water heaters? Have you ever been fooled by that sulfur smell and thought it was something else?
Share your thoughts in the comments.