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  • Writer's pictureBill Gagne

Everything Hotwater Tanks with Keegan Egressy from Cornerstone Trade Solutions

Podcast Transcript

Bill Gagne: (00:00)

Hey, my name is Bill Gagne with Speed River Contracting. And in this episode of the SRC toolbox podcast, we talked to Keegan Egressy from cornerstone trade solutions about everything, hot water tanks.

Now, before Keegan goes off the rails and nerds out about tankless hot water systems, we talk about the different types of hot water tanks signs, when you need a new hot water tank, how to maintain your hot water tank. And of course, tankless on demand, hot water systems.

I've known Keegan almost 10 years and both he and cornerstone trade solutions have always been a great resource for everything plumbing for me.

So without further ado, let's talk to Keegan.

What I wanted to talk about was basically just kind of like a beginners guide or a new homeowners intro or discussion about their hot water tank.

I want to take it kind of from the perspective of imagine I've lived in an apartment my whole life, I've just bought a house and I'm sure since you've known me a long time, it's not hard for you to believe that I know very little about how water tanks, why don't we start with, what do I need to know about my hot water tank if I've never dealt with one before?

Keegan Egressy: (01:07)

So if you've never dealt with them before, the most important thing to know is it's age and the age of a water heater can be found by looking at the rating plate.

The rating plate is a sticker, typically white, but sometimes other colors with a large number of information on there. And it is on the side of the water. Heater is usually like six inches by six inches. So the size of your color or size of your hand.

Bill Gagne: (01:33)

And so say, I go check this out it tells me how old it is? If it's new, I guess I have no concerns. What else do, what else is that sticker going to tell me, is it going to tell me who installed it? Of course it will tell how big it is, correct.

Keegan Egressy: (01:46)

It will have the make, the model, the manufacturer's name, which is important because you'll actually probably need to call the manufacturer to get the proper date of manufacturer.

The unit doesn't have like a date stamp right on the unit. You actually have to call them, give them the serial number, and then they will tell you how old it is if you're looking for an exact date, but that sticker will have things like the size of the unit.

It will have information pertaining to the type of unit it is. There are three common water heaters, electric, natural gas, natural gas, atmospheric vent, and then natural gas, power vent. They may also be propane depending on if they're in the city or if they're in the country. Propane is typically in the country.

Bill Gagne: (02:35)

Why is it important for me to know how old my hot water tank?

Keegan Egressy: (02:38)

It's important because a hot water tank, just like all other devices in your home has a limited lifespan and on soft water, you're looking at about 15 years as a like healthy maximum.

If you get 10 to 15 out of the water heater, you're pretty happy with that. You didn't get a lemon. If you're under 10, you're slightly peeved because it probably should have lasted a bit longer.

As you approach that 15 years, you really do want to think about replacement before you have a leak, which is the worst thing that can happen with it really is either the water shuts off and you no longer have hot water at all, period.

Or it ends up leaking out the bottom and onto your floor, potentially damaging a finished basement. If you have it, et cetera,

Bill Gagne: (03:30)

Say I have a leak. What's my first move.

Keegan Egressy: (03:33)

Your first move, if you have a leak will probably be to reach out to a plumber and get their advice on the phone specifically to your case.

If you're on the phone with them, you can give them information. Like, is it leaking from the top? Is it leaking from the bottom? Is it leaking from the side?

Those all have different things. I would advise a client to do with their water heater. After we've been told that some of them are more urgent than others.

And again, the plumber can give their advice as to which way to go with it. If there's something catastrophic, it would be to turn off the valve, which is directly above the water heater, all water heaters have a shutoff valve, an isolation valve. Then you would turn that off above the water heater to stop or not to stop, but to prevent the leak from getting any worse than it already is.

Bill Gagne: (04:26)

Let's say if I don't have any issues about this house, I don't have any issues with the hot water tank. What's what type of a maintenance am I looking at? Should I have somebody come in to look at it right away?

Is there anything I need to know about this? And then what type of servicing should I have done as part of the maintenance? Or is there any required?

Keegan Egressy: (04:44)

So there's definitely maintenance. I would say that 95% of the population of Canada does not do any maintenance on their water heater until it is needed by, either it's leaking or it's not producing hot water or, you know, et cetera, I would say you're kind of in two camps.

So, you go down in the basement, you check out your water heater for the first time you find out how old it is. And let's say it's like five years old.

The next thing you're probably going to want to do is to run the hot water at a tap and see how hot it gets. And then potentially looking at the settings on the water heater to see if it's, maybe it was put in vacation mode because they were selling it and they didn't want to spend too much energy or expend, expend too much money on the water heater while it sat there for two,

Bill Gagne: (05:34)

I didn't even know you could put your hot water take on vacation mode, right?

Keegan Egressy: (05:38)

There's actually different settings on the water heater for how hot it's going to get now. Not all water heaters, that vacation mode, of course, but the newer ones, certainly five years old, 10 years old even would probably have a vacation mode on the gas valve.

So checking that to make sure it's actually producing hot water. While I'm running the hot water, I'm going to go back down to the basement or back over to the water heater and I'm going to listen for what's called popcorning.

And if the unit sounds like it's making popcorn a, you have a calcium deposit issue, it's not necessarily an immediate replacement or anything, but it's definitely something to be thinking about because as soon as you have that popcorn and you've got a mineral buildup and you want to start clearing that out by installing a water softener,

Bill Gagne: (06:26)

Where does that calcium deposit come from it?

I know here in Guelph we have hard water and that's its own problem. I think we're getting into another topic that I was really interested in turbo say, what are the signs that I need a new one, a new hot water tickets.

It's not a cheap thing to deal with. I'm going to spend over a thousand bucks to buy a new hot water tank, depending on what I'm getting.

I probably want to know what I'm getting into or, or at least do I need to save for this or what it's what my horizon is for my hot water tank. So maybe we could talk a little bit about that.

Keegan Egressy: (06:56)

You're looking at at least a thousand bucks for like an electric and you're probably looking at more like 2000 for a power vented. So it's not an inexpensive replacement in the least.

I just wanted to go back to the maintenance cause I, I didn't actually talk specifically about that yet was a device inside of the unit, which is called a sacrificial anode rod.

Now that's pretty much the only maintenance in so far as like the specific, what is maintenance part of owning water heater would be to change out that anode rod every year to two years.

If the hot water tank is too old, trying to change out the anode, rod now is probably not going to work because the threads will be stuck and it will never come out anyway.

But if it's new enough under five years, even under seven, probably you could probably get that thing out and put in a new one. And what a sacrificial anode rod does.

Bill Gagne: (07:52)

Am I doing that? Am I calling them that wouldn't be

Keegan Egressy: (07:54)

That that would be a plumber's job. I would say, you're going to need some specialized equipment. You'll need a specialized socket size and a breaker bar, at least two foot long to get that sucker out.

If you are a handy guy or gal who has that kind of equipment already, it might be worth doing yourself. If it's just a quick YouTube video and, and uh, some, some muscle then go for it.

But I would say for the vast majority of people hiring a plumber to do that job would be the right idea. You're looking at something like 175 bucks for a service call to get that thing changed out.

The purpose of it is in the name, it sacrifices itself to the water in order to protect the rest of the tank. Now, I mentioned that the tank start leaking, you know, after 10 to 15 years, they start leaking because water is aggressive and starts attacking the actual tank itself. And the components they're in, especially if there's hard water, then it's even faster. Now that the anode rod is there to take that beating before the tank takes that beating.

Now the anode rod lasts for about two years in typical Guelph water. For sure. Maybe three, but chances are less actually, especially here in Guelph. We have very aggressive water.

Bill Gagne: (09:21)

That's a nice way to put it.

Keegan Egressy: (09:23)

Yeah. So that that's maintenance.

Bill Gagne: (09:26)

Well, I mean, there's clearly something we're talking about here that's an accompanying thing to your hot water tank is, and is probably a topic for another episode, is do you have a water softener, right?

If you live in welfare, an area with hard water, your hot water tank is only as durable as how disciplined you are with your water softener upkeep.

Because, you and I have talked about it. I'm not so great at filling my water softener all the time.

But anyway, that's another topic. So yeah, what I wanted to talk about was going to what you said, servicing.

So does this mean if a plumber is going to be changing this anode, am I calling a plumber every couple of years to come out and say, Hey, can you come out and service my hot water tank?

What's my next move here.

Keegan Egressy: (10:15)

If you're keen to have your hot water tank last longer, changing out the sacrificial anode would be the way to go.

To do that, I would say 95% of the population should be calling a plumber.

If you're the kind of person who's like, you know what I'd like to see at once, maybe call a plumber the first time and then watch a couple YouTube videos, acquire some equipment, and then you could possibly change it out yourself.

And if that was the case, you might even change it out every year instead because the rod itself is not actually that expensive.

Bill Gagne: (10:45)

It's just the time and the skill to do

Keegan Egressy: (10:47)

It. It's the labor and time and skilled yes. To do it. The vast majority of people don't do it because their unit is a rental actually goes back to the first thing you want to look at is, is your water heater owned?

Or is it a rental? Because if it's a rental, everything we've just discussed to this point is moot. If it's a rental, the rental company is going to take care of it. And if there's an issue with it or you notice popcorning or whatever the case may be, you're calling your rental company and they're going to service it at their cost.

Bill Gagne: (11:20)

What are some other signs you will, you mentioned popcorning, what are some other signs that your hot water tank is kind of getting to the end of its life? I mean, we've discussed age that, you know, you want to be 10, 10 or 15 years.

Now you got to start thinking about a new one, how you're starting to hear popcorning from calcium buildup. If you have hard water, uh, what are, are there other signs that, you know, if I'm downstairs in my freezer's down there and I walked by my hot water tank all the time, is there anything I should be looking

Keegan Egressy: (11:49)

Other than leaks? No, there there's nothing else visually you're going to be able to inspect or even auditory that you're gonna be able to inspect about the hot water heater.

The only other thing I could say would be if, if your use of the hot water does not change as in it's averaged across your normal use, but suddenly you're running out of hot water. There's probably something going on.

And usually it goes hand in hand with the popcorning. It will go hand in hand with mineral buildup in the tank. Typically that's the reason why it starts to lose hot water.

Bill Gagne: (12:28)

Are there there's different kinds of tanks?

I have a tankless hot water system. What are the differences say between me using or maintaining a tankless hot water system versus maintaining a regular drum type hot water tank.

And I'm asking for me because I haven't maintained mine in five years.

Keegan Egressy: (12:51)

Now you're talking about the differences between a bike and a car. The tank hot water heater is the bike in this analogy. And the tankless is the car in this analogy.

The tankless hot water heater is so far in a way different than a tank water heater, other than they produce hot water. I would say that's the only real connection that they would have a lot of the new tankless water heaters today.

They have internal pumps. They have internal buffer tanks. They're going to have a bypass valves. They're going to have primary and secondary heat exchangers. They are a completely different beast in every way, shape and form.

So maintenance on a tankless is actually even more important. It can't be ignored. You can ignore your tanked water heater and have it last 15 years. You can't ignore your tankless hot water heater and have it last 15 years.

Bill Gagne: (13:49)

I feel like you're judging me. Right.

Keegan Egressy: (13:50)

I'm talking about, in Guelph, right? It's very similar in that there is a maintenance in this case, it's a cleaning, it's a pump on a drill with some hoses and a couple of buckets with a specialized liquid, which is then pumped through the water heater nor to clean out the primary and secondary heat exchangers.

We talked about the popcorning and the, and the buildup of minerals in your tank, water heater.

Well, the same thing happens in the tankless water heater, but it's even more detrimental because it binds to the heat exchanger, which is just a series of very, very small tubes and causes hotspots.

And if a hotspot becomes too hot, it will just melt and burst. And now you've got a leak pouring from the unit.

Bill Gagne: (14:45)

Now that we've established that I do not maintain my hot water tank. Does this mean I need to call, call you guys and get somebody in to do this?

Or is this something I can do or what's my next course? I actually, cause now I'm nervous. Cause I've had it five years. I've done nothing but turn on my hot water.

Keegan Egressy: (15:06)

So , I know your system specifically, you have a softener and a softener is going to, again, lengthen the lifetime of a unit like a tankless hot water heater.

Bill Gagne: (15:17)

I'm going to stop you right there. Can you, because you're well aware that I am not very disciplined to using my water softener.

Let's imagine that I just got a water softener and just started using it regularly. Now that I want to maintain this tankless hot water. So it's not that I didn't want to. I had kids and they interrupt your whole life. I want to get into maintaining it.

So , I actually talked to another guy who had you guys put in a tankless hot water system. And he filtered it himself. He used vinegar, I believe, and then had the pump, but he was saying like, it's a two hour ordeal and he did it on his own.

And I'm like, okay, do I really want to go that route? Or do I want to pay somebody to take care of something that is, I mean, a tankless hot water system is much more expensive than your typical hot water tank, but it saves you more money in the long run.

What are the maintenance ideal? Do I call you? Do I try to do this myself? Because you mentioned what the anode, I don't want to do that myself. I mean, I am a handy person and I,

Keegan Egressy: (16:20)

We even want to do that. I think it's the same as the anode. It's, you know, you can definitely do it yourself if you have the equipment and the know-how it's, it's not the kind of thing that even requires a license or, you know, is, is rocket science. It's a couple of buckets of a drill pump, which you can pick up at any hardware store.

Yes. You can use vinegar. I don't recommend it because it's not going to do the job that it's meant to do. They have specialized liquids designed specifically for cleaning hot water heaters. They're biodegradable, they're food grade, you know, like they're meant, they're meant to do exactly what they were designed to do, which is clean your hot water heater. And the liquids are not that much more expensive. A jug of vinegar is like 10 bucks and a jug of cleaning fluid would be something like 25 30.

Bill Gagne: (17:10)

So there's two routes to getting a new hot water tank. Let's just say, Hey, we show up the I'm got popcorn going on. I've got water on my floor.

As an example, I need a new hot water tank.

What are my options in terms of getting one in term for instance, for payment. Lease versus buy. What are pros and cons of getting your typical drum versus a tankless.

Keegan Egressy: (17:36)

So I would start with tankless are amazing.

If you can afford it by a tankless, they're just so much better than that. They're just like you went the right route.

And I know that it's paying dividends for you, that, you know, you're recovered half your gas bill, if not more, you know, like it's, it's a very good investment. However, you are right, we say it's double.

If you're looking to pay for a standard power vented water heater, which I would say a vast majority of people in golf have you're looking at two grand to get a tankless. You're looking at four.

So your first question for yourself is what can I afford? What's my budget for this. Normally what we would do, I should say, not normally, but in most cases, nine out of 10, we're doing, what's called a straight swap.

Keegan Egressy: (18:30)

If you've got an electric, there's a reason you have an electric and we swap it for an electric. If you have a power vent, we're swapping it for a power vent. If you happen to have an electric and you're looking for more efficiency and willing to pony up to the $2,000, you know, you could probably find a way to jump from an electric to a power vent, gained.

Some efficiency, certainly gained some like draw down time where you can actually fill up a tub instead of it going cold by the end.

But there's a lot more variables involved in jumping from an electric to apartment. If you have a standard power vent, getting to a standard tankless in terms of feasibility is 9.5 out of 10 are a go ahead. No problem.

Typically there's some considerations to be made. Like there'll be some gas work that has to be done. There'll be some water lines that might have to be upgraded. There'll be another set of, there'll be another set of venting holes out to this side of your home. But again, most of that can be is feasible.

Bill Gagne: (19:37)

Cool. Just kind of gleaning from what you're saying, jumping from an electric hot water tank to a tankless might be a little more cumbersome to different.

Keegan Egressy: (19:46)

You're having an electric water heater. It means you don't have gas to the home or propane to the home potentially. So that might mean actually getting a propane tank out, getting a gas guy or gas fitter to drop a manifold into your house. And those things on their own can, can be upwards of $2,000.

Again, it's a very complex equation as to which way you go. But I would say nine out of 10 people are doing a straight swap, mostly because it's cost prohibitive. But I do find a lot of people will jump from a power vent to the tankless, which is why I was focusing on that because we actually do see that happening,

Bill Gagne: (20:30)

Can we dig into the, the economic one?

We alluded to that a little bit earlier when you were talking to me and I know the benefits, like I've seen my gas bill drop from say over a hundred bucks a month to, I get billed $62 every month, you know, the standard billing. And then I would, once

Bill Gagne: (20:48)

Every three to four months, I get a bill that's like negative $4. Yeah. So I'm not paying, I should probably go back and dig into this and look at what I'm actually paying. And that would be valuable. But I know there's multiple months in a year where I am getting a credit for my gas bill.

And that's been a huge plus because even though I'm paying more to, I paid more to buy the unit, it's five years old, I'm saving. I was saving close to $50 a month over five years, you know, that's what are we five times 50 that's 600 bucks, times five, I've saved three grand in hot in, in gas pills, just because of that. So it's been awesome.

Keegan Egressy: (21:33)

That's an anecdotal situation for you specifically. And I think that's a very important thing to bring up is that, you know, your particular situation, it was even more beneficial to go to a tankless water heater everybody's case is going to be slightly different. I would say that everyone is going to save some amount of money. Some of them are going to essentially pay off their unit in five years. Some people might take 10 years to pay off that unit.

And it comes down to, again, a huge number of factors, even the incoming water temperature. In the winter, your temperature of your water coming into your home is actually lower than in the summer. And that will have an effect on your gas bills and it will be noticed or be felt even more when you have a tankless hot water heater, because a tanked water heater is heating water all the time.

Tankless water heater only heats water when you want it. It's, it's otherwise named an on demand system. And it means that you can gain an enormous amount of efficiency, especially if you're doing things where you have very, very small amounts of water that you want to draw at very regular intervals, which is most families with kids. You're not drawing a bath every single night, you know, and then doing that three times a day, you're just quickly washing your hands over and over and over again,

Bill Gagne: (23:06)

You made a really good point to me before I bought mine. That was a problem because at the time, five years ago, there was enough data. Like people out there were saying, Oh, it's not that great.

I got one and I was unhappy and you made a really good point to me. You said they have the wrong size. You made it clear the one that people are, or at least at that time, you said whatever they're saying, you should get in the guide. We're going to upsize it by one.

And I think that information was critical because I ended up referring a lot of my friends and say, Hey, if you're going to get a hot water tank, here's what I'm experiencing. And it was that information that was so pivotal.

Keegan Egressy: (23:47)

I don't actually remember that conversation. I'm glad it worked out for you. I do find that in plumbing, in general people, they don't err on the side of caution, they're usually erring on the side of saving as much money as possible upfront.

That's not always the case when you have a water heater, which is going to last you for 10 to 15 years, by the time you stretch that out, you know, you have to take into consideration, how are you actually going to be using the unit?

And most of the time people's complaints about the old water heater, the old tankless water heaters could be solved by upsizing the unit, which just meant that it now has the capacity to heat faster today. The units that we're installing are actually even more advanced than even the unit that you have.

Keegan Egressy: (24:38)

And they come with pumps and buffer tanks and research insulation timers, so that the water is kept hot for longer periods of time before and after you use it in order to make sure that you don't get hit with cold water sandwich or your temperature drops drastically and then comes back up or, you know, your wife gets in the shower after the fact and now your hot water heater has to spool up again, even though it was two minutes later.

So they've gotten even better today at making it, making the use of a tankless more comfortable.

Bill Gagne: (25:21)

Can we talk a little bit now about the environmental aspect? You said that that's the one that people go for. They're not looking at the savings, they're looking at the environmental aspect or did I get that wrong?

Keegan Egressy: (25:32)

I would say, you know, the people who are buying it for sure, buying it immediately, those are the kinds of people who are thinking about the environmental impact they're thinking about, well, I'd rather not waste energy blasting, exhaust gases into the atmosphere from a tank water heater, which is just sitting there heating water that I'm not even using right now.

Yeah. I might use it later, but I'm not using it right now. And they feel very strongly about going to more efficient ways of heating their water, which tankless is a much more efficient way of heating a home's water. And I don't have the environmental impact studies and I don't have any statistics to prove or disprove that they are drastically different.

But I find that any customer who is very gung ho about switching, they are doing it because of the environmental impact more than they are for the monetary savings.

Bill Gagne: (26:34)

I think one of the points that I want to dig into here, or just ex explore is the difference of what a traditional hot water tank does. Is it just, it fires on the regular to make sure the tank is, has hot water in it, right?

So you're randomly using electric power and gas, whether you have the hot water on or not. And then you're, you're venting to the exterior of the gas is from that. Right? And what, what you're getting as a benefit from the tankless is you're not doing that. And, and this was the term you used before was on demand.

Now it's only firing when you need it. So you're not using gas or electricity or venting any or doing any offgassing until you actually need it. So it's, it's not useless cycling of the machine. Is that correct?

Keegan Egressy: (27:22)

Yeah, that's right. Especially for, like we mentioned vacation mode before, the reason that vacation mode exists on power vented water heaters is because people going away on vacation don't want to heat that water up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but you can't turn it off.

Turning off your hot water heater is just as bad, if not worse for the hot water heater, then having it cycling a little bit here and there. And that's where that vacation mode comes in. So yes, your hot water heater, a tanked water heater heats the water up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and then we'll have a temperature range with which it will allow it to drop usually 132 Fahrenheit.

So it will allow it to drop down to 132. Then it'll heat it back up to 140. And they'll continue to do that all day all night, whether you use the water or not. And that's what you're saving.

You're saving, not heating the water over and over and over again that you're just not using because you happen to be staying at your in-laws for a week, even, you know, going to stay in a hotel for a few days. You know, it's, it's always heating your tankless, doesn't operate at all

Bill Gagne: (28:34)

Your regular drummed hot water tank. Can you put that on a timer so that it doesn't fire at night or is there, or is it internally, is there a thermostat that says once it hits this temperature, we fire up again to be sure. Is there a way to make your existing hot water tank more environmentally friendly?

Keegan Egressy: (28:55)

Probably. I wouldn't have the like actual answer to that question cause I don't have those studies in front of me, but I would have to assume that you would gain a benefit by not allowing it to run at night.

And again, an electrician could essentially splice in a simple timer in between the electrical cord or in between the plug and the house power in order to have it shut off at let's say midnight. And it just would not receive power between midnight and 6:00 AM or something.

Bill Gagne: (29:39)

I think too, I've seen blankets insulation. Like blankets you can wrap around your hot water tank to have the internal temperature maintained higher or have the, the, and those are older units.

My mom bought one. So my mom is 80. This is a long time ago. I don't know if the new units are better insulated to protect against that much better insulated.

Keegan Egressy: (30:03)

So if a unit is old enough, 20 plus years, it might have a half inch of insulation. Um, these days a water heater will have two inches of insulation and this is like proper spray foam style insulation pumped into the jacket.

They're far and away better at maintaining their heat than they ever were adding a jacket to. It would probably only help that. I don't know by how much, but certainly if that's something you're willing to invest in, it can't hurt having an extra layer of insulation around it.

But one thing to note too, about the timer at night is that the water heater does take time to heat the water. So you can't just, Oh, well I get up at 6:00 AM. So I'll have the unit turn on at 6:00 AM. You can do that with a tankless, but you can't do that with a tanked. It's going to take an hour to get you hot water, even if it is a power vent.

So you'd have to have it turn on at 5:00 AM, which potentially it could work out that even if you turn the electricity off, it doesn't fire anyway, between those hours, because you're not adding any cold water in potentially the insulation is good enough that it's not actually losing enough heat to turn on until 5:00 AM. Anyway.

Bill Gagne: (31:21)

All right, Keegan I want to say thanks for doing this. I got a lot more questions about other stuff I want to do with you, but I'm sure your bus Russ would like you to get back to work.

Keegan Egressy: (30:25)

No problem.

Bill Gagne: (31:31)

I hope this episode helped you learn a little bit more about your hot water tank and how important it is to maintain it. I personally am about to book an appointment to get cornerstone trade solutions in, to clean my tankless system because it probably desperately needs it by the sounds of it. If you enjoyed this episode or got something from it, please leave a like, and a follow would be greatly appreciated.

Special, thanks to Keegan and cornerstone trade solutions for their time. We'll be talking more with Cornerstone Trade Solutions in the future about water softeners, air conditioners, and a whole slew of renovation topics.

If you're interested in more topics, check out our library of content on YouTube, iTunes or wherever you take in your podcast, take care. And thanks for listening.

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