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Robert Lamoureux: Tankless water heaters need maintenance

Your Home Improvements

Posted: December 11, 2009 10:10 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Before we get started this week, I'd like to mention that our new t-shirts look great. On the back in full color is "The Signal" logo, with the "Your Home Improvements" logo on the front. As a thank you to our readers, if we answer your question, we will send you one of these shirts with our compliments. - Robert Lamoureux

Hi Robert,
I enjoy your column each week in The Signal. Since the city's ban on water softeners, I got rid of my Sears softener. Some time after, I noticed our aerators were clogging up with what looks like small chunks of scale in the sink faucets and showerheads. I had a Rinnai tankless water heater installed in ‘05 when I had soft water. (I do not have a circulating pump in the system.) I am concerned as our hard Saugus water may be damaging the heater and wonder what I can do to avoid any further damage and even reverse some of the scale build up. I had a multimedia water filter/conditioner added a few months ago, but it doesn't seem to help. Do I need to install a softener system in addition to the filter to avoid the scale deposits? Is there a way to backflush the heater to clean it? If you need more information please let me know. Looking forward to your response,
Howard M.

Hi Howard,

Besides qualifying for Federal Tax Credits of up to $1,500, there are other advantages to tankless water heaters. According to Rinnai, these benefits include endless hot water whenever you want it for as long as you need it, a typical life span of 20 years and energy savings up to 40 percent - although they are much more expensive to purchase and install.

In hard-water areas, scale buildup can be a problem if ignored and it is highly recommended that your system be serviced annually by a qualified technician. If not, the calcium will reduce flow and efficiency.

To flush out the system, first disconnect the power and close valves V3 and V4. Put four gallons of virgin, food grade vinegar into a bucket.
Put in one hose that connects to valve V1. Put in another hose that connects to a circulating pump (4 gallons per minute) connected to V2. Open valves V1 and V2 and run for 45 minutes. We will forward you the complete flush procedure and diagrams as recommended from Rinnai if you like.

Experts suggest a water softener if your water hardness is above 11 gpg (grains per gallon.) Hardness is also measured in parts per million.  There are currently no established acceptable levels of water hardenss, but it is considered to be a problem at 3 gpg or more. According to some agencies, water in the Santa Clarita Valley is more than 30 gpg.

If your home is connected to the sewer system, you cannot use rock salt or potassium chloride softeners in Santa Clarita Valley as they have been banned since June 2009, but there are alternatives available.

The top three Five-Star rated systems in the SCV are:

1. LifeSource Whole House Water System (activated carbon absorption/filtration) from LifeSource Water Systems, INC based in Pasadena, Call Dan Hillard at (800) 334-5009. Mr. Hillard says if you mention this Signal article, you will pay zero sales tax on the purchase of any new whole house water system through Dec. 31.

2. HydroMagnetic Activated Carbon System (activated carbon absorption, magnetic) from Santa Clarita Water Conditioning in Santa Clarita, They are currently offering a special on their 100 percent maintenance free HydroMagnetic System for $1,895.00, installed. Call (661) 259-1536 and speak with Dan Jimenez for more details.

3. Rayne Portable Exchange Service (portable exchange tank softening) from Rayne in Valencia, CA. Family operated business since 1964. Their exchange service provides 90 percent plus calcium free water with an ion-exchange system. Tanks are replaced two to four times a month, Call and speak with Mike Mang at (661) 257-2963. Mention this Signal article and get free installation and a one month free trial for a basic hookup.

Hi Robert,
Any good common sense ideas for preparing one's home for winter? Thank you,
Jo Anne C.

Hi Jo Anne,
We were just talking about water heaters. As much as 1/3 of the average home's energy bill goes to heating water If you have an old water heater, replace it. The new high efficiency heaters will save anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent on energy costs. Especially in this area, sediments collect and sink to the bottom of the tank. If you have a gas heater, the burner first has to heat all of that sediment before reaching the water.

Check your windows and doors. Although you can always replace your singles with dual pane windows, something very easy would be to check the weather stripping. Check around the doors as well. If any stripping is damaged, it's sold in rolls at your local home improvement center. Remove and replace as needed.

While your working on the door, check the threshold. Cold wind will blow in if the bottom is not properly caulked with urethane.

Check the garage door and the door leading from the garage to your home for weather stripping.

Check the siding for any openings and seal.

You can also take a look in the attic and make sure everything is nicely insulated. Sometimes, for example, an electrician or other tradesman will pull back the insulation and will forget to put it back. The longer that area is left uncovered, the more heat will be lost through that portion of your ceiling. Some folks like to put a second layer of insulation on top of the existing.

If you have a chimney, be sure and close the flue dampner when not in use. Sometimes people forget and leave it open which allows cold air to blow back down into the home.

Regarding chimney safety, the National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 states - "chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary." This is the national safety standard.

The CSIA Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at 1/4" of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. Factory-built fireplaces should be cleaned when any appreciable buildup occurs. Some wood burning stove manufacturers recommend cleaning once a month.

If you haven't had a chimney inspection and cleaning this year, please call and have one scheduled before the first use of the year.

In response to a previous question and answer regarding mail theft, we received this e-mail from Renee Focht of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service:

I just received a copy of your column from our clipping service. I wanted to introduce our agency, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service. Please give Helen S. our contact information. If she has a mail theft problem, we would like to hear from her. She can file a report online or by calling our toll-free number (877) 876-2455. Suspicious activity may be reported to the Postal Inspection Service by calling (877) 876-2455 and selecting option 2 for our 24-hour communication center which can dispatch a Postal Inspector to respond. Postal Inspectors are on duty 24/7. We take mail theft very seriously, it is a federal offense punishable by up to five years in federal prison plus fines.
Renee Focht

Postal Inspector/Public Information Officer, Los Angeles Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, P.O. Box 2000, Pasadena, CA 91102-2000.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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