Hot Water Weirdness
November 30, 2014 4:18 PM   Subscribe

My natural gas water heater just got replaced and a couple of oddities: 1) if I have my shed door shut all the way for a day, the next time I walk in there, it smells of natural gas (not an overwhelming odor, but you know the gas is present in the air); 2) the hot water doesn't last for an entire shower like the old water heater had.

Are 1 & 2 related? What do you think the problem can be? And yes, I did call the guy (licensed plumber) over the weekend to let him know of the natural gas odor in the shed where the water heater is housed (the shed is attached to the back of the house, but I have to walk out to the deck to access the shed).
posted by NoMich to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
When you smell gas, you need to call the gas company, not the plumber.
posted by kindall at 4:22 PM on November 30, 2014

I figured it would be quicker to get the plumber back to my house than to deal with the gas company. I guess I'll call the gas company tomorrow.
posted by NoMich at 4:24 PM on November 30, 2014

We had a similar problem with our new gas water heater. The valve or connection between the pilot light and gas line was not installed correctly, and there was a small, non-obvious leak that gave off a noticeable odor. To diagnose this, take a spray bottle and fill it with lightly soapy water (a drop of dishwashing liquid works). Spray the valve joints with a little bit of the soapy mixture, looking for bubbles to find the leaking connection.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:26 PM on November 30, 2014

Lungful: Did you also experience point #2?
posted by NoMich at 4:29 PM on November 30, 2014

No, we just had a very light gas smell. Perhaps your pilot light is not refiring enough to heat a sufficient amount of water, needs dialing up, or there is some other issue. A competent plumber will be able to diagnose and fix this, I'd think — definitely give the company that installed your gas heater a call, since it's obviously malfunctioning and calling in a new plumber will probably cost a bit. If the gas smell is strong, call the gas company's emergency line.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:32 PM on November 30, 2014

Is it the same size water heater (gallons)?
posted by donaken at 5:08 PM on November 30, 2014

Yes. The old one was a shorter, but wider 40 gallon tank and the new one is a tall, but skinny 40 gallon tank. The former is not made anymore.
posted by NoMich at 5:21 PM on November 30, 2014

To get more hit water, increase the temperature of the tank. For the gas smell, call the installer, plumbers who install gas can service it.
posted by theora55 at 5:58 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the gas smell, call the installer, plumbers who install gas can service it.

Yes, this. When I had a water heater installed there was a gas smell afterwards, and the plumber came back and checked and rechecked every connection and fitting until they figured out where it was coming from. It's a serious issue, so please keep things well ventilated and away from flame if they can't come right away.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:03 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Turning up the tank temperature means that for any given shower temperature you're mixing in more cold water, so you draw down your hot water tank less quickly, so your 40 gallons will last longer.

The gas smell could be one of two things: it might be a supply leak, or it might actually be the hot flue gas from the burner. If it's a kind of sulphurous reek it will be a leak. If it smells a bit like car exhaust, it's flue gas.

If it is flue gas, then you may well be running a hot water service intended to be mounted outside the house - which means it won't have an actual flue pipe to vent its combustion gases through - inside your shed. You can easily tell if this is how things are - just watch the heater when it's working and see if you can see steam emerging from a grille somewhere.

Personally I would rate that as an unacceptable asphyxiation and/or carbon monoxide poisoning risk, and would be very surprised to find that such an installation is code compliant.
posted by flabdablet at 4:58 AM on December 1, 2014

OK, turning up the temperature makes sense.

As for the smell, it's definitely sulphurous. Plus, the water heater is vented.
posted by NoMich at 7:04 AM on December 1, 2014

Then the heater installer just needs to come back and fix the leak. Small job. Should be quick and easy and done at no charge to you.
posted by flabdablet at 7:41 AM on December 1, 2014

So, two things:
1) Turning up the heat setting has improved the hot water situation. With our last water heater, we had it set to the A setting, but with this new one, we're at just above the B setting. (There's the normal setting, then as you work your way up through A, B and C, the water gets hotter)

2) I was smelling the musty plywood floor. The last water heater dumped its contents onto the floor and sat there for about 6 to 8 hours. Though, there is a hole drilled into the floor near the water heater for, I'm sure, this very reason, so not all of the water just sat on the plywood floor. Anyway, the plumber did agree that what I was smelling was similar to natural gas. Just to be sure, though, he checked all of the connections and everything was as it should be.

Thanks for all y'all's help.
posted by NoMich at 5:34 AM on December 5, 2014

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