How to install Heat Traps on Water Heaters

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What are the heat traps, installation tips and problems that can affect comfortable water heating.

Heat traps and thermosiphoning

Heat traps are elements installed on the electric and gas powered water heaters and are used to prevent heat loss from inside the storage tank when flow stops while increasing the overall efficiency.

The heat energy is lost through the thermal expansion when hot water from the storage tank rises through the cold water inlet (dip tube) and out through the plumbing.

This is also known as natural convection and thermosiphoning. The process of heat dissipation can be tested by touching the cold water inlet, and if it feels warm or hot, the thermosiphoning is in action. That means either the water heater does not utilize the heat traps, heat traps are broken or improperly installed.

Types

hot and cold water heat traps

Most tank-type water heaters today, Rheem, AO Smith, State, American, Bradford White and other, are equipped with the two heat traps (hot and cold pipes) to increase the energy efficiency, while those which do not have, can be retrofitted. The most used types are with the metal nipples with the flaps or balls inside. The heat traps with the flaps are better due to the smaller size and quiet heater’s operation, while the ball type can usually get stacked and reduce water flow.

Some plumbers prefer making the heat traps by bending the pipes into U-shape, also known as gooseneck. The most frequent problems related to the heat traps are the flow restriction, lack of hot water and noise, especially if you have a recirculation loop. Shaping the pipe into gooseneck have its advantages over factory installed one; there are no moving parts that can stuck and reduce the water flow.

Installation instructions

  • Turn the power off to the water heater.

  • Drain approximately 2 gallons of water on the drain valve or relief valve.

  • At the top of the water heater remove the pipe connecting nuts from the pipe nipples by using the pipe wrench.
  • Apply Teflon tape or joint compound to the heat trap before making connections and insert the heat traps into both hot and cold pipe.

  • Use the pipe wrench on the steel body of the element not on the thread.

  • Reinstall the connecting nuts onto the pipe nipples.
  • Never apply heat directly to the fitting if the pipe connecting nuts are sweated onto the pipes.

Recommended are those heat traps that have self cleaning fitting or dielectric inert thermoplastic lining that prevents corrossion. They have the color coded cold inlet (blue) and hot outlet (red).

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