Stockton’s River Sediment Offers a Clue to What’s Restricting Your Shower’s Hot Water

stockton hot water showerA good friend is a local history buff, and he’s always telling me about how important the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers are to our area. For a lot of us—myself included—the rivers are good for a swim or some kayaking during the summer, but he always reminds me that without the rivers, Sacramento and Stockton wouldn’t have been big port cities 100 years ago, or as big as they are today.

Half the river flow in California passes through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. With so much water moving through it, the delta has to be dredged every now and again because of sediment and debris. While I’m no history expert myself, I tell him that I do know a thing or two about sediment buildup limiting water flow, and whenever I hear someone mention sediment, it makes me think of cold showers—and a shiver runs through me.

With the weather cooling down for fall, hot showers are important. But sediment buildup in your water heater’s storage tank can restrict the flow of heated water in your Stockton home, making it harder than it should be to get the hot showers you want. Hopefully, the next time you pass by downtown Stockton’s San Joaquin riverfront, you’ll remember that maintenance can prevent buildup from happening—and protect you from the chill of a cold shower.

Tank Troubles: Why Your Hot Water Flow Is Restricted

Like the rivers that built up our region 100 years ago, your water heater’s storage tank needs to be kept free of too much sediment in order for water to flow best. A restricted flow will limit the amount of hot water that reaches you when you take a shower on a cold fall or winter morning.

There are several causes for restricted hot water flow, including:

  • Rust, sediment, and other debris from the pipe system
  • A clogged showerhead
  • Low water pressure
  • The water heater needs to be replaced
  • Hot water storage tank capacity is reached
  • Others using hot water at same time

Now, the entire first half of this list is connected to sediment buildup, either in the storage tank, pipes, or showerhead. A water heater needing to be replaced can also be the result of debris softening the tank, although that may be caused by plain old age. Water heater life expectancy, by the way, is between 8 and 12 years. If you push your heater past that, cold water in the shower practically becomes a guarantee.

Clog Causes: Rust, Debris, and Hard Water

Erosion in the pipes is the single biggest cause of clogs in your water heater’s storage tank. Rust and other debris break off from the pipes, which then flows into the water tank and accumulates on the bottom of it. This reduces the overall flow of water, which, of course, then reduces the amount of hot water that can get to you through your shower.

sediment from a hot water heater tank

Sediment found in a hot water heater’s tank | Photo via flick’r user Hadley Paul Garland

The tricky part of the whole thing is that hot water is more likely to break off debris than cold water is. Cold water doesn’t go through the water heater, so if there’s some clogging going on in the storage tank, the cold water flows easier than the hot. If the cold water is also flowing with low pressure, that probably means there is a clog somewhere other than the hot water heater.

We also have a lot of customers near Stockton that live in rural areas and get water from a well, which means a much higher chance of hard water. Hard water is not strictly limited to rural areas, though, which means you may have it in your home as well, and hard water has a higher rate of mineralization. These minerals lead to lime scale, a white and crusty substance liable to cause clogs in your shower head, if the water even makes it that far. Scale in the pipes can even restrict the flow of hot water to the shower head altogether by causing a clog in the tank.

Sediment Solutions: Let the Hot Water Flow

There are, of course, just about as many solutions to hot water clog problems as there are causes, including:

  • Flush, or maintenance, water heater and supply lines: This is the same idea as dredging a river. Sediment builds up, and that sediment is removed. The problem with this, however, is that flushing a system can sometimes agitate old or weakened pipes. Also, there’s not a certainty that it will fix your clog.
  • Add water softener: This solution is for folks who live a bit outside of Stockton in the rural areas with well water. A water softener can prepare water before it enters your water supply, ensuring that hard water won’t get into your pipes and cause lime scale.
  • Install a tankless water heater: This water heater upgrade eliminates the need for a storage tank, which eliminates the possibility of a clog developing in it. Upgrading to a tankless water heater has other benefits, too, including increased efficiency and savings. Energy Star estimates that a typical family can save $100 or more annually with a qualified tankless water heater.

You can also bundle a tankless water heater together with a water softener, which will provide easier-to-clean bathroom fixtures, and better tasting drinking water. Plus, you’ll come away with an extended water heater life expectancy and the energy and cost savings I mentioned above.

I think everyone would agree that cold water in a shower is far from ideal, and as I’ve just explained, there are ways to protect your home against it. Here in Stockton, there’s really no excuse for ignoring the issue, because now you have the San Joaquin River around to remind you. With a little bit of investment in either maintenance or a new water heater setup, you can make sure the hot water in your shower flows as easily as the river, all fall and winter long.

Want to replace your water heater, or have preventative maintenance performed on the water supply lines or storage tank? Contact the professionals at Bell Brothers now to keep the hot water flowing.