What are the water heater heat traps and how they work? Are they worth the extra effort and cost? Do they create problems, and what happens if you remove them? Installation and buying tips.
According to some studies, the total energy usage of the water heaters in residential homes is close to 20%. So if the heater’s efficiency is higher, better for you, because you will spend less on heating. If you have a water tank heater installed in your home, it is important to understand that the standby heat loss is one of the main reasons why you could have high energy bills. As the heat is mostly lost through the flue vents (gas type), tank walls and pipes, it is advisable to insulate the heater so it can operate efficiently.
The best way to eliminate or reduce the wasted energy is to install an insulation blanket on the water heater, insulate the pipes and install the heat traps (if they are not already built-in).
Heat traps are small devices that are designed to reduce the heat loss through the heater’s inlet and outlet pipes. The most popular types come with floating balls and plastic inserts with flaps.
When the hot water is not drawn from the tank, the heat, which resides inside the tank could exit the cold (inlet) and hot (outlet) piping due to natural convection (the heat moves from hot to cold). This is also known as thermosyphoning, and it is the main reason for water circulation when the heater is not in use. Once the heat traps are installed, they will prevent or reduce the water circulation.
As mentioned, heat traps prevent heat loss and circulation. Using the example of the ball type traps, when the hot water tap is open, water pushes the ball into the upper position so water can move freely from the tank to the fixture. And if there is no water pressure, the ball will be seating into its lowest position, preventing the heat dissipation through the pipe (ball type). The flapper style does the same thing; it opens when the heater is in use and closes when the unit is not operating.
While the nipples with the floating balls could produce noise problems, the flapper style inserts are becoming favorite types among plumbers as it eliminates such issues.
Heat traps are not mandatory but are recommended. Most of the new models have them already installed. If the heat traps are not factory-installed, manufacturers and experts do recommend installation in retrofit applications where the kits are available either from the heater’s manufacturer or any plumbing/HVAC store.
Except reducing the standby heat loss, heat traps are also helpful when connecting two different metals (for example, copper pipe to a metal tank). Those are known as dielectric heat traps, and they reduce the risk of corrosion between two metals.
Dielectric heat traps have a metal body, threaded on each end while its inner part is covered with the thermoplastic lining, preventing the galvanic corrosion.
You can also make your own heat trap to stop the self-circulation and heat dissipation, by bending the hot pipes downward, and making a “U” shape pipe, also known as a gooseneck loop.
It is recommended to bend the pipe at least 20 mm.
Such an idea can be used to protect the thermostatic mixing valve when the valve is subjected to a higher temperature, especially when installed close to the heater and when not in use for some time.
When combining the water tank storage and a boiler, make the heat trap in a way to prevent hot water circulates back into the boiler when idle. What will enhance unwanted circulation is if the boiler is installed above the water storage tank.
Heat traps installation is a DIY home project. This is not hard to do it and it doesn’t require any special tools or skills.
If you are installing a nipple with the floating ball and threaded ends on both sides, the connection doesn’t have to be soldered. Only if you are retrofitting, you might have to cut an existing pipe and provide more space.
Use the adjustable wrench to remove the old nipples from the heater on one side and plumbing connector on the other.
While you are putting new ones, use some Teflon tape or joint compound covering the exposed thread, to make a better seal and provide additional insulation between the two metal parts.
Make sure to install them, so the arrow is pointing in the direction of the water flow.
For this work, you will need less than an hour.
As said before, you can also make your own “heat trap” - a gooseneck loop.
If your gas or electric water heater is equipped with the ball-type heat traps and the noise problems such as “ticking”, “clicking’ or “tapping” comes often, some plumbers recommend to remove the ball from inside. If you have sprinklers and water pumps installed, frequent pressure fluctuation will cause the ball to rattle, resulting in annoying noise.
This problem can be eliminated by installing the flexible disk-type heat traps, as found in some water heaters from the Bradford White manufacturer. These are made of plastic, which makes them easy to install by pushing into the top of extension pipes, and such installation eliminates the noise and makes the dielectric connection.
Heat traps, as other components could break and fail.
Buying and installing heat traps on water heaters is not expensive, time-consuming, and doesn’t require any special tools or knowledge. Just follow the guide or a video.
They are a simple and cost-effective solution for reducing the standby heat loss, unwanted circulation, and valve exposure to a higher temperature, reaching savings up to 50% and longer valve life.
When installed, they can operate as the union valves, allowing easy removal and replacement of your heater.