Hot Water Heater Noise, Plumber Missed-diagnosis

orchidhabitApril 11, 2013

I’m looking for some input and advice/input regarding noise coming from my hot water heater, possible effect on the recirculating pump, and my concerns with how my plumber handled (hasn’t really fixed) the issue.

Through a local licensed plumber, we purchased and had him install a new American Standard 40 gal. tank natural gas hwh, Grundfos Recirculating Pump/Timer with two separate return valves (each on a bathroom sink at opposite ends of our large ranch-style house). This was back in Oct. 2008.

All has been great, but about 3 months ago (Feb. 2013) we started noticing noises coming from the closet where the hwh and pump are located. Each month the noise was becoming louder and more regular (like every 1.5-2 hours during the morning and evening times when we have the pump set to switch “on”). The noise sounds like a heavy table or chair being pulled across a wood floor. Lasts for about 5-8 seconds each time.

I called the same plumber to report the problem. Over the phone he said it sounded like the pump might be going out, or maybe needed an adjustment on a valve. When he came, he took one look at the pump and said it was the type of pump that has no valve to adjust, and that I needed to replace the pump. He left, went and got a new pump (identical to the one I already had) and charged me $675 ($125 just to come to the house and take a look, $400 for the pump, and $150 to go buy the pump, come back and install it). Mind you, this is near San Jose, CA and cost of living is pretty high. $90-$130 an hour is the going rate for plumbers. I am not comfortable messing with the hwh, my husband is moderately disabled with Parkinson’s and not able or comfortable doing these things either.

Not quite 48 hours after all this, I hear the noise again. Called the plumber and he said he would do some calling to American Standard, Grunfos, and check with some of his plumber friends. He seemed genuinely concerned and stumped why the new pump didn’t fix the problem with the noise. This was on a Thursday.

Four days later on Monday, the plumber called me saying he did speak with technicians at American Standard and Grudfos. He told me the other possibilities were: the second pump could also be a bad one, the anode rod in the hwh might need to be replaced, some outbound piping that is connected to the hwh might be clogged. He did not want to attempt to flush/drain/clean any sediment from the bottom of the hwh, since that could introduce more problems. In the 4.5 years since we’ve had the hwh, no flushing/draining /sediment removal has been done as preventive maintenance.

I told him I would do some more troubleshooting and monitoring and report back to him, in hopes of narrowing it down further. So for the next four days, I shut off the recirculating pump completely. We noticed that whenever there was a large draw on water (ie: taking a shower, doing laundry, running the dishwasher), the same noise would still happen. It wasn’t as loud or long as when the pump timer was in the “on” position, however.

I called the plumber back on Friday to report this information. He agreed that it is not the pump (even so much as apologized for mis-diagnosing the cause of the problem, and costing us the new pump). I then asked him about the other possibilities he put forth: a bad anode rod, or clogged flow in piping on the hwh. I mentioned that the hwh is under a parts warranty for 6 years, and we are only 4.5 years in to it. He said I would have to contact American Standard to take up the issue of warranty on parts; that is the homeowner’s responsibility, even though we bought the hwh from him. He said they should also cover the labor for replacing the anode rod. He would have to charge me labor if I had him come out to replace the anode rod. He seemed in a hurry to end the phone call. I was not left with a very good feeling after that conversation.

For the past 10 days, I have tried working with American Standard over the phone. The first time I called and spoke to someone, he took down all my information and said they would ship a replacement anode rod to my house. Seven days went by and I received nothing. I called to follow up only to be told that the first guy I talked to made a mistake, and the anode rod is not covered under warranty. I pointed out that it is not stated so on the warranty documentation I have. They said they will look in to it and call me back. I have heard back from them. Needless to say, I am feeling very annoyed and frustrated with this entire experience! We don't really even know if it could be the anode rod. Not sure if I should puruse warranty with American Standard?

I would appreciate advice from any of you regarding:
1. What could this noise be?
2. Should I be concerned?
3. Am I right to be upset with the plumber?
4. What, if anything, should I do?

I have several ideas and possibilities in my own mind that I am considering, but I want to be thoughtful and reasonable in how I handle this. Thank you for your time and attention to this.

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Do you have an expansion tank? And do you have a Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV). Both the tanks and the valves often give out after about 10 years. I started getting weird noises in my water system after my house was about 8 years old. I checked the water pressure downstream of my PRV and it was high, and couldn't be adjusted downward. I got a PRV rebuild kit and was once again able to adjust the pressure. I then checked the expansion tank, and that wasn't functioning properly either, so I replaced it. The result was proper water pressure in the house and no more strange noises.

I don't know if this is a fix for you, but it's one possibility.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 12:47AM
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