The Hot Water Heater Fuel Issue

As we’ve mentioned before, hot water heater maintenance is very important. If you have a hot water heater that runs on natural gas or propane, you need to keep in mind that potentially explosive gasses under pressure are being moved throughout your home on a daily basis. The same holds true at high altitude, but with an extra caveat.

In order to achieve a clean burn and the safe combustion needed to heat your water, the proper mixture of air to fuel must be met. In this case, it’s 1 part fuel to 10 parts air per cubic foot. Under these ideal conditions, water vapor and carbon dioxide are released during combustion, leaving your home safe from fuel-related complications. But if the mixture isn’t properly maintained, carbon monoxide is produced.  When inhaled, this gas stops oxygen from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Hot water heaters are designed to regulate how much gas is released to maintain the safe ratio at sea level, but at high altitudes, things change. A lack of oxygen in the air disrupts the mixture and could prove fatal to anyone without this information.

To combat this problem, one of two things can be done. The first is called derating the water heater and is accomplished by replacing the orifice in the burner assembly. This controls the amount of fuel let into the combustion chamber and maintains the correct ratio. The rule of thumb is to reduce the burner size by 4% for every 1,000 feet of altitude. The second option is called devaluing the fuel, which occurs at your local gas facility. The BTUs or British Thermal Units are decreased in order to deliver less fuel in relation to the lower oxygen content. In Denver, Xcel Energy takes care of the devaluing process. Never derate your appliance if devaluing is already being administered. Too little fuel and too much oxygen can also create carbon monoxide.

Hot Water Heater Temperature

Another effect altitude can have on your hot water heater is the time it takes to heat water. Because of the reduced amount of fuel being used by your heater, things take longer to heat up. In Denver, your heater operates at about 83% of its intended capacity at sea level. This won’t affect a tank already full and monitored by thermostat, but it will take longer to heat a refilling tank. This should, in theory, also reduce efficacy of tankless hot water heaters because of their reliance on rapid water heating. A higher temperature setting could be used to compensate, but could also lead to scalding once the set thermostat temperature is achieved.

When dealing with the delicate balance of combustible gasses it’s important to know what you’re doing. While our altitude certainly can have an effect on your hot water heater, that doesn’t mean you should be trying to alter anything yourself. In situations such as these, it’s extremely important to call a professional. At Go Direct Services we have years of expertise dealing with hot water heaters at high altitudes. If you need a reliable service to outfit your new home, give us a call. We’ll be happy to get your water heater up and running.