Chalk it up to first world problems if you want, but a cold shower can throw a serious wrench in your morning routine. To make matters worse, Murphy’s Law and Plumbing 101 both dictate that the time you rely on hot water the most – when guests are visiting – is when it’s most likely to go frigid.
Whether your water heater is powered by gas or electricity, if it has a tank, it will run cold if it’s overused. But that doesn’t mean you need to resign yourself to an icy-shower fate! With a little bit of planning, it is possible to prevent cold showers. Here’s how:
Take a look at the capacity of your water heater. Tank heaters will generally only deliver 2/3 of their capacity as hot water (this is because cold water enters the tank and dilutes it). So, a fully heated, 50-gallon tank will deliver roughly 33 gallons of hot water at any given time. The average shower uses 2 gallons of water per minute, so that same 50-gallon tank is good for a little less than 17 minutes of hot water. Tip: As a general rule of thumb, you should aim for a tank capacity of 10-15 gallons per adult in your house.
If, when calculating your average shower time, the numbers come up shorter than you’d like, you don’t need to go shopping for a bigger water heater just yet. A 50-gallon water tank will require about 20 minutes to refill and another 20 minutes to heat (call it 60 minutes to be safe). So if Uncle Bob drains all of your hot water, plan on waiting an hour before taking your turn.
If water-heater math and waiting to shower isn’t your style, simply dividing showers between a.m. and p.m. slots will help ensure everyone stays warm. This can require a little planning ahead if you have a full household, but it’s probably the simplest solution. Tip: Use a paint chip calendar to keep track of your schedule.
If you try all of these things but are still plagued with icy cold interruptions, there may be a problem with your water heater. Some red flags to look for include:
If you discover any of these issues, the best thing to do is contact a qualified professional to come properly diagnose and solve the problem.