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Q: Our water heater is 9 years old. I believe we are in need of a new gas water heater. My question is.. Is it dangerous to turn the temperature dial up all the way to the highest setting in the meantime until we do replace the water heater?

A: That depends on what comes out of the faucet. We recommend a temperature setting of 130. Much higher and scalding occurs very rapidly. Much lower and legionella bacteria can grow in water heaters. But residential tanks can vary a lot in how hot the water is they produce. Best to test with a meat or candy thermometer at the tap. But the real question is, why do you think you need a new water heater? Maybe you just need a new dip tube or some other component. Why don't you tell us more about why you want to crank up the thermostat to max. -- Randy

Q1: After turning the thermostat up to the HIGH setting, the hottest the water gets is 130 degrees but it doesn't last very long. My guess would be it should be hotter than that at the highest setting but this is as high as we can get it. Recently, we had a repair man out to fix our furnace and also talked with him about our water heater not producing enough HOT water.

The repair man said we needed a new water heater since ours is 9 years old. He also felt like it wasn't a very good brand. It is a 50 gallon Super Eagle. My husband and I know nothing about water heaters and I thought I would try researching a bit. I know that 50 gallons is plenty big enough for our house, 2000 sq. ft. 2 bath home.

The home is one level and the water heater is in an insulated garage. The water does not have far to go to come into the house, but yet it takes a few minutes to get the hot water to come out of the taps. If there is something we could do to get it working more efficiently, that would be great. And if we would need a new water heater, what brands would you recommend.

A1: Age is largely meaningless as a yardstick on replacing a water heater. In some places, nine years isn't very old at all. There are two issues: the function and the integrity of the tank. Usually, heaters are replaced because of the latter, because a tank begins to leak. The first part can often be fixed. As to brand, practically everything in the U.S. is made by a few companies using different subbrands.

I'm not familiar with Super Eagle, but you could find out who made it by reading the fine print on the label. It's probably American, just at a guess, but it might be Rheem, A.O. Smith or State, as well. You don't say whether it is gas or electric, but my first guess from the symptoms is that you have a bad dip tube and that's a fairly inexpensive, easy part to replace. Go to Know-how elsewhere on the site (use the site map) to learn more about that. If it's an electric tank, some troubleshooting of elements and thermostats might be in order. Also, do you only get lukewarm water from one fixture, or all? -- Randy

Q2: It is a gas water heater and all faucets run the same in the house. Since turning the thermostat all the way up to HIGH, it is staying hotter, longer. I have also heard about flushing out the water heater. Would that be helpful? We do have slightly hard city water. And the dip tube is definitely worth trying.

A2: In most cases, sediment doesn't affect water temperature. We did have one case a day or two ago where a thermostat could have been buried, but usually flushing a tank won't make any difference. -- Randy (12/18/06)

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