Nicolette Forbes

By: Nicolette Forbes on August 5th, 2022

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What is a Tank-Style Water Heater?

Standard Water Heaters

You know your water heater? The big cylinder that's usually in your garage or closet in your home? Most people have a tank water heater, but do you know what a tank-style water heater is or how it works? 

If you have a home, chances are you do have either a tank-style or tankless water heater that heats the water coming into your household. Knowing what a tank-style water heater is key to having a better understanding of where your hot water comes from. 

We here at Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air have been in business for over 15 years and have worked around hundreds of tank-style water heaters, helping thousands of homeowners around the Los Angeles area. Now it’s your turn to join in on the fun! 

In this article, we will discuss: 

  • What is a tank-style water heater
  • What are the parts of a tank-style water heater
  • How a tank-style water heater works
  • Where you should place your tank-style water heater
  • The lifespan of a tank-style water heater

By the end of this article, you will become experts yourselves on the basics of tank-style water heaters. 


A tank-style water heater? What is that?

A Rheem tank-style water heater.

Tank-style water heaters (also known as traditional water heaters, standard water heaters, or conventional water heaters) are traditional water heaters that are found in most homes and are used to heat the water used in your home. It’s typically a large cylinder that holds between 30-to-100 gallons of water, with the most common size for homes usually holding about 50 gallons of water. There are also three types of tank-style water heaters: gas, oil, and electric. 

Tank-style water heaters are mostly found in the garage, closet, or outdoors in a shed and have a life expectancy of around 10 years. Some of the more popular brands include Bradford White, AO Smith, and Rheem.


How Does a Tank-Style Water Heater Work?

So how does a tank-style water heater work? The body (or barrel) of the tank is attached to pipes in your home that bring cold water out and hot water in, right? Well, through those pipes, cold water enters the bottom of the tank and is heated by either a gas flame below the tank or electricity inside the tank. The water heater then heats the water to the temperature that you have pre-set on your thermostat. With all tank-style water heaters, once the hot water runs out from the tank, you will have to wait until the tank refills again to have access to hot water.


A diagram showing how a water heater tank heats water.

So you must be wondering, is this the only way a water heater works? Not at all!

There are also tankless water heaters which, unlike a tank-style water heater that is storing the water inside the tank, a tankless has nowhere to store it and heats the water almost instantly as it moves through the heat exchanger, ultimately providing you an endless supply of hot water. But we won’t get too much into their differences here. Check out this article to learn more about the differences between a tank and a tankless water heater.


Parts of Tank-Style Water Heater

If you want to know everything about a tank-style water heater, then we have to talk about the parts. The parts are what make the water heater go, and getting familiar with the parts will make it easier to understand how a tank-style water heater works. 

The main parts of a tank-style water heater are: 

A diagram showing the inside and parts of a gas tank-style water heater and an electric tank-style water heater.

  • Anti-Corrosion Anode Rods

Tank-style water heaters have one or two anode rods made of either magnesium or aluminum inside to protect exposed steel from corrosion. They’re also called anti-corrosion or sacrificial anode rods.

Magnesium anode rods are best used in soft water situations, but if you have hard water, then we would recommend an aluminum anode rod. Check out here to learn more about hard water and its effects on the fixtures in your home.

  • Shut-off Valve

The shut-off valve stops water flow into the tank-style water heater. It's a separate part from the heater located outside and above the unit.

  • Heat-out Pipe

You can find the heat-out pipe towards the top of your tank's interior. The heat-out pipe allows the hot water to exit the water heater.

  • Inlet Pie, Outlet Pipe, and Dip Tube

The inlet on the top of the tank sends cold water to the bottom of the tank through a dip tube, keeping the cold water from cooling down from the hot water. Hot water then leaves the tank from the outlet at the top and comes through your pipes and into your home.

  • Temperature-Pressure Relief Valve

All tank-style water heaters must be protected with a relief valve, also called a temperature-pressure relief valve (TPR or TP Valve). The TPR lets water escape if the temperature or pressure is too high in the tank.

  • Thermostat

For a tank-style water heater, the thermostat is a jack of dual trade as it works as both a thermometer and temperature-control device.

  • Drain Valve

Every water heater should have a drain valve at the base of the tank. The valve makes it easy to empty the tank to replace the parts, remove sediment or move the tank to another location. A few gallons of water should be drained out several times a year to get rid of any sludge or sediment buildup in the tank.

It’s key to note that while gas, oil, and electric tank-style water heaters do have additional parts, all three water heaters have the parts listed above.


The Lifespan of Tank-Style Water Heaters

Tank-style water heaters can last between 8 to 12 years on average. However, when used and maintained appropriately, it can even last for over 15 years. 

The anode rod inside the tank-style water heater attracts corrosive elements in water, protecting the interior lining of the tank from corrosion. After years of use, however, the rod gets eaten away and no longer works effectively. 

The corrosive particles settle on the interior lining of the tank-style water heater, including its bottom, and destroy it. At that point, the tank may start leaking.


Is Tank-Style for You?

Tank-style water heaters are water heaters that heat water with gas, oil, or electricity and store the leftover water in a tank. There are many different parts to a tank-style water heater, but it is important to make sure that maintenance is done on your anode rod to ensure that your water heater lives a long and healthy life.

Want to continue your tank-style knowledge, or are you considering tankless water heaters? Check out the links below as we discuss the differences between tank-style and tankless water heaters, as well as the steps to drain your water heater, as you don’t always have to call a certified technician to do so.

Differences Between Tankless and Tank-Style Water Heaters

Six Steps To Drain a Traditional Water Heater

We here at Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air are dedicated to giving you all the information you need on all things water heater so that you can make the best decision for you and your home. If you live in the Los Angeles area and have any other questions regarding your tank-style water heater needs, feel free to call us at 310-853-8690, and one of our call center representatives would be happy to help you.