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How a Hot Water Dispenser Works

A hot water dispenser is like a mini storage water heater, but it delivers hot water on demand.

Instant hot water dispensers are simply miniature electric water heaters that serve a single faucet. A small, under-sink tank heats and holds nearly boiling water, ready for steamy delivery through a sink-top spout that’s separate from the main tap.

Unlike a conventional water heater, however, the tank never becomes pressurized. The system hooks up directly to a cold water pipe under the sink; incoming water travels through the body of the spout and into the tank, where it’s heated by an electric coil.

The heated water expands, filling an expansion chamber in the upper part of the tank. When the faucet is turned on, more cold water is released into the bottom of the storage tank, displacing hot water in the tank and expansion chamber and forcing the heated water up through the faucet.

The spout delivers water more slowly than a typical faucet does, and the water is much hotter than a standard hot water tap’s—about 190 degrees F. instead of 120 degrees. The heated water arrives immediately; you don’t have to wait for it to warm up.

An adjustable thermostat controls water temperature with most models. Adjustment is needed only if the water is too cool or if it’s so hot that it boils away, causing the tank to overheat. (To prevent damage, the tank should be protected from overheating by a replaceable thermal fuse.)

Tanks vary in size and by the heating elements’ wattage. Most are 1/3- or 1/2- gallon and range from 500 to 1,300 watts. A 750-watt, 1/2-gallon tank will produce up to 60 cups of hot water per hour. Higher wattage tanks can deliver up to 100 cups.

How much does it cost to keep the hot water ready and waiting? The usage is a little more than 1/2 kilowatt hour per 24 hours, which, depending on your local electricity rates, equates to about 6 or 7 cents a day.

As with any water heater, hot water dispensers may accumulate scale in regions of the country that have hard water. Some units have drain plugs at the bottom to allow you to drain the tank once or twice a year.

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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