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Water Tank

What is the normal operation of a gas hot water tank?

My gas operated water tank kicks in, stops, kicks in, stops, kicks in a third time and then runs. Is this normal or do I need to call in a service man. Never noticed before but now I live in a basement next to this tank and it is a concern. I guess I expected it to start and continue running until the water was heated. Appreciate a response.

When the thermostat tells the water heater to start heating the tank, the first thing that happens is the ignitor goes on, then the gas goes on, then the gas is supposed to ignite, and the water is heated.

In the path of the flame is a flame sensor. This flame sensor is supposed to heat up rapidly so that the heater knows that the gas actually caught fire. If the flame sensor doesn't heat up, it assumes the gas is on, but hasn't caught fire, so it shuts off the gas so the house doesn't explode. Then the whole cycle starts over again.

The flame sensor is metal, and it gets covered in oxides, that prevent the heat from transferring properly. So if you can find the flame sensor, you can gently rub it with fine sandpaper to remove the oxides. This is part of normal maintenance.

Your heater takes several tries to complete the cycle. The flame sensor heats up, but not enough, so it shuts down. It starts over, the flame sensor gets hotter, but still shuts down. Finally on the third try the flame sensor gets hot enough that now it believes you have a proper safe flame, and doesn't shut down.

Look online for photos of a "flame sensor". It will be a metal rod, in a ceramic base, with an electrical wire running out of it. Remember, the flame sensor sits in the path of the flames when the heater is working, so look into the flames to find it.

One more thing, when I say "ignitor", it could be electric or a gas pilot light.

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