Often times, homeowners pay attention to the state of their major home appliances like water heaters only when they begin to malfunction or stop working altogether. And with water heaters lasting an average of ten years, they are easy to overlook when thinking about home maintenance. With minor proactive maintenance periodically performed by yourself or a trusted plumber, you can improve your water heater’s efficiency and extend its lifespan. Follow the advice below to keep your water heater, whether tank-type or tankless, in the best working condition possible.
1.) Flush Your Water Heater Annually
Naturally occurring minerals in your water collect and deposit over time in your water heater, eroding the walls of your tank, shortening your unit’s lifespan and raising your energy bills due to decreased operating efficiency. This sediment and erosion can cause your water to taste faintly or noticeably metallic. Built-up sediment can also result in rumbling or banging noises coming from within your water heater. At the very least, flush this sediment out annually.
Begin by shutting off your water heater (whether gas or electric) and turning off the water supply to the unit. Attach a strong hose capable of withstanding hot water to the drain spigot, having it empty outside or into a heat-proof bucket. Then drain out all the hot water until it runs clear of particles, using extreme caution while doing so. During this process, you may need to reopen the cold-water supply valve using the flow of incoming water to stir up the sediment on the bottom before repeating your draining attempts. Keep in mind the water you drain will be scalding hot, so take all appropriate precautions necessary to protect yourself.
2.) Test Your Temperature & Pressure (T&P) Relief Valve
Water expands as it heats from room temperature to its boiling point, increasing the pressure within your water heater as it gets heated. If that temperature or pressure passes a certain threshold, the job of the T&P valve is to open and release the excess pressure through the discharge or overflow pipe. You can test this valve (which will release scalding hot water!) by placing a bucket underneath of it, then lifting the trip lever to open and release water. A malfunctioning valve can be clogged, rusted shut or leak even after it’s been closed, signifying the need for a replacement.
In some instances, excess pressure is unable to be released by the pressure valve and can water to leak out of the unit. In severe cases, too much pressure can cause the entire unit to explode and flood your home. Leakage due to excess pressure is frequently caused by the temperature being set too high on the water heater, above the recommended 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
3.) Check the Anode Rod
Over time, the combination of extreme temperatures and mineral composition of your home’s water can rust and corrode the metal elements inside your water heater. Once the steel wall of your unit degrades, the water heater will begin to leak and require immediate replacement. However, magnesium and aluminum will corrode faster than steel. An anode rod comprised either of these materials is placed in the tank to attract those ions and corrode in place of the tank’s steel lining. However, once the anode rod completely rusts away, the water heater becomes vulnerable to damage.
Since anode rods last roughly three years depending on the mineral composition or “hardness” of your water, they should be checked annually to ensure they are still able to serve their purpose. To do so, check your water heater user manual (usually available online if the hard copy has been misplaced) for its exact location and proper removal. Removing the anode rod may require special tools but always requires precaution for the extreme temperatures present in the water heater throughout the replacement process.
By performing these three preventative maintenance tasks annually, by yourself or a trusted plumber, you will effectively delay the need for repairs and replacement of your water heater. Whether your home has a tank or tankless water heater, maintaining it on a consistent basis will improve the energy efficiency and extend the lifespan of your water heater.