How to Maintain a Water Heater: Everything You Need to Know

Did you know that the inventor of the first home water heater was not a plumber, but a painter?

Water heaters, like refrigeration and AC, are one of the many creature comforts of the modern era. Our ancestors would be quite jealous if they knew that their descendants would have hot water on demand. As convenient as this technology is, though, water heater problems are very common.

These machines, like any other, require regular water heater maintenance to perform their best. And best of all, you don’t need to be a plumber to maintain a water heater.

Keep reading as we tell you everything you need when you perform your next water heater inspection.

How Long Should a Water Heater Last?

The most important question before you even begin is to determine whether it’s time to replace your water heater. Water heaters do not last as long as many might believe. The average one can give you about 10 years of service.

If yours is leaking, or your utility bills are very high, it might simply be time to replace it. If your water heater floods your home or stops working, call a technician for hot water heater repair.

However, if you establish a water heater maintenance routine, you can stop many of these problems. If not, you will at least have a good idea of when something needs replacement.

Things to Do Before You Maintain a Water Heater

Do not jump into maintenance so quickly! If you’re not careful, you could injure yourself or cause damage to your heater.

First, determine if you have a gas or electric water heater. A gas heater will have a small gas pilot on the bottom and will connect to gas lines. An electric heater will have a cable connecting to the top as well as to elements on the front side.

If you are not sure how to determine which one it is, check the sticker. It should say very clearly whether it is gas or electric.

If your heater is electric, turn off the breaker leading to the heater. If it’s gas, simply switch the knob on the pilot to off. Choose a maintenance time that won’t interrupt anyone who needs those utilities.

Do a Regular Small Flush

Your water heater has a metal tank. The water that your utility company pumps into your house includes trace amounts of sediment. This sediment can gather on the tank bottom and promote the formation of rust.

To avoid this, get in the habit of flushing your water heater once every six months or so. Flushing the entire tank would require you to shut down the water heater entirely. Instead, a small flush allows you to get the same benefits without taking it out of service.

A word of caution before you do this: this water is going to be piping hot. Wear gloves if possible, and do not let the water touch your bare skin.

Here are the steps to perform your small flush:

  1. Make sure to put a bucket underneath the draining valve before you start
  2. Open the valve and fill the bucket with approximately two gallons of water
  3. Close off the valve before your bucket is full

This bucket likely will have some sediment at the bottom. Simply dump it somewhere in your front yard.

If the valve doesn’t open, you will require a plumber to replace it.

Testing Water Heaters

Your water heater could potentially be a bomb in the right conditions. After all, it is a tank filled with steaming hot water. With too much pressure, the tank could burst and cause harm to your home and anyone nearby.

To regulate pressure, your water heater uses a T&P valve. It vents pressure over a certain PSI to prevent the formation of a pressure bomb.

Examining this on a regular basis is critical. Once per year should be good enough.

You can identify this valve by the discharge tube that connects to it. Use the following steps:

  1. Get your bucket again and place it underneath the tube’s end
  2. Release pressure on the valve and open it to remove water
  3. Let go of the valve so that it snaps into place and cuts off the water

A bad valve will either not open or will leak. Replace the bad valve immediately.

Reduce Water Heater Maintenance Costs

In many cases, the water in your water heater is too hot. If you think about it, you really don’t need burning hot water. As long as it is warm enough to shower and do your dishes, it’s sufficient for your purposes.

Most water heaters have a default temperature preset. This tends to be about 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Most people don’t realize that you can get away with 120° and still live very comfortably.

You will reduce your energy usage by up to 5% or more if you make this small adjustment. Not only that, but you reduce any risk of you or someone you love getting scalding burns on accident.

Gas heaters make it very easy to control the temperature. Simply turn the dial to your new temperature preference.

On electric heaters, the process is a bit more complicated. Do the following:

  1. Flip the breaker on your breaker box before accessing the thermostat
  2. Using a flathead screwdriver, adjust the temperature dial to your liking
  3. Replace the water heater’s thermostat cover and then turn the breaker back on

Many electric water heaters have two elements. You may need to adjust the temperature individually for each element. This does make it more annoying to use, but the benefit is increased granularity.

Maintain Your Water Heater Today

Making it a habit to maintain a water heater will give you energy savings and prolong your water heater’s life. All of these maintenance tips can be done in just a few minutes. Taking the time to do them every few months will be well worth the effort.

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