Hot Water Heater Maintenance Tips

Your hot water heater is an important appliance that regulates water temperature in your home. While usually reliable and problem-free, regular water heater maintenance and periodic checkups are the best way to prevent unwanted breakdowns (along with unwanted cold showers) and add years to the life of your water heater. Read more for some helpful hot water heater maintenance tips.

1. Check the Pressure Release Valve

Your water heater’s pressure release valve is a critical piece of safety equipment and should be addressed during routine maintenance of your water heater. As the water temperature rises, the pressure inside the tank also rises. This pressure is released automatically through the valve. Without this safety feature, excessive pressure can build up inside the tank of the water heater, ultimately causing a rupture. To avoid this hazard, check your pressure valve every six months and try these simple steps:

  1. Shut off the power source and the intake valve.
  2. Place a bucket under the pressure release valve.
  3. Manually open the valve to allow water to flow out.
  4. Release the valve.

If it snaps closed, it’s working as it should. If not—or if it’s leaking—it’s time to call a professional to have it replaced.

2. Flush Your Water Heater

Over time, sediment collects at the bottom of the water heater tank. This could be debris from your well or water mains, or it could be calcium carbonate. Hot water causes the minerals in tap water to change into solid form, which settles and collects overtime at the bottom of your tank.

This build-up can harm your hot water heater. The layer of sediment can act as an insulating layer between the heating unit and the water, making your machine work harder and take longer to raise the water temperature. Sediment can also add unwanted corrosives to water and damage the appliance, leading to unexpected repairs. An annual draining can help prevent these problems. Flushing the tank is a fairly simple hot water heater maintenance task:

  1. Turn off the intake valve, and power off your electric heater. For a natural gas-powered water heater, lower the temperature to “vacation mode.”
  2. Attach a hose to the drain valve and place the other end of the hose outside or in a large tub or bucket. Be careful—the water draining out will be hot.
  3. Open the drain valve and the pressure release valve to drain out all the water. The water may appear dirty because of built-up sediment. If you see rusty flakes, that’s a sure sign your water heater is corroding and it may be time to replace it.
  4. When the tank is empty, turn the water supply back on for several seconds to flush the tank with clean water. You may need to do this a few times before water starts coming out clean, indicating the tank has been properly flushed.
  5. When you’re done, close the drain and pressure release valves and open the water supply to refill the tank.

Going forward, make sure the water heater is set at no more than 120 degrees. Too much hot water accelerates the rate of sediment buildup, and of course, increases the risk of burns.

3. Check the Anode Rod

As you do water heater maintenance, don’t forget to inspect the anode rod. The enamel coating on the inside of the water heater tank keeps a steel water heater from rusting. However, after years of heating water, this can create an environment in which corrosives and bacteria prosper and wear away the enamel. An anode rod is a pipe made of aluminum, magnesium, or zinc that attracts the corrosive elements in the water. Instead of “attacking” the enamel, the corrosives attack the anode rod.

Eventually, the anode rod will disintegrate, so it’s important to check it every three years. If you have a water softener, the anode rod may need more frequent checks. Consult your owner’s manual. To check the anode rod on your hot water heater:

  1. Turn off the power, along with the water intake. If you have a natural gas unit, lower the temperature to “vacation mode.”
  2. Attach a hose and drain approximately five gallons from the tank.
  3. Following the instructions for your model, remove and inspect the anode rod. In most water heaters, you can see a hexagon-shaped rod head sticking out of the top.

If the corrosion is extensive, or if your pipe is completely covered with minerals, it’s time for a replacement. Luckily, these pipes don’t cost much. If you have low ceiling clearance, get a collapsible anode rod.

4. Adjust Temperature Settings

As a general rule, water heaters should be set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The steps for adjusting water heaters varies depending on the type of heater. Consult with your owner’s manual for specific instructions.

Generally, with gas burning water heaters, adjusting the temperature is as simple as turning the temperature knob. Maintenance of an electric water heater may be slightly more complicated; you may have to open a panel to access two different thermostats. To adjust the temperatures, you likely need a flathead screwdriver. Insert the screwdriver in the adjusting knob and turn it to set the temperature.

5. Insulate Tank and Pipes

This hot water heater maintenance tip primarily applies to older water heaters. Newer water heaters are typically insulated (check the manual just to make sure). If you have an older water heater, you can help ease its workload by insulating the tank and pipes to minimize heat loss. Fiberglass jackets made to fit around water heaters are readily available online and in hardware stores.

6. Use Vacation Mode

Vacation mode is a setting most gas water heaters have that keeps water heated just enough so that it doesn’t freeze. If you are leaving your house for an extended amount of time, don’t forget to set your hot water heater on vacation mode. There’s no need to make the water heater work at full capacity when nobody is using hot water.

HWA Can Help

Like anything mechanical in your home, water heaters need preventive maintenance. The good news is your efforts will pay off by preventing problems before they develop and extending the life of this important appliance. We hope you have found our hot water heater maintenance tips helpful. For more ways we can help, and for assistance deciding whether you need a home warranty or not, call us at 1-888-492-7359.

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