How Do I Care for My Water Heater?

The hot water heater is a key appliance that keeps things civilized at your house. While these appliances are usually reliable and problem-free, regular maintenance and periodic check-ups are the best way to prevent unwanted breakdowns (along with unwanted cold showers) and add years to the life of your hot water heater. It may even help you improve your household energy efficiency.

Check the Pressure Release Valve

Your water heater's pressure release valve is a critical piece of safety equipment. 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 could build up inside the tank of the water heater, ultimately causing a rupture. You can avoid this hazard by checking your pressure valve at least twice a year. This is a simple process that takes just a few minutes.

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.

Flush Your Water Heater

Over time, sediment begins to collect at the bottom of the water heater tank. This sandy-looking substance could be debris from your well or from water mains, or it could be calcium carbonate. Hot water causes the minerals in tap water to change into solid form, and this settles and collects over time in the bottom of your tank.

This "sand" sounds harmless enough, but this build up can do bad things to 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 longer to raise the water to the right 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. Fortunately, draining and flushing the tank is a fairly simple water heater maintenance task:

Going forward, make sure the water heater is set at no more than 120 degrees — too-hot water accelerates the rate of sediment build-up, and, of course, increases the risk of burns.

Checking the Anode Rod

The enamel coating on the inside of the water heater tank keeps a steel water heater from rusting out. However, after years of heating water, this can create an environment in which corrosives and bacteria prosper and wear away the enamel. That's where the water heater's anode rod comes in. This is a pipe made of aluminum, magnesium or zinc, and its job is to attract the corrosive elements in the water — so instead of "attacking" the enamel, the corrosives attack the pipe.

Eventually, the pipe will disintegrate, so it's important to check it every three years. If you have water softener, your anode rod may need more frequent checks — consult your owner's manual.

Like anything mechanical in your home, water heaters need preventive maintenance. The good news is your efforts will pay off by helping head off problems before they develop, and exteningd the life of this important appliance.

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