Water Heater Maintenance Tips
Use these 6 easy and inexpensive ways to increase your water heater’s efficiency and longevity. There are several easy and inexpensive ways to increase a water heater’s operating efficiency and longevity. Some things—adding insulation and setting the temperature—have to be done only once. Others, such as flushing the tank and checking the anode rod, should be done annually.
The benefits of caring for your water heater are clear. Adding insulation reduces heat loss by up to 45 percent and can shave as much as 9 percent off water-heating costs. Flushing sediment from the tank improves efficiency and longevity. And making sure a viable anode rod hangs in the tank will help prevent its inside from rusting out. A used-up rod is far cheaper to replace than a new heater.
Steps on How to Maintain a Hot Water Heater
- Test the TPR Valve
- Shut off the power and the cold-water supply valve.
- Place a bucket under the pipe connected to the temperature-pressure-release (TPR) valve on the top or side of the tank. (This valve opens if the tank pressure gets too high.)
- Lift the valve’s tab to let some water out, then let go. If water keeps flowing, drain the tank partway, unscrew the old valve with a pipe wrench, and install a new one.
- Check the Anode Rod
- Put a hose to the tank’s drain cock and let out a few gallons of water.
- Now fit a 1 1/16-inch socket onto the rod’s hex head on top of the heater (or under its top plate) and unscrew the rod. If it’s less than ½ inch thick or coated with calcium, buy a new one, wrap its threads with Teflon tape, put it back in the tank, and tighten securely. Use this segmented rod if headroom above the tank is limited.
- Drain the Tank and Wash Out Sediment
- Drain the remaining water in the tank into the bucket, then stir up the sediment on the tank’s bottom by briefly opening the cold-water supply valve. Drain and repeat until clean water comes out of the hose.
- Close the drain cock, refill the tank, and turn its power back on.
- Adjust the Temperature
- Find the temperature dial on the side of the tank and unscrew its cover. Adjust the dial to 120 degrees using a flathead screwdriver. For every 10 degrees the temperature is lowered, you can expect to save up to 5 percent in energy costs.
- Turn the water heater off or the thermostat down to its lowest setting if you plan to be away from home for more than three days.
- Insulate the Pipes
- Buy some self-sticking 3/8-inch-thick foam pipe insulation that matches the pipes’ diameter.
- Slide the foam over the hot-and cold-water pipes as far as you can reach. Insulating the cold-water pipe prevents condensation in summer.
- Peel the tape and squeeze the insulation closed. If the pipe is 6 inches or less from the flue, cover it with 1-inch-thick unfaced fiberglass pipe wrap.
- Insulate the Heater
- Cut the insulating blanket (shown: R-4.5 foil-covered bubble wrap) to fit around pipes, the TPR valve, and the temperature control sticking out of the tank.
- Wrap the side of the tank, and seal cuts with foil tape. Do not cover the tops of oil or gas heaters.
- Cap an electric heater with an oversize circle of insulation, and tape its edge securely to the side of the tank.
How Do You Drain a Water Heater?
The DIY Network suggests the following steps on how to drain a water heater. (For specific information on your water heater, be sure to read the owner’s manual.) If you’re uncomfortable performing this type of maintenance on your water heater, call a plumber and schedule a professional draining.
Step 1: Shut off the water supply to your water heater.
At the top of the water heater you’ll see a water pipe and a shutoff valve going into the water heater. Turn this valve to shut off the water to the tank.
Step 2: Turn off the power to the water heater.
It’s important to shut off the power to your water heater before draining it, or you could potentially burn out the heating elements. If you have an electric water heater, shut the power off from your home’s electrical panel. The correct fuse or circuit breaker should be labeled as being connected to the water heater.
Step 3: Give the water time to cool off.
The water in your water heater is extremely hot. To help prevent injury, it’s a good idea to let your water heater sit overnight so the water within the tank cools down before you drain it. (They says you should wait a few hours at the very least. Taking a hot shower can also help speed up the cooling process.)
Step 4: Attach a hose to the drain valve.
Once your water heater has cooled down, place one end of a hose (you can use a garden hose) into a floor drain or, if it will reach, directly outside. Attach the other end onto the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater.
Step 5: Turn on a hot water tap.
Open the hot water tap, like a sink faucet, that is nearest to the water heater. This helps to alleviate pressure and allows the tank to drain quicker. If possible, the DIY Network recommends using a tap that is on the floor above the water heater.
Step 6: Open the drain valve.
Once you open this valve, the water will begin to flow out of the tank. Be patient, as it make take awhile to drain if the tank was full or there is a lot of sediment.
Step 7: Turn the water supply back on to flush the tank with fresh, clean water.
With the drain valve still open, turn the cold water back on to help eliminate any remaining sediment on the bottom of the tank. Repeat this step until the water runs clear. Then, turn the water valve off again.
Step 8: Refill the tank.
Remove the hose from the drain valve, and be sure to close the valve. Turn the water supply back on to start refilling the tank. Once the tank is full, turn the power or gas supply to the water heater back on. Remember to turn off the faucet you turned on earlier while draining the tank.
Signs Your Water Heater Is About to Fail
Most water heaters are built to last about 20 years, so if yours is that old or older, or if you don’t know how old it is, chances are, it’s on its last legs. Here are a few signs that your water heater is breaking down.
- Age: If your water heater is over 20 years old, then chances are it’s time for a replacement
- Rusty Colored Water: If you’re getting rust-colored water out of your water heater, it’s a sign that it’s corroded and in danger of failing
- Banging, Rumbling Sounds: When sediment builds up in the bottom of your hot water tank, it hardens when it’s heated. If you hear these sounds, it’s a sign that something’s dangerously wrong
- Leaks: A leak around the base of your water heater is a severe problem, and if you notice it, you need to call in a plumber immediately before you wind up with a flooded basement
Leaks and Drips
Follow these steps on how to handle leaks and drips.
Most leaks are caused by faulty water supply connections. Use good materials, proper techniques and check your work carefully. Compression fittings are easier to install for DIYers than copper pipes, which need to be soldered.
Drips from the temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve discharge pipe usually mean a thermal expansion tank is needed.
Electric Water Heaters: Before Connecting Electric Power
Follow these steps before connecting the power to your electric water heater.
The most common problem with electric water heaters is turning the power on before the tank is completely full of water. If this happens, the upper heating element will burn out, and you’ll have no hot water until the upper element is replaced.
To replace the top or bottom heating element, disconnect power to the unit and drain the water heater tank. Disconnect the wires from the element and loosen it using an element wrench. Unscrew the element and pull it straight out. Insert the new element in its place and tighten using the element wrench. Reconnect the wiring and prepare to refill the tank.
Open a hot-water faucet all the way and let the water run for 3 minutes. This ensures all of the air has been removed and the tank is completely full of water. When the tank is full, turn the power on. If you don’t have hot water after two hours, check to make sure the unit is getting the correct voltage. (See the unit’s label for power requirements.) No electric power or the wrong voltage causes many electric water heater problems. An electrician may be needed to solve wiring / power problems.