WATER HEATER MAINTENANCE: Tips on Extending Its Life
Water heaters often work perfectly for a decade or more without any care, so they're easy to neglect. But a few minutes of water heater maintenance once a year pays off by extending the tank's lifespan and maintaining your water heater's efficiency and safety.
How to Maintain and Extend the Life of Your Water Heater
Follow these tips to keep your water heater running like new.
Flush the Water Heater Every Six Months
Have you flushed your water heater lately? This tedious but important chore should be done at least twice a year to remove the sediment that accumulates on the bottom of the tank. Sediment buildup shortens the life of your water heater and adds to your energy bill by reducing its efficiency. Connect a standard garden hose to the water heater drain outlet near the base. Place the other end of the hose near a floor drain or in a large bucket. Draining 2 or 3 gallons of water is usually enough to flush out sediments, but always let the water flow until you no longer see particles in the bucket. Caution: the water will be hot.
Adjust the Water Temperature
Water heaters are commonly installed at a pre-set temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends a setting of 120 degrees for most households, estimating that this can reduce energy costs for water heating by over $400 per year. Plus, you'll reduce the risk of scalding—water heaters that are set too high send thousands (mostly children) to hospitals each year with burns from water from a faucet. If you have a gas water heater, the temperature can easily be adjusted with the thermostat located on the tank. For an electric water heater, shut off power to the unit by flipping the breaker at the service panel, pull back any insulation to expose the thermostat, use a screwdriver to change the thermostat temperature in 10-degree increments, close the panel, turn the power on, and check the water temperature after one hour.
Test the Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve Once a Year
The temperature & pressure relief valve is a critical safety feature of your water heater. It senses dangerous pressure buildup or excessively high temperature inside the water heater tank and automatically opens to relieve the pressure. A buildup of mineral salt, rust, and corrosion can cause a T&P valve to freeze up and become non-operational. Without an operational T&P valve, a water heater is at risk of exploding. That's why water heater manufacturers recommend testing the T&P valve once per year. The T&P valve may be located at the top of the heater tank or in the side wall and has a discharge tube that extends down toward the base of the tank. Place a bucket at the end of the discharge tube connected to the T&P valve; lift the lever of the valve to open the valve manually; this will release hot water through the discharge tube and into the bucket; let the water flow for a few seconds, then let go of the lever and allow it to snap back into place, shutting off the water. If the T&P valve does not open and release water, or if it leaks at all after the test, the valve is bad and must be replaced.
Replace the Sacrificial Anode Rod Every Three Years
Many people are unaware of just how much the water heater's anode rod does in order to protect the lining of your heater's tank. The sacrificial anode rod is called that for a reason: it is sacrificing itself to save the lining of the tank. At some point, all of the magnesium or aluminum of the rod will have rusted away, and it will no longer have electrons to give up to save the tank's electrons from the rusting process. When the anode rod has rusted away, the water heater's tank may begin to rust, which will cause the water heater to fail—and you'll end up paying hundreds for a brand new water heater. Replace the rod if more than 6 inches of the core steel wire is exposed, the rod is less than 1/2 inch thick, or the rod is coated with calcium.
Insulate Older Water Heaters
Just like insulating your walls or roof, insulating your hot water tank is an easy and inexpensive way to improve energy efficiency and save you money each month. If your water tank is new, it is likely already insulated. If you have an older hot water tank, check to see if it has insulation with an R-value of at least 24. If not, consider insulating your water tank, which could reduce standby heat losses by 25%–45% and save you about 7%–16% in water heating costs. And while you're at it, go ahead and insulate the hot and cold water pipes.
Going on Vacation?
Adjust the thermostat on gas heaters to the vacation setting, which maintains the pilot light without heating the water.
Do You Need a New Water Heater?
Balanced Plumbing knows water heaters, and there are a few that we have used and highly recommend. Our years of experience working with these products have taught us which ones are the most reliable and dependable when a replacement is needed.