Water Heater Maintenance Tips

A properly functioning water heater can go unappreciated—until you suddenly find yourself dealing with freezing cold showers or annoying leaks. Diligent maintenance can ensure that your water heater will last for years to come, and reduce your chances of dealing with any problems. Here are several steps you can take to stay proactive and keep your water heater in great condition.

Install a water softener

Arizona’s hard water can significantly shorten the lifespan of your water heater. A water softener can lower operating costs by as much as 29% by preventing buildup of scale and calcium deposits. A water softener will also preserve the efficiency of your water heater by keeping any buildup from impacting performance. For these reasons and more, the initial investment of a water softener will pay off for years to come.

Ion exchange is one method of water softening, and one of the water filtration methods we specialize in. During the process of ion exchange, calcium is replaced by magnesium ions, effectively softening the water and removing the potential for hard water related damage.

Add insulation

Insulating your water heater increases its efficiency and longevity. In fact, the US Department of Energy estimates that insulating a water heater can cut standby heat losses by 25- 45%, and save you anywhere from 7- 16% annually on your water bills.

If you have a newer water heater, it may already be insulated. However, if your water heater lacks insulation, or has insulation with an R-value of 16 or lower, it’s best to invest in new exterior insulation to wrap around the body of the unit. Insulation can also be installed around the hot and cold water pipes for increased benefits. Many hardware stores sell pre-packaged insulation that can easily be cut and installed around your water heater.

Lower the temperature

Some manufacturers set water heater thermostats to 140 degrees Fahrenheit by default. However, this high of a temperature poses a risk of scalding, and accelerates the rate of mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes. For most households, lowering the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit provides a sufficient amount of hot water without the risks created by the higher temperatures. Lowering the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit can reduce also the chance of the tank overheating, which can lengthen the lifespan of your water heater overall.

Flush your water heater

Over time, sediment and minerals build up at the bottom of your water heater’s tank. If you don’t flush your water heater at least once a year, this accumulated buildup of calcium, lime, and bacteria can wreak havoc on your unit by clogging the water lines and reducing energy efficiency. Your water can even end up with a brown tint or foul smell. These problems are especially prominent due to the fact that Arizona has notoriously hard water, which leads to faster sediment build up.

Handy homeowners can flush their water heaters on their own by following a series of simple steps and using certain tools. However, caution should be exercised as there is a danger of coming in contact with excessively hot water and surfaces during the process. If you have any doubts about flushing your water heater on your own, it’s best to contact a plumber and have them do it for you.

Step 1: Turn off gas or electricity

The first step is to turn off the power. If your water heater is electric, you can do this through the circuit breaker box. If your heater is gas-powered, you can shut off the power by turning the valve on the tank’s gas supply line.

Step 2: Turn off water supply

At the top of your water heater, you’ll find a pipe and a water shutoff valve. Use this valve to stop the flow of water into the tank.

Step 3: Wait for the water to cool off

At this point, the water in your heater is likely extremely hot. To avoid dangerous burns or scalding, it’s best to give your heater time to cool down before draining it—anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight.

Step 4: Hook up the hose

Attach one end of a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of your water heater. Place the other end into a floor drain or directly outside so the water can drain safely.

Step 5: Turn on hot water

Turn on the hot water on the nearest sink to your water heater. This will help alleviate pressure and allow the water heater tank to drain more effectively.

Step 6: Open the drain valve

After all of the above steps are completed, it’s time to open the drain valve. Once you do so, water will begin to flow out of the tank and through the connected hose. It can take up to 30 minutes to fully drain the tank, depending on how full it is.

Step 7: Turn the water back on and flush the tank

Once the water heater has drained fully, turn the water back on while leaving the drain valve open. This final flow of water will eliminate any remaining sediment buildup in the tank. Once the water appears to be running clear, turn the water back off.

Step 8: Refill the tank

Once you remove the hose and close the drain valve, you can begin refilling the tank with water. First, turn the water supply back on to refill the tank. Once the tank is full, turn the power to the water heater back on and enjoy the clean, hot water.

Know when to get a replacement

Every water heater reaches a point where all the maintenance in the world will only buy you a little bit of time before the heater stops functioning. Knowing when to draw the line and have your heater replaced is key in avoiding increasingly expensive repairs or part replacements.

Age

Generally, a water heater has a lifespan of 8-12 years. The lifespan could be shorter if you have a large family that uses a lot of hot water, your water heater has endured damage from years of hard water, or your water heater has not received regular maintenance. To check the age of your water heater, look at the serial number. Most serial numbers are located on the upper portion of the heater, on a manufacturer’s sticker.

Serial numbers contain a date code that will tell you when your water heater was manufactured. Reading the code can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for, and codes can differ by manufacturer. However, you can use the following as a general guide:

The first part of a serial number is two letters. Letters A-L represent the month that the heater was manufactured. So, if the heater was manufactured in June, it would have the letter F in its serial code because June is the 6th month of the year and F is the 6th letter of the alphabet. The next two digits represent the year—so 06 would represent 2006, and 11 would represent 2011. For example, if your water heater was manufactured in June of 2006, the beginning of its serial number would be F06.  If your water heater was manufactured in January of 2011, the beginning of its serial number would be A11.

Rusty water

Rusty water generally appears reddish or brown, and may contain visible traces of sediment. If you have rusty water that only comes from the hot side of the faucet, your water heater may be rusting away from the inside out. The corrosion caused by rust increases the chances of a leak or fracture. As soon as you notice rusty water, you should contact a plumber before the problem becomes severe.

Leaks or puddles of water

Puddles of moisture or visible leaks can be a sign of a fracture in the tank. Small leaks have the potential to turn into larger ones, which can cause costly water damage. Leaks can also occur in the fittings and connectors built around your water heater, so it’s important to ensure that the leak is actually coming from the heater itself before you plan for a replacement. If you’re unsure about where the leak is coming from, asking a plumber is the best course of action.

Rumbling noises

Rumbling noises are often due to a large amount of sediment buildup that has settled at the bottom of the tank. This sediment hardens over time as it is heated and reheated. This is often a sign that the water heater is nearing the end of its lifespan and should be replaced.

Get your water heater questions answered

Whether you’re wondering if your water heater is on the way out, or want a plumber to come inspect a strange noise or leak, the experts at Chas Roberts have you covered. Contact us today for all your plumbing needs.