How to Maintain Your Water Heater

For the most part, your water heater sits in a corner and simply works. It doesn’t ask much of you. It reliably serves you hot water on demand. Do water heaters need maintenance? What if you have water heater problems? Could routine maintenance solve them?

Let’s first look at a few simple things to do that can extend the life of your hot water heater as well as catch situations before they become big problems.

Check Your Pressure Relief Valve

The pressure relief valve, or PRV automatically opens up and releases pressure if the pressure gets too high. Because hot water heaters generate a lot of heat energy in a contained space, they can build up a lot of pressure. This valve is protection against the tank bursting if the pressure becomes excessive.
• Shut off the cold water supply to the tank and the power to the heater.
• Find the valve on the top or side of the heater. It is a brass fitting with a lever on the end and below it there will be a threaded pipe through which the pressure (and water) is released.
• Put a bucket below the pipe to catch any water.
• Gently lift the lever. If it is stuck and won’t open or if you open it and it doesn’t release any water, your valve is bad and should be replaced.
• If it does work, but leaks after you do this, the valve will need to be replaced.
• If the water continues to flow after you’ve released the lever, you should replace the valve.

Pressure Relief Valve Replacement

Replacing a PRV is fairly simple but may take you some time and will require a trip to the hardware or plumbing supply store. Many of our clients prefer to call so the job is done fast and right. Here are the basic steps:
• Turn off the water and power to the heater.
• Drain the hot water heater tank part way (detailed later in this article).
• Unscrew the discharge pipe with slip joint pliers.
• Unscrew the old valve with the same pliers so you can bring it to the store with you to ensure a correct replacement.
• While at the store buying the valve, get some sealant tape for the treads if you don’t already have a roll at home.
• Reassemble using the sealant tape on all threads and don’t forget to turn the water and power back on.

Drain a Water Heater to Flush Out Sediment

Over time, sediment builds up in the bottom of your tank that makes the heater less efficient and more costly to operate. Flushing this sediment out every 6 months is a good way to extend the life of your tank and lower your energy bill.
• Turn off the cold water supply to the tank.
• Turn off the electricity to the heater or turn the gas dial to PILOT.
• It’s best to connect a hose to the drain valve and run the hose outside where very hot water won’t damage anything.
• Open the PRV.
• Open the drain valve and completely drain the tank to ensure you’ve gotten all the sediment out. If it is a fairly new tank, you can sometimes get by with only two or three gallons drained. Test this by checking the water flowing out of the hose to see if it is clear.
• If you’ve completely drained the tank:
o Close the drain valve, disconnect the hose and close the PRV.
o Turn on all the hot water faucets in the house.
o Turn the cold water feed to the tank back on.
o Turn off each faucet as water begins to flow from it.
o Turn on the electricity or the gas switch to its run position.

Checking and (If Necessary) Replacing the Anode Rod

The anode rod is made from aluminum or magnesium. Is inserted into the tank from the top. Its job is to keep hot water from rapidly corroding the inside of the tank – greatly shortening the life of your heater. Checking it and if necessary, replacing it is straightforward and well worth the effort. Do this once a year.
• Using a hose attached to the drain cock, release a few gallons of water.
• Find the rod’s hex head on the top of the heater. It may be under a top plate on some models.
• Unscrew it and examine it. If it is less than ½ inch thick or encrusted with calcium buy a new one.
• Replace the new road, making sure to use sealant tape on the hex head treads when you do.

Checking and Adjusting the Temperature

You never need water hotter than 120 F. degrees. 10-degree differences in temperature translate to about 5% in energy costs. Take off the cover of your temperature dial and with a screwdriver, adjust it to 120 degrees. Remember to turn your heater to vacation mode or even off if you are going to be gone for a few days.

Insulating Your Heater

According to the Federal Energy Department, insulating a water heater can cut heat losses by 25% to 45% and save up to 16% a year on your water heating bill. Precut jackets or blankets cost only about $20 and are well worth the investment.
It is also well worth it to insulate the hot and cold water pipes coming out of the top of your heater. In the summer, uninsulated cold water pipes can cause water to condense and drip. At all times you want to conserve the temperature of the hot water produced by your heater, so insulating the outflow pipe helps to do this. It also protects you from touching a hot pipe. Self-sticking 3/8 inch thick foam pipe insulation works well. Never cover the tops of oil or gas heaters.

For the tank itself, there is a variety of insulating choices. Give Ben Franklin Plumbing a call and we’ll go over which type will work best for your specific hot water heater.