Water heaters need maintenance like any other large household appliance. Water heaters are made to last many years but keep in mind it is always some form of stress with constant heating and cooling. Since it is always under stress, regular water heater maintenance will prolong the life of your water heater.
The benefits of regular water heater maintenance are visible. For instance, removing sediments increases longevity and improves efficiency. Adding insulation prevents heat loss by up to 45 percent. Insulation also can save up to approximately 9 percent of water heating costs.
How often water heaters should be serviced or maintained depends on several factors. Here are some basic points to consider.
Safety Precautions Before Water Heater Maintenance
Before you do any routine water heater maintenance, ensure you know your water heater in and out. Some of the basic yet important parts you should know include;
1. Gas shutoff valve
It is a leaver that can be found at the bottom of the water heater. It plays a major role during an emergency, and should be one of the first things you shut off. To turn off the Gas to the Water Heater turn the lever straight/perpendicular to the pipe.
2. Water Shutoff Valve
The water shutoff valve shuts off water flow to the tank. It is located on top of the water heater right on the incoming cold-water pipe. If it’s dialed in, turn it clockwise to turn off the flow of water. If the valve is a lever, turn it until it is perpendicular to the pipe to shut the flow of water.
3. Pressure relief valve
This valve releases water or air pressure automatically from the water heater when pressure accumulates to a dangerous level. The pressure relief valve should not be messed with unless absolutely neccesary. The important thing is to know where it is located.
It is located about two-thirds of the way up the water heater. It should have a pipe attached to it and ends a few inches above the floor. It’s designed in a way that hot water or steam escapes through it and is directed to the floor and not your face.
4. Drain Valve
The drain valve is situated near the bottom of the tank. It functions as the drain at the bottom of an ice cooler. But only with the faucet. Turn it lefty-loosey (counterclockwise) it allows water to drain from the water heater. Be cautious with the drain valve because the water coming out of it is hot.
The thermostat controls the temperature of water in the water heater. It is found near the bottom of the water heater, and has a screw or a knob to adjust to the preferred temperature. To save energy and prevent scalding, set the water thermostat at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or less. If you will be away from home for some time, set the temperature low to save energy.
6. Anode Rod
It is a metal rod that hangs down into the water from the top of the water heater tank. It has to attract any corrosive mineral present in your water. As such, it corrodes the rod and not the inside of the water heater tank. Anode rod needs to be changed on a regular basis.
7. Heating element
The heating element locations will vary depending on the type of water heater. If your unit is a gas water heater, it’s like a stove burner at the base. For electric water heaters, heating elements are two straight electric rods that heat the water.
Routine Water Heater Maintenance Basics
1. Insulate the Tank – Just Once
Adding an extra layer of an insulation to your tank is a great way of making your unit more energy efficient. Insulation helps the tank keep water warmer for longer, and as such, the water heating elements of the tank have less work to do. In the end, insulating your water heater will save you energy and money.
Most insulation blankets can be cut to fit any tank. Wrap it around the water heater tank, and avoid covering the vents. Once you wrap it, secure it with zip ties or duct tape.
2. Inspection – Once a Month
A visual Inspection of the valves and pipes should be done monthly. You will be able to spot corrosion and leaks and diagnose them before they become a problem. It is easier to inspect your water heater tank once a month than to deal with a destructive leak.
Problems like these can be easily avoided through regular inspection. To make things easier for you, have a reminder.
3. Flushing – Once a Year
Minerals and other corrosive materials accumulate at the bottom of your water heater tank over time. This damaging sludge can eat through the bottom of your unit and cause leaks. It can also cause your heater to use more energy when heating your water.
Flushing out sediment is the easiest thing you can do to extend the life of your heater tank. Flushing once a year will keep your water heater running at its peak. Below are steps on how to flush a water heater.
- Slip joint pliers
- Plumbers tape
- Garden horse
- Pipe wrench
- Flathead screwdriver
- Turn off the thermostat to shut off the heat to your unit. Remember you will be draining your tank, which can be dangerous.
- Shut off the water valve to stop the flow of water into the tank.
- Take a hose and attach it to the drain valve. Any garden hose should fit onto the spigot. The other end should be directed outdoors because it is where the hot water will be directed.
- Switch on the hot water faucet in your house to neutralize the pressure. If you don’t do this, no water will drain out the tank. If you turn on the faucet and it doesn’t work, open the water heater pressure relief valve.
- Open the unit drain valve and let the hot water drain out of the tank. The process of draining out water can take approximately 20 minutes.
- Now, turn on the water shutoff valve and allow water back to the tank for about 30seconds. This is done to flush out any sediments remaining at the bottom of the tank. Drain out this water using the hose. Repeat this process a couple of times until the water draining out is free of sediments.
- Remove the hose and close the drain valve. Turn on the water and let your tank fill up. When it is almost half-way full, turn off the faucet in the house. Alternatively, you can close the pressure relief valve. When the tank is full, turn on the heat using the thermostat up to your preferred temperature.
4. Sound Check – Once a year
A sound check is an activity that makes sure your water heater works appropriately using sound. Sound checks are performed by AO Smith technicians periodically throughout the year (usually once every eight months). AO Smith suggests that all homeowners perform this simple test at least once a year to ensure their tankless system is in good working order.
Sound checking is an easy way to identify problems with your water heater system that might otherwise go undetected. While you may not be able to determine the exact problem during a sound check, knowing your system is operating properly prevents most unnecessary repairs and/or replacements. Note that if you have an electric water heater, you should turn the power off before performing a sound check.
- Turn off the water and power to the water heater. This can usually be done at your main breaker or fuse box. (Some older systems require you to turn off individual shut-off valves that connect your water lines to the system.) However, note that you should turn off the power, not the water if you have an electric heater.
- Double-check that the power is off by listening for any gurgling or hissing sounds coming from your water heater’s gas valve. If you are not hearing anything, it is safe to proceed.
- Turn on one faucet in your home at a low flow rate.
- Begin to slowly turn up the temperature on your water heater until you hear a sound coming from your water heater’s burner/flue area. This is simply a valve opening and closing as it adjusts the airflow going into the burner. It will make a choir-like or flute-like sound.
- Once you hear this sound, quickly turn your water heater off and then back on again. This will reset the burner/flue valve to its normal position.
- Turn off all hot water faucets in your house.
- Turn the power back on to your water heater (if necessary). Your household should now have hot water available.
- If you did not hear a sound when you hit the reset button, turn your water heater off again and call AO Smith for service.
- If you heard a sound, but it was different from what your normal system sounds like – say, if it sounded “gurgly” or more “buzzy” than normal – call AO Smith for service.
5. Anode Replacement – Once in every four years
An anode rod is designed to corrode before the inside of your water heater tank. When your tank starts to corrode, it means the anode rod has failed and a new one is necessary..
The good thing is that the anode is easy and cheap to swap in. Similar to flushing your tank, replacing the anode once every four years will prolong the life of your water heater.
- First buy a new rod. Check your current rod for classification, so that you can see how it connects to your tank. It is important that the new rod you get has the right connection. You insert it through a small opening on the top of your water heater tank. There isn’t much space at the top of the water heater. For this reason, a segmented anode rod is the best.
- As you work, use the thermostat to turn off the heat to the water heater. Shut off the water valve to cut the supply of water as you work.
- The procedure is similar to that of how to flush a water heater. The only you will do is to drain a few gallons and not the whole tank. Keep in mind that the water will be hot.
- Pull out the plastic cap at the top of the tank. It will expose the top of the old anode rod. Unscrew the rod using a socket wrench and take it out carefully. Be very cautious because it will be very hot. Use the rags on the handle to handle the rod and clean any dripping water.
- Insert the new rod in the opening left by the old rod. Use the socket wrench to screw it in place. If the rod is too long, size it in shape using a hacksaw.
- Use teflon tape to get a nice tight seal where you fix the rod. Wrap some tape around the thread at the top of the new rod
- Once you fix the new rod, proceed and refill the tank using the water shutoff valve. Inspect any leaks around the anode rod fitting. If everything is fine, fit the plastic cap and restart the water heater tank thermostat.
6. Replace the inlet and Outlet pipes with metal pipes
Metal pipes are more resistant to heat than plastic ones. Inspect the joints for any whitish deposits. The deposits come from rust around the joints or hard water. If the whitish deposits are present, it’s best to replace the inlet and outlet pipes.
7. Don’t Keep the geyser on for a long time
Keeping the geyser on will save time but leaving the Geyser on for long periods of time can reduce the lifespan of the unit.
It’s better to switch it on 5 minutes before you need it rather than 2 hours before. Normal water heater maintenance will help to extend the life of your apparatus.
8. Lower the temperature
When the temperature is low, the geyser will work less and its life will increase. It also means the water heater will heat up quicker and reduce the chances of serious burns which is important to families with small kids.
Tips to help you:
- If you have a water heater emergency, cut the incoming water flow by shutting off the inflow valve. Also, shut off gas to disconnect the power to the unit.
- If you are in doubt about how to drain the water heater, call a pro. DIYers should not handle serious water heater problems, especially if your unit is still under warranty.
- At times you might be too busy or even forget to check/ perform the regular water heater maintenance required. In this case invest in an electronic leak alert detector. This device will alert you in the event of any small leak before it becomes a major disaster. Also, if you have no experience in doing any water heater maintenance, save time and energy and call an expert.
9. Vacation Mode
Vacation mode on water heaters is a built-in feature that schedules the appliance to shut off for 3, 6, or 9 hours daily. As evident from its name, this utility activates during summertime or any other break period when you are away from home. The principle behind vacation mode setting is pretty simple – it saves energy and prevents the appliance from burning unnecessary gas. This is especially important in summer when you use the air conditioning system more often than usual.
Water heaters with a built-in vacation mode feature are generally programmed to shut off around 9 am and turn on again at 4 pm. If you have never used such appliances before, here’s how they look – there is a switch installed next to the heating system controls. And, depending on your model, the primary schedule may vary.
Vacation mode can also be used for other appliances, so it’s not only about water heaters. However, this feature is primarily designed for water heating systems, so you should use it according to its purpose. Do not forget to set it up before leaving your home – the appliance will switch off, better safe than sorry.
There are no disadvantages of using vacation mode except for scheduling inconvenience. After all, you have to adjust all your daily habits according to the standard schedule, so don’t overuse this feature if possible.
Water heaters with a built-in vacation mode function can save you a considerable amount of money and protect the environment.
Final Thoughts on Water Heater Maintenance
Whether you are considering installing a new water heater tank or maintaining your current unit, follow the correct safety procedures.
Regular water heater maintenance will ensure your water heater remains in good shape for the entire lifespan of the unit. It will save you time, money and headaches. Be sure to stay up to date and on top of your maintenance routine.