Water Heater Care

Time: 60 minutes

A cold shower can be refreshing after a long day, but not when your water heater is on the fritz. Check out these warning signs to extend the life of your machine and prevent water damage before your tank bottoms out.

While these tips can prevent breakdowns, always consult your owner’s manual first. There are many different types of water heaters, and depending on age and composition, these tips may not be appropriate for all tanks.

What’s in it for you?

  • Longer heater lifespan
  • Improved efficiency
  • Water damage prevention

What do you need?

  • Garden hose
  • Bucket

Know The Warning Signs:

  1. Hot water is running out more quickly than usual. Sediment buildup in the bottom of the tank could be reducing the volume of water it can hold.
  2. Water looks rusty or smells bad. Rusty water indicates corrosion inside your tank. Over time, sediment buildup can also breed bacteria and lead to odors.
  3. The water heater is making noises. Sediment accumulation may be causing the water to overheat, producing noise as it begins to boil.
  4. There is a puddle underneath your water heater. This can be caused by leaking gaskets or pipes, tank corrosion, or a defective temperature pressure relief (TPR) valve.

Every Year:

Inspect for Damage

  1. Look for signs of rust and check for leaks. Pay extra attention to the area below the tank. If you notice a puddle of rusty water, the bottom of your tank has likely started to rust out and you’ll need to replace the water heater.
  2. If you have a gas water heater, turn the control to the pilot position, open the combustion chamber, and look inside. If you notice heavy rusting and pitting around the flue, rust flakes on or around the burner, or watermarks along the sides, you’ll likely need a replacement soon.
  3. If you have an electric water heater, turn off the power and inspect the fittings, elements, and ports for signs of leaks or corrosion.

Test the Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) Valve

If you see water below your tank but don’t detect any corrosion or leaks coming from your tank or plumbing, chances are your TPR valve has opened recently. This valve opens when there is excessive pressure or high temperatures inside the tank to prevent explosions. Defective TPR valves need to be replaced by a pro immediately. To test your TPR valve:

  1. Shut off the power and cold-water supply valve. You can turn off the circuit breaker powering the tank for electric units, or turn the thermostat to the pilot setting for gas units.
  2. Place a bucket under the discharge tube. This pipe is connected to the TPR valve and is usually located on the top or side of the tank.
  3. Lift the valve’s tab to release water from the tank. Let the water run for 5 seconds to make sure the valve opens fully.
  4. Release the valve and make sure it snaps back into place. If the valve leaks or continues to release water, you’ll need a replacement.

Test the Expansion Tank

Water expands as it’s heated, and expansion tanks act as a cushion to protect your plumbing from damage caused by excessive water pressure. The tank has two chambers, one air and one water, separated by a diaphragm. As water heats and cools, the diaphragm adjusts to maintain a consistent pressure within your system. If you don’t have an expansion tank, you should consider installing one. To test your expansion tank:

  1. Knock on the side of the tank with your knuckles. A hollow sound indicates a tank mostly full of air, while a thudding sound can indicate your tank is full of water.
  2. If you think the tank is full of water, unscrew the plastic cap covering the Schrader valve. This is the same type of air valve you’ll find on tires. The cap could be located on the top or bottom of the tank.
  3. Briefly push in the Schrader valve pin. If water comes out, the diaphragm inside the tank has ruptured and you’ll need to replace it. If nothing comes out, the tank will need to be refilled with air or replaced. If air comes out, you should be good to go.

Flush Sediment

Sediment buildup inside your water heater can cause it to fail prematurely. In gas heaters, it forms a layer of insulation between the burner and water, slowing heat transfer and overheating the tank bottom. In electric heaters, it can bury the lower element and cause it to burn out.

You should drain sediment annually, but will also want to consider the age and maintenance history of your system before tackling this project yourself. If you’ve never flushed your water heater, or haven’t done it in years, excess sediment could clog up the drain valve and prevent you from closing it all the way. Once this happens, you’ll need to install a new drain valve. To flush sediment:

  1. Shut off the power and cold-water supply valve. You can turn off the circuit breaker powering the tank for electric units, or turn the thermostat to the pilot setting for gas units.
  2. Open the nearest hot water faucet in a sink or tub. This prevents a vacuum from forming in your plumbing, keeping water trapped.
  3. Attach a garden hose to the drain valve and drain the water into a bucket. Be sure to use quality materials, high temperatures can soften low-quality hoses and buckets, leading to leaks. You can also drain the water directly into a basement drain or sump pump hole.
  4. Continue to drain until the water is clear. If the tank is empty but you suspect additional sediment, turn the cold-water supply back on and fill the unit with more water before draining it again. Repeat this process until the water is clear in color and free of sediment.
  5. Close the drain valve and remove the garden hose. Remember to turn off the hot water faucet in your sink or tub.
  6. Turn the water supply back on and fill the tank. Once it’s full, slowly reopen the TPR valve to bleed excess air, then close the TPR valve. Before turning the power back on, open the nearest hot water tap to release excess air in your plumbing lines. Wait for a full stream of water, then turn the tap back off.
  7. It’s safe to turn the power back on once the hot water line is running continuously and the tap is at full volume. If you turn the power on before the tank is full, you can damage the heating element.
  8. Wait 20 minutes, then turn on your tap to make sure the water is heating again.

Drought Tip: If you plan to use the water from your tank to water your lawn, turn the heat off ahead of time and allow the water to cool overnight before draining. This can also prevent burns. Don’t use this water on sensitive plants or to wash your car.

Inspect Vent Piping

If you have a gas water heater, make sure your vent pipes aren’t clogged with squirrel nests, leaves, or other debris. A partially blocked vent can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home and needs to be cleared immediately. When the burners on your tank are firing, you should feel cool air being pulled into the draft hood at the top of the tank. If you feel warm or moist air coming out of the draft hood, it is not venting properly and should be inspected by a pro.

Every Few Years:

Inspect Sacrificial Anode

The sacrificial anode protects the water heater tank from rust and corrosion, and is the single most important factor in whether your water heater lives or dies. Corrosion feeds on the most vulnerable target first, so anodes are designed to be more susceptible to corrosion than the steel of the water heater tank. Eventually, the anode will completely dissolve and will need to be replaced.

Access to the sacrificial anode, inspection intervals, and replacement needs are highly dependent on your water heater and local water chemistry. The average lifespan for an anode is four to six years, but over-softened water can speed up the corrosion process. Pitting and surface corrosion on the anode is normal, but you’ll want to replace it once you can see 6” of steel core wire. Consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to access and inspect your sacrificial anode.

Find a problem? Give us a call at 844-99-SUPER and we’ll send a pro ASAP.

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