Have you thought much about your water heater lately? Most people do not think much about their water heater until they have a problem. Typically the first thing that is noticed is a lack of hot water, and then the investigating begins. Here are a few tips that can help you with maintaining your water heater. Following these tips will provide a longer tank life expectancy, lower energy bills, and the potential for little or no damage to occur as a result of water leakage. Also, be prepared with information will make the entire process easier when your tank needs to be repaired or replaced.
1. Know where your water heater is located and have clear access to reach it. This may sound simple, but sometimes it’s tucked away in an attic or basement and not easy to reach and after many years since a water heater is not something people often think about it can be forgotten – until there is no hot water.
2. Know what type of water heater you have, ie. natural gas, electric, propane or solar. Also knowing whether you have a storage tank type (hint: this is the most common type) or a tankless type water heater is helpful. Write down the model number and the serial number of your water heater or at least know where this information is in the tank, it has the age and gallon capacity coded into it and is important for warranty purposes.
3. Know how to turn off the fuel or power supply to your water heater, once you know which type of unit you have, make sure you know how to turn off the gas or electricity to the unit. There should be a gas valve or a disconnect switch within a few feet of the water heater. It’s also a good idea to know where your main gas shut off valve is or which breaker is for the water heater in case the shut off near the water heater doesn’t work. If you need any special tools to turn the valves off or to open the break box keep those nearby and in clear sight. When you have water leaking all over it’s easy to panic, especially if it’s causing damage. Doing a little upfront work so you are prepared will make a big difference in this situation.
4. Know where the water shut-off valve to the water heater is. Again, if you need special tools to turn the valve off have them nearby along with a stepladder in case the valve is above the water heater and you need to turn the water off quickly. Most shut off valves are located above the water heater on the cold side piping. See our blog post – How to turn off a leaking water if your not sure where your valve is.
5. Make sure the area around your water heater is clear and do not store anything with a few feet of your unit. First, if you have a gas fired (natural gas or propane) unit the water heater needs to “breath”. As the burner fires, it needs oxygen to burn the gas. When a water heater is smothered or does not have enough oxygen it can affect the efficiency of the unit, cause damage to the burner chamber and other water heater parts and even cause carbon monoxide leaks. Second, whether it is gas or electric if the unit starts to leak the water can be hidden from view or soak into what is being stored around it. This can cause a prolonged leak, which has the potential to cause more water damage and cause to the water heater to reheat itself more often, wasting energy. Lastly, it is a fire hazard.
6. Drain or flush your water heater and complete an annual inspection. Maintaining your water heater is a very successful habit. It can affect life expectancy, energy efficiency and the safety of the unit over its lifetime. Once a year (maybe more often if there is a lot of sediment in your water) drain a few gallons out of the drain valve of your water heater. Use either a 5-gallon bucket or a garden hose and run it to a place where the hot water will not cause damage (do not drain it to your landscaping or lawn, hot water may kill the grass). If you notice a lot of sediment or debris then we recommend a full flush. This is where you empty the tank completely of water, then turn the water back on while the drain is open and let the water flow for a minute or so to help remove any lingering sediment or debris. For instructions on how to drain a water heater click here. If you are water wise you can turn your thermostat to vacation and let the water cool down – then it can be used for watering and will not damage your plants. It is best to turn the unit to vacation in the morning, say before going to work. Then drain the tank when you come home, once it has refilled turn the thermostat back to the desired setting and you should have hot water in approximately 1 hour. While you are draining or flushing the tank inspect the water heater. Start with the top and check for any leaks or heavy corrosion on the water pipes and the T/P overflow valve. For gas water heaters check that the draft hood is in place and make sure it is placed properly with a few inches of air space between the tank and where the draft hood connects to the vent. Once you have visually inspected the top check around the tank, for electric water heaters look for any signs of leaking, rust streaks or residue around or coming from the upper and/or lower panels covering the electrical components on the tank. If you have a gas water heater inspect the gas line and gas parts look for any corrosion or wear on the piping. Check the thermostat for corrosion or black soot marks. Inspect the area below the gas thermostat where the gas chamber is. If you noticed any back residue, soot or charred metal, this is a sign you may be having combustion issues and you should have the unit serviced by a professional. If you ever smell gas turn off the gas supply and contact a professional. Your visual inspection is complete if everything looks like it is in good shape then you’re done if you have concerns or think there are items that need service contact your local licensed plumber.