How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manfuactured and modular homes
What can I do to make my water heater last longer?
Monday, August 13, 2018
A tank-type water heater is a simple, sturdy appliance. It has no moving parts or sophisticated electronics, and many homeowners just ignore their water heater until there’s a problem. But that’s a mistake, because a little regular maintenance will make it last years longer. Here’s our three maintenance recommendations:
1) Drain sediment out of the tank - Sediment is created from the dissolved minerals in hard water solidify when it is heated. There may also be sand that gets pumped into the water heater if your home has a well but no sand filter to trap small sediment before it reaches the house.
Draining the sediment out from the bottom faucet with a garden hose about every two years should be adequate. But, if you get a lot of sandy goop coming out at the two year point, try doing an annual clean out.
2) Check and replace the sacrificial anode as necessary - A sacrificial anode is the unsung hero of long water heater life. It is a long aluminum or magnesium rod that screws into the tank from the top and corrodes, sacrificing its metal to avoid corrosion of the steel tank material during the unavoidable electrolytic reactions in a water tank. If the sacrificial anode is doing its job well, it will eventually shrink down to the thickness of a crusty coat-hanger wire and need to be replaced. We suggest withdrawing it from the top of the tank and checking for deterioration about every five years.
3) Check unions, flex lines and temperature-pressure relief valve for leaks and corrosion - Rubber washers shrink over time and, if you notice even minor wetness at a pipe connection, tighten the fitting. Also, check for corrosion at pipe connections and get the corroded section replaced before it advances to leakage. Any white, powdery corrosion indicates galvanic corrosion, which can occur at the union of galvanized and copper piping due to an electrolytic (battery-like) reaction, should also be stopped before it progresses to leakage. A dielectric union fitting as a separator between the two metals will help solve the problem.
Temperature-pressure relief valves sometimes begin a slow-drip leak when they age. Because the termination of the discharge piping from the T&P valve is often at an outside wall near the ground and behind landscape foliage, it may not get noticed. The continuous drip of hot water can be a big energy-waster, so check the end of the pipe as part of your maintenance ritual. Opening and then re-closing the flip handle at the valve may get it to seat properly, but usually the valve will have to be replaced.
Also, see our blog posts What are the signs it's time to replace my water heater? and What's that powdery crust on the pipe connections at the water heater? and Why is my water heater making strange (rumbling, gurgling, knocking or banging) noises?
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