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'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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Here’s links to a collection of more blog posts about WATER HEATERS:
• Are water heaters required to be raised off the floor?
• Can a Temperature and Pressure Relief (TPR or T&P) valve be mounted to discharge horizontally?
• Where are gas water heaters not allowed to be installed?
• Is the minimum size water heater inlet pipe 1/2" or 3/4" according to the building code?
• Can you use a light switch for a water heater disconnect?
• How can I tell if a water heater is HUD-approved for mobile/manufactured homes?
• Can you wire a 240-volt water heater with 120 volts?
• Is it alright to have a shut-off valve on both the hot and cold water pipes at a water heater?
• What is the minimum clearance to doors and windows for an outdoor tankless gas water heater?
• What is required clearance for access and working space in front of an electric water heater?
• Why is the water heater older than the house?
• Does a water heater need a shut-off valve?
• Why should a tankless water heater have an isolator/service valve kit installed?
• When was a gas water heater first required to be elevated 18 inches above a garage floor?
• Can the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve discharge pipe for a mobile/manufactured home water heater terminate under the home?
• What is the purpose of a thermostatic mixing valve above a water heater?
• Does a tankless gas water heater still work with no electricity during a power outage?
• Why do water heaters have a sacrificial anode?
• What is the difference between a manufactured/mobile home water heater and a regular water heater?
• Does a tankless water heater require a pressure relief valve?
• When is a water heater drain pan required?
• Why is there water in my water heater drain pan?
• What does it mean when a water heater Temperature/Pressure Relief (TPR) discharge pipe is "trapped"?
• Can I leave a gas water heater in place when remodeling a garage into a family room or bedroom?
• Where do I find the water heater in a mobile home?
• Does a tankless water heater in an attic require a drain pan?
• Does an electric water heater require a disconnect?
• Is a catch pan and drain piping required for a replacement water heater?
• What is the difference between a single element and dual element electric water heater?
• What is an FVIR water heater?
• What is a heat pump water heater?
• What is a dielectric union?
• What's that powdery crust on the pipe connections at the water heater?
• What are the most common installation mistakes with water heater replacement?
• Why is my water heater making strange (rumbling, gurgling, knocking or banging) noises?
• How can I determine the age of a water heater if the serial number is missing or decoding it is impossible?
• How does a hydronic heating system work?
• What is the difference between a regular water heater and a direct vent water heater?
• What is the difference between a regular water heater and a power vent water heater?
• What is backdrafting at a gas water heater?
• How do I determine if a water heater is gas or electric?
• What does it mean when a gas appliance (water heater, furnace, or range) has been "red tagged"?
• What's the valve with the flip-up handle on the water heater for?
• Why is an older water heater an insurance problem?
Visit our WATER HEATERS page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.