For an appliance that we rely upon every single day, hot water heaters don’t get much attention — until they conk out! Even if your hot water heater stands in a corner very quietly minding its own business, that does not mean that your heater is completely maintenance-free.
It’s not hard to maintain a hot water heater, but it can be hard to afford a new one, plus installation. To be truthful, most hot water heaters will last about a decade even if left alone. However, with proper maintenance, you can extend the life of your hot water heater by several more years, often up to 13 years in the case of a tank model. Tankless water heaters are said to last up to 20 years with proper maintenance.
Here is a simple step-by-step guide for water heater maintenance, starting with electric models.
Electric Water Heater Maintenance
- Find the temperature setting dial on your water heater. It is usually a knob on the thermostat behind the panel.
- Turn the temperature down to between 115° and 120°. This will keep the tank from overheating and save greatly on energy costs. This is a first step of maintenance that will not have to be repeated.
- A third step to take if you have not looked at your hot water heater before is to check the temperature and pressure relief valve on it. Locate the pressure release valve, usually on the top of the heater. Lift it up part way, then release it and allow it to snap back into position. As you do that, you should hear a gurgling sound as water is released into the drain tube by the valve. If you hear no sound, then your valve needs to be replaced; it is not working properly.
- Now, onto the more involved removal of sediment from the bottom of your tank. The removal of this gunk will cut down on rust and corrosion in your tank, as well as improve its efficiency. You can do a mini-flush or a full flush, depending on the time that you have. For a mini-flush, put a bucket under the drain valve of the heater. This valve is near the bottom of the tank.
- Depending on your model, the drain valve will have either a handle or a slot that a flathead screwdriver will fit into for turning. Turn this valve counter-clockwise to release a few gallons of water into your bucket.
- Dump the bucket and close the valve.
- For a full flush, begin by shutting off the water to the tank. This valve is found on top of the water heater and will be attached to a water line.
- Turn off the power to your water heater by turning off the breaker that is connected to it. If you do this overnight, you will save the money used to heat water while you sleep.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve and begin to empty water into a sink or outside, wherever a large quantity of water can be received.
- Eventually, the flow of water will stop because a vacuum has been formed and it must be released for more water to drain. To take care of that, open the pressure release valve and water will begin to drain again.
- Wait about 10-30 minutes for all of the water to drain from the tank.
- Then, turn off the water drain and take the hose off the threads. Put a bucket below the water drain.
- With the pressure valve still open, turn the water back on and let it flush out the sediment on the bottom of the tank. The very muddy water will now gather in your bucket.
When a few gallons of water have drained and the water that is coming out of the bottom valve is clear, you are ready to fill the tank again with clean, fresh water. To start that process, turn the water off at its source and also turn the water drain off at the bottom of the tank.
- Now, close the pressure release valve on the top of the tank to ensure the proper water pressure as the tank re-fills.
- Turn the water back on and let the tank re-fill.
- Turn the breaker back on to heat the water.
Gas Water Heater Maintenance
Maintenance on a gas water heater is very similar to that done on an electric heater. The only differences are in steps 1, 8 and 17.
For step 1 above, you will find the temperature setting dial on a knob on the gas valve.
For step 8 above, you will need to turn off the gas that is flowing into your heater.
For step 17 above, turn the gas back on to heat the water.
Tankless Water Heater Maintenance
As its name implies, a tankless water heater is far easier to maintain than a heater with a tank. Many of the above steps are irrelevant with a tankless heater. Most owners of tankless heaters have a technician come to their home to maintain their heaters once a year. Calcium can build up in tankless heater pipes and decrease efficiency, as well as possibly damage the machine.
Many tankless models have indicators that warn of build-up of any foreign substances in the device. Plumbers can come and flush out tankless heaters with vinegar, and install any special valves if needed to maximize efficiency.