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Water Heater Maintenance, A Step By Step Guide

This water heater maintenance guide will give you the tools to make your heater last longer. As with anything else, the better you take care of it the longer it will last. We will begin with a look at the routine maintenance for storage type units.

When the water is heated in your tank, a lot of minerals and things come out of the water. This is known as sediment because it settles out of the water. As this sediment builds up, it makes it harder to transfer the heat to the water. This leads to less efficient heater operation and early tank failure. Part of the routine maintenance, is the removal of this sediment. This is accomplished by performing a drain and flush of the water heater. This should be performed at least every year. You can watch our how-to video to see the steps involved in the process.

You should start by turning off the gas, oil and/or electricity to the water heater. There is a small drain valve on the bottom of the tank. You should attach a garden hose to it and run the hose to a sump or outside. Now, shut off the cold water supply to the heater and open the drain valve. You should also open up a hot water faucet to help the system drain.

After the water stops draining, you should shut off the hot water faucet. Then, turn the cold water supply to the heater back on and let the water flush out the tank.

When the water is clear, shut the drain valve and disconnect the hose. Allow the tank to fill and then turn back on the gas, oil, and/or electricity.

**NOTE** After this procedure is performed there will be some air in the system. The hot water may sputter for a bit when the faucet is turned on. It is normal and will quickly subside.

Another part of the yearly water heater maintenance should be checking the operation of the relief valve. This is a safety feature that prevents the tank from being over pressurized and rupturing. The safety valve should have a pipe connected to it and be extended down close to the floor. The pipe should be the same size as the outlet on the relief valve.

To test the relief valve, begin by placing a pan or something else under the relief pipe to catch the water. There is a small tab like lever on the top of the relief that is used to manually activate it. Pull the lever up and ensure that water flows through the pipe. Push the lever back down and the water should stop.

After the relief pipe drys, you can dump the pan. You can now be sure the relief valve will work.

Your water heater maintenance should also include checking for signs of leakage. There should be no water around the tank or its associated piping. Any evidence of water should be investigated and repaired as soon as possible to avoid property damage.

The anode rod should be checked every three years as part of your water heater maintenance plan. The frequency of replacement will vary with the local water quality.

To inspect the rod, begin by draining the tank according to the yearly procedure. Then, you can unscrew the anode rod from the top of the tank and remove it.

If most of the rod is less than 3/8 of an inch in diameter or the support wires are visible, the rod should be replaced.

After inspection, you can mount the anode back in the tank. Then complete the flush and fill procedure.

Tankless Water Heater Maintenance

The relief valve should be tested as above.

Some tankless units have a built in water filter and it should be cleaned at least once per year. This is accomplished by closing the water supply valve and opening the hot water fixtures to drain the system. Place a bucket under the water drain valve and remove the drain plug. Then the drain valve and filter can be removed and cleaned with a brush under running water. Put the drain valve and filter back in and put the drain plug back in. Close the hot water fixtures and open the water supply valve. Check for leaks and tighten/repair connections as necessary.

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