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Hot Water Heater Maintenance: What You Can (and Can’t) Do on Your OwnApril 13th, 2021 by
In theory, your water heater is one of those modern-day perks you can’t imagine living without. Who doesn’t want reliable hot water throughout the house? But without the proper maintenance, you may find yourself taking an unexpected cold shower.
Because your hot water heater is out of sight, it’s easy to forget about it. But just like anything else in your home, it requires regular upkeep.
In this article, we’ll explain the ins and outs of some of the most common hot water heater maintenance needs. We’ll outline what you can easily do on your own, and call attention to the tasks better left to a professional plumber. We’ll even address traditional and tankless water heaters separately, as they have unique maintenance needs.
Are you ready to make sure you always have hot water on tap? Here’s what you need to do to keep your hot water heater in good working order.
How Often Does Your Hot Water Heater Need Maintenance?
Yearly inspections and flushes promote a safe, energy-efficient water heater.
While this article includes DIY options you can do on your own today, it’s best to call on a professional plumber for your official annual inspection. Water heaters combine electricity, water, and sometimes gas. They can be hazardous appliances without the right tools and expertise.
Your Annual Hot Water Heater Maintenance Checklist
Think of this as your annual inspection checklist. These are all the things you should ask a professional plumber to verify when they look over your hot water heater.
Some of these can be done on your own. However, we’ll say it one more time for safe measure—if you don’t feel absolutely comfortable with any of these steps, leave it to a professional.
✓ Test the Pressure Relief Valve
All hot water heaters with a storage tank should include a pressure relief valve. This valve is a crucial safety feature. It allows water to drain in the event of dangerous pressure levels.
To test the pressure relief valve, simply lift the tab on the valve and then let go of the tab. Water should flow when the tab is up but stop when it’s down.
If you encounter any issues, you likely need a new relief valve.
✓ Flush the Water Heater to Remove Sediment
Whether you have hard or soft water, your hot water heater can collect a significant amount of sediment throughout the year. Sediment can increase the risk of damage to your water tank, reduce the amount of water available in your tank, and clog your water lines.
In other words, a build-up of sediment is bad. To avoid a build-up, you’ll need to flush your tank every year … or every six months if you have hard water.
Here’s the good news. This process is relatively easy. And here’s the bad news. It can also be messy.
You’ll want to make sure the power is turned off and you have a safe place to drain the sediment-filled water. While you’re at it, this provides you with an excellent opportunity to inspect the anode rods.
We recommend hiring a professional for an all-in-one drain and inspection service.
✓ Inspect the Anode Rod
The anode rod protects the inner lining of your hot water heater’s tank. It’s made of a steel core wire with a coating of zinc, aluminum, or a similar material.
Testing the anode rod is a preventative maintenance task to ensure you don’t end up with a leaky hot water tank.
The inspection process requires you to drain some water, loosen the hex head, and inspect the thickness and coating of the rod. Without the proper tools or caution around electricity, this can be a dangerous DIY task.
You’ll likely want to delegate this to a professional plumber.
✓ Insulate the Heater and Pipes
Looking for a maintenance task to cut down on your utility bills? Your water heater is designed to hold a large amount of hot water at a consistent temperature. This is a convenient way to enjoy a hot shower any time of the day, but it’s not always the most energy-efficient process.
The storage tank is insulated to reduce the amount of lost heat in the system. But there are some ways you can improve the insulation.
For example, consider an insulation blanket to wrap around your water heater. Installation requires some time and care since it needs to be trimmed around the pipes, temperature controls, pressure relief valves, and other components.
The water pipes running into your water heater can also be insulated. Pipe insulation comes in sizes that match the common diameters of water lines. Make sure you choose the right diameter. Also, cover both the hot and cold water lines.
Insulating the hot water pipe reduces the amount of heat lost as the water travels or sits in the pipe. Insulating the cold pipe prevents condensation from forming in the summer.
“…consider insulating your water tank, which could reduce standby heat losses by 25%-45% and save you about 7%-16% in water heating costs.” – Energy.gov
Your Tankless Hot Water Heater Maintenance Checklist
Tankless hot water heaters are extremely convenient. They provide on-demand hot water throughout the home without the use of a storage tank.
Because they’re much smaller than traditional hot water heaters, they’re often used in smaller homes. Plus, they can be a more energy-efficient option if your hot water usage is low.
However, like traditional hot water heaters with storage tanks, there are several annual maintenance tasks. Here’s how to keep your tankless hot water heater in top shape.
✓ Descale the Tankless System
Tankless hot water heaters don’t have tanks … as the name implies. However, sediment still builds up. It tends to collect around the pipes, valves, and inlets of your tankless system.
You need a flush kit to fully clean out the mineral buildup in your tankless hot water heating system.
This task involves turning off the electricity or gas to your unit. You’ll also need to close the water valves. Next, you need to use the purge valves to discharge the water in the system, and then use undiluted vinegar or an authorized cleaning solution to descale the system.
This is another task that can be performed safely and efficiently by a local plumber. Improper cleaning could contaminate your drinking water, risk an electric shock, or leave large amounts of mineral buildup in your system.
✓ Check the Temperature Setting
It’s a good idea to review the temperature setting of your tankless system annually. If the system is turned up too high, it increases your utility bills and increases the amount of scale that builds up.
OSHA recommends a hot water heater be set to high as 140° F. Water at that temperature will be less likely to carry harmful bacteria. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that in-home hot water heaters be set to 120° F.
Your local plumber can help you determine which recommendation is best for your home.
When It’s Time to Call a Professional Plumber
If you can’t remember the last time your water heater was serviced, then it’s almost certainly best to contact a professional plumber.
A professional plumber can ensure all the proper maintenance is done correctly. Plus, their expertise will help them spot any other potential issues you might miss.
While your plumber is there, we recommend asking which maintenance steps they recommend you perform on your own and how often.
KEEP READING: 4 Questions to Ask Your Plumber
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