Most water heaters are tucked away in garages or attics out of sight and out of mind until something goes wrong. Rather than perform maintenance on your water heater only when it malfunctions, you can help it last longer and avoid some high bills and problems by performing some easy maintenance annually. Here are a few tips you can do yourself or with the help of a plumber to lengthen your water heater’s lifespan.
Flush and Drain Your Water Heater Annually
Your water heater always holds a tank of hot water whether you are planning to use the hot water or not. Within that hot water, sediment builds up inside the tank from heated impurities that collect and coat the inside of the tank. To keep this sediment from causing problems, flush and drain your water heater every year or so to wash the residue out. To empty your water heater, you will need to shut off both the water and power going to the unit. For electric heaters, flip the switch at the breaker box. For gas heaters, turn off the pilot light gas supply line valve. Once the heater is off, you can attach a hose to the water heater spigot typically near the bottom and start draining the water by turning the spigot. Next, open the pressure release valve near the top of the unit. This process can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour. Remember that this will be hot water draining out of the tank, so either give the water time plenty of time to cool or be prepared to drain the water where it won’t burn you or anyone else.
Test the T&P Valve
Every year or two, you should test your Temperature and Pressure, or T&P, valve. This valve is responsible for protecting your water heater from excess pressure or temperatures by releasing water as needed. If your T&P valve isn’t operating correctly, your unit could over pressurize and explode. Check that the valve can drain water it releases and to make sure that it isn’t leaking. If you do spot a leak or if the T&P valve is older than your water heater’s warranty, it’s best to be replaced. Before replacing the valve, follow the manufacturer’s instructions or consult with a plumber.
Check the Remaining Life on the Anode Rod
Anode rods help prevent your water heater from rusting and should be changed the second steel wire is visible. These need to be checked annually or semi-annually depending on how often your water heater is used. It’s best to inspect this rod after draining your unit and before refilling it. A diagram of your unit should be able to help you locate the rod to know what you should look for. This rod typically should be replaced every three years or in the case that it is less than a half-inch thick, covered in calcium, or more than six inches of the wire is exposed. Failure to replace the anode rod as needed can cause your tank to corrode much faster which will have a severe impact on its life.
Check the Dip Tube
The dip tube on a water heater sends incoming cold water to the base of the unit to be heated.
These need to be inspected about every six months to make sure it hasn’t corroded and is still functioning properly. To check the dip tube, you will need to remove it and compare its length to the height of the heater. The ideal length is about six to eight inches shorter than the tank. The dip tube will need to be replaced if it’s any shorter than that as it could be a sign of breakage or crumbling.
When performing any of these annual maintenance tasks, always read and follow your water heater manufacturer’s instructions for your specific model. And if you aren’t sure you are doing something right, it’s always best to call in a professional for help. By following these annual upkeep tasks, you can increase the lifespan, performance, and efficiency of your water heater.