Even in the summertime, we use hot water throughout our days, including when showering, doing dishes, or laundry. Water heaters can be quite costly and don’t last forever; the lifetime of many heaters is only 8 to 10 years.
If homeowners do yearly maintenance on water heaters though, they can last longer. Over years of use, sediment begins to build up in the water tank, which reduces the heater’s energy efficiency and clogs the water lines. Following the below maintenance tips will ensure that your hot water heater is running effectively for the long term.
The basic items you’ll need before beginning any hot water heater maintenance include:
- Screwdriver: to loosen the drain valve.
- Bucket: to fill when emptying the water tank. A complete flush of the system will require a large bucket, the same size as your tank.
- Safety gloves: ensure you wear gloves that will withstand the extremely hot water that can come out of the tank and will burn skin.
- Safety goggles and other protective clothing: both very hot water and steam can escape from a hot water tank during maintenance.
You may also need a wrench, garden hose, and insulation materials.
The below tasks can be done by any homeowner, without any technical expertise required.
1. Tighten any loose valves
If you notice that your hot water tank is leaking, it may be due to a loose drain valve. This one is the easiest fix as it just requires using a wrench to tighten the valve until it’s snug.
2. Turn on the vacation setting
Look into whether your water heater system has a vacation setting. Turn this on when you’re out of town, saving energy and extending the life of your tank. In this setting, the pilot light stays on but the water is not kept heated.
3. Insulate the pipes and tank of your hot water heater
Insulating any hot water heater system will make it more energy-efficient, but this is especially important for older units.
To insulate the pipes:
- Purchase self-sticking ⅜ inch-thick foam pipe insulation that will fit the diameter of your home’s pipes
- Wrap the foam insulation over both the hot and cold water pipes, covering them as much as you can. It’s important to also insulate the cold water pipe, as this prevents condensation buildup during the hottest months of the year.
- Peel the tape off the insulation and squeeze it tightly closed and sealed
To insulate your hot water tank:
- Buy insulating bubble wrap that will cover your tank
- Cut the wrap so it fits around the pipes, pressure relief valve, and temperature control panel
- Wrap around the tank, using foil tape to seal. Do not cover the tops of oil or gas heaters.
4. Turn down the temperature of your water heater
Most water heaters are preset with a high temperature at around 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is actually higher than it needs to be set at and can be turned down to 120 degrees. This lower temperature reduces energy costs and risks of scalding, as well as slows the mineral deposit accumulation in your water tank.
Gas water heaters are easy to adjust with the thermostat located on the tank. Electric water heaters require you to turn off the power, remove the thermostat access panel cover, adjust the temperature, replace the cover, and turn the power back on.
5. Test the pressure valve
Water heaters have a temperature and pressure (T&P) valve that monitors for pressure buildup and extremely high temperatures inside the tank. The valve automatically opens to relieve pressure and is very important. A water heater without an operational T&P valve can overpressurize and explode.
We recommend that you test the pressure valve once a year. To do this:
- Turn off the electricity or gas to the water heater depending on the type of device, as well as shut off the cold-water inlet.
- Place a bucket under the end of a discharge tube connected to the T&P valve.
- Lift up the trip lever of the valve to release water, which will come out very hot. You should be able to hear a slight rush of air or see water and vapour come out of the valve.
- Let the water flow for a few seconds and then let go of the lever, allowing it to snap back into place and shut off the water flor.
If the T&P valve doesn’t open and release water or leaks after the test, it must be replaced.
6. Do a mini-flush of your water heater tank
For regular maintenance of your water heater system, do a mini-flush of the tank. This takes less time than a complete flush, as the tank isn’t emptied, and can do it while the water heater is running, not requiring a shut-off.
To do a mini-flush of your water tank:
- Place a bucket under the drain valve that can be found near the bottom of the water heater tank
- Turn the drain valve counterclockwise. Some valves have a handle to turn, whereas others have a short stem with a slot for a flathead screwdriver.
- Release four to eight litres of water, or one to two gallons. Be careful during this process as the water will be very hot.
- Close the valve again by turning it clockwise.
7. Clean it out and fully flush the system
Every six months, it’s a great idea to fully flush your hot water heater. This cleans out build-up sediment and prevents rust, corrosion, and clogs.
- Turn off the water heater.
- Connect a garden hose to the drain outlet near the base of your water heater. Put the other end of the hose in a large bucket or near a floor drain.
- Allow the full water heater to drain, which should take between 20 and 25 minutes.
- Flush out the sediment from the bottom of the heater by opening the drain spigot and letting the water flow until it runs clear.
Need extra help?
If you are having any troubles with the above maintenance procedures or require more intensive repairs, we’d be happy to help. How do you maintain your water heater? Do you have any questions or comments about the above tips? Let us know in the comments below.