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Water Heater Maintenance

For most people, the appreciation of their water heater doesn’t hit them until the day rolls around where there is no hot water in their home. Anyone who has had experience of taking a hot shower that suddenly and unexpectedly turned cold on them knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Water heaters are actually one of the most reliable appliances in a home. Perhaps that’s why most people often forgot of about them and probably have no idea how they actually work. Well it’s really quite simple how a water heater operates. Below is the break down of the process.

  • Cold water enters at the top of the tank and flows through a plastic pipe called a dip tube.
  • The dip tube delivers the cold water to the bottom of the tank where the burners are located.
  • The burners heat the water to the proper temperature.
  • The heated water rises to the top of the tank where it flows out when needed.
  • As hot water is drawn from the tank, more cold water enters the tank to be heated.
  • The water is kept hot with a layer of insulation that is sandwiched between the tank and the outer housing.

Pretty simple, right? The real trick to a water heater isn’t in the way it heats our water, but rather in the maintenance it requires in order to provide us with years of service. A good maintenance program will keep your water hot, keep your water heater quiet, lower your utility bill and extend the life of the heater. I don’t know about you, but long hot showers and a low utility bill are enough reasons for me to take on the task of water heater maintenance.

Now the big question that all homeowners want to know is what does a “good” water heater maintenance program consist of? Well before I answer that question, it is important for you to first understand what happens to a water heater that requires the periodic maintenance in the first place.

Above all culprits, corrosion presents the biggest threat to a water heater. In order to protect a water heater from corrosion, the system is designed with an Anode Rod which attracts corrosive elements to keep the tank from deteriorating. If you have a problem with the Anode Rod you will eventually have a bigger problem with the water heater.

Sediment build-up is the second biggest culprit. Sediment build-up reduces the efficiency of the burner, which translates to a higher utility bill. It is also is a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause your hot water to smell like rotten eggs. Lastly, sediment can cause the rumbling noises that make a water heater sound like a steam engine.

Now that you have an idea of what problems are common with water heaters, it is time for you to learn how to take care of them and prevent them from happening at all. Below is a list of what your regular water heater maintenance program should consist of.

Water Heater Maintenance Essentials

The anode rod should be inspected annually, or more depending on how corrosive your water is. It can be removed from the top of the water heater. Before removing the rod make sure to turn the cold water inlet valve off. If the anode is starting to look like a worn wire, it needs to be replaced. They can be found at a plumbing supply store and will most likely need replacing every five or so years.

Regularly flush your tank to remove built up sediment that resides at the bottom of your tank. You can do this by connecting a garden hose to the drain valve located at the bottom of the tank, then open the valve and allow the water to flow for several minutes. Be cautious because the water coming out will be very hot.

Inspect your dip tube. The dip tube is a thin diameter plastic pipe that transmits water from the cold-water inlet (located at the top of the tank) to an area near the base of the tank. The first sign that your dip tube is damaged is when your hot showers suddenly turn cold. This problem can be resolved by turning off the cold water supply to the heater, removing the water supply and nipple and replacing the broken dip tube with a new one.

Regularly inspect the controller/thermostat of your water heater. If it is failing to accurately measure the temperature of the water heater then it will cause the water temperature to vary erratically. It is recommended that you hire a professional to replace the controller.

Test the temperature and pressure relief valve (TP&R) every six months or so by raising and lowering the test lever on the valve. Frequent testing can reduce the chance of a leak caused by mineral and corrosion buildup.

Frequently inspect the flue pipe to ensure that it is aligned with the water heater exhaust port. Check to see if the flue is drawing properly by holding a match under the vent pipe. If the flame is drawn toward the vent pipe, it is drawing properly. If the flame blows the other way it is “backdrafting” and that needs to be fixed immediately.

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