How often do you maintain your water heater?

Your heater may be gas or electric, large or small, but all will benefit from some regular care and attention. There are some simple hot water heater maintenance things that a homeowner can do to supplement the services of a professional and save money.

If your hot water tank is not insulated, this is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to improve energy efficiency. Installing an insulated hot water tank jacket and adding foam insulation to the visible pipes can reduce heat loss by up to 45% and save 10% off your gas or electric bill. Insulating these components also means hot water faster at the tap and quicker recycling time, or the time it takes to replenish the hot water after a bath.

Inside the tank is a harsh environment that is acidic, which reacts with the steel lining. On the top of the tank, there is an “anode rod” which is made of a sacrificial metal, like magnesium. The water in the tank will attack the anode rod first, becoming neutralized. If the anode rod has eroded until it’s no longer viable or if it’s covered in calcium, the water will begin to attack the steel lining causing rust and eventually weakening it until it bursts.

Water from wells and city mains has sediment in it that will settle out if it stands for a long enough period of time. The water heater is basically 40 or 60 gallons of continuously standing water so over time sediment will collect in the bottom of the tank. How much sediment depends on your local water quality and filtration. All hot water tanks have a connector that allows them to be emptied from the bottom using a garden hose which allows any sediment in the bottom to be carried out. Regular flushing will maintain water quality and clarity. This is also a good time to test the TPR, or temperature pressure valve, to make sure it’s doing it’s job. The TPR releases water if the tank pressure exceeds the design rating.

Gas hot water tanks require a little more maintenance than electric tanks. Just like a furnace, the gas heater requires an annual check-up by a qualified technician to make sure it’s working safely and efficiently. The homeowner should keep the area around the heater free of anything combustable including dust, shavings, yard debris, etc. Combustable fluids like gasoline or camping fuel should not be stored in the same area because of the risk of explosion from the pilot light or electronic ignition. It is good practice to raise the hot water heater 18” above the floor, and secure it to the wall, to prevent the pilot light from being extinguished in a flood. You may also want to install a gas cut-off valve that will monitor and stop the flow of gas in the event of a line break.