Water Heater Maintenance: Gas, Electric & Tankless

Whether you have a gas, electric or tankless water heater, regular water heater maintenance is the best way to guarantee top performance and longevity.

Maintenance Man Fixes Water Heater

Your water heater is one of the most important appliances in your home, because it supplies the hot water your family needs. Without a supply of piping hot water straight from the tap, things can get pretty dicey pretty quickly around the house.

You might have a gas water heater, an electric one or a spiffy new tankless unit, but in terms of maintenance, water heaters fall into two basic categories – those with tanks, and those without. On average, your home’s water heater should last around eight to 13 years, depending on whether it’s a traditional tank model or a tankless. Of course, how well you maintain your water heater will have a huge impact on how long it lasts. Whether you have a gas, electric, or tankless model, your water heater needs regular TLC in order to keep supplying your family with hot water throughout its expected lifespan. Here’s your water heater maintenance checklist for tank and tankless models alike.

Gas & Electric Water Heater Maintenance Tips

A conventional tank water heater heats up water using either gas or electric, and stores that water in its tank for use. Here are a few things you should do to extend your tank water heater’s life.

Test the Pressure Relief Valve

The pressure relief valve is a safety mechanism that prevents your water heater from exploding if too much pressure builds up inside of it. You’ll see a switch on the side of your water heater with a long, copper or plastic discharge pipe leading down from it. If the pressure inside your tank gets too high, the valve opens automatically to release it, and the discharge pipe directs the flow of water down to the floor and, hopefully, away from your furnace, electrical panel, or other sensitive equipment.

Test the pressure relief valve during your yearly water heater maintenance by placing a bucket under the discharge pipe and lifting the lever. If water comes out of the pipe, you’re good; use the lever to close the valve. If lifting the lever doesn’t open the valve, or if the valve leaks after you test it, replace it.

Check the Anode Rod

Whether you have an electric water heater or a gas water heater, it will have an anode rod. The anode rod takes one for the team, attracting corrosive minerals so that they corrode the rod, instead of the tank itself. Replacing the anode rod once every five years or so could significantly lengthen the life of your water heater.

Maintain water heater

First, shut off the gas or power to the water heater, then close the shutoff valve, open a hot water tap, open the pressure release valve, and drain a few gallons of water from the tank. If you see flakes of rust in the water, it’s time for a new water heater – but orange water is not necessarily a bad sign.

Check your unit’s user manual to find out where the anode rod is – if you don’t have the hard copy, you can find one online. You may need an impact wrench and some WD-40 to break it free, or at least a cheater pipe. Once you have it broken free, check for links around the hex head – if you see any, you need to drain some more water out of your tank before proceeding.

If the rod looks corroded, or if your tank is at least five years old and you’ve never checked the rod before, you’ll need to replace it. You can buy a flexible rod for heaters in tight spaces. Use pipe thread sealant on the threads instead of plumber’s tape, since tape can make the rod less effective. Flush the tank, or at least drain a few more gallons out, before turning the power and water back on.

Flush the Tank

You need to flush your water heater’s tank yearly to prevent the build-up of mineral sediment deposits that can rust right through the steel.

To flush your tank, turn off the gas or power and cold water supply to the tank. Open a hot water tap and the pressure release valve, then use a hose and bucket to drain the water from the tank until it runs clear and free of sediment. If you have a lot of sediment in your tank, you’ll need to empty it completely. Then, turn on the cold water supply to the tank and let the cold water run through it until it comes out clear. Keep flushing until you see no more sediment coming out of the tank.

Tankless Water Heater Maintenance Tips

Tankless water heaters heat water on demand, instead of storing it in a tank, but they still need regular maintenance. Many such units will indicate when maintenance is required, but you should plan to perform maintenance yearly, or more often if you have hard water.

Flush the Water Heater

To flush a tankless water heater, turn off the gas or power and cold water to the unit. Shut off the hot water valve that sends hot water from the unit to the house. Attach a garden hose to the outlet of a sump pump, and to your unit’s cold-water isolation valve.

Attach a second length of hose to your unit’s hot-water isolation valve. Place both the end of this hose, and the pump, in a five-gallon bucket. Then fill the bucket with five gallons of fresh, food-grade white vinegar.

Open both the cold and hot isolation valves on your unit, turn on the pump, and let the vinegar circulate through the unit for about 45 minutes. Throw out the used vinegar, fill the bucket with plain water, and flush the unit again for about five minutes.

Clean the Air Intake Filter

While you are flushing your tankless water heater with vinegar, you should clean the air intake filter. The air intake filter keeps debris from getting into your tankless water heater. Cleaning it keeps air flowing smoothly into the unit.

You can access the air intake filter by removing your unit’s face plate – check the user manual for specific instructions. Once you’ve got the filter out, rinse it thoroughly with clean water, then dry it with paper towels before reinstalling it. Disconnect your hoses, screw on all service caps tightly, then open the cold and hot water valves and restore power and, if necessary, gas to the unit. Check for and address any leaks.

Upkeeping Your Water Heater Maintenance

Water heater maintenance may not be fun, but it can help you save the money you’ll need to do the things you will enjoy, because it can drastically improve the life of your water heater. Take care of your water heater today, or tomorrow you could find yourself shelling out hundreds to replace it before its time. When you invest in American Home Shield, you will enjoy robust coverage for your water heater because many parts and components are included in the warranty.

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