Maintain your water heater to make it last

July 29, 2015

A water heater is a simple device with simple maintenance needs that can extend its life by a decade.

Maintain your water heater to make it last

Flush sediment

  • The hot-water heater is easy to ignore as it quietly works away in the basement or laundry room.
  • That is, until one winter morning when nothing but ice water shoots out of the showerhead.
  • You can delay that day by many years simply by draining out the sediment that collect at the bottom of the tank.
  • Just stick a bucket under the draincock that you'll find near the bottom of the heater. Open the draincock, and let the water run until it is clear.

Check the pressure-relief valve

  • The pressure-relief valve sticks out of the side of your water heater.
  • It should have a pipe attached to it that leads to within five to ten centimetres from the floor.
  • The purpose of the valve is to release water if too much pressure builds up in the water heater.
  • Test it every six months by pressing on the lever. If no water comes out, call a repair person.

Test for hard water

  • Water is described as "hard" when it contains large amounts of minerals — specifically calcium and magnesium.
  • This isn't a health hazard — arguably, we need these minerals in our diets. However, hard water is hard on appliances.
  • It builds up inside pipes and can shorten the life of your water heater and the pumps inside your dishwasher and clothes washer.
  • It also reduces the performance of soap and detergent. If you have municipal water, the supplier should be able to tell you how hard it is.
  • If you suspect your well water is hard, do this test: Add 10 drops of dishwashing liquid to a large glass of water, about two-thirds full.
  • Cover and shake. If there is a big foamy head of suds, the water is soft.
  • If the head is thin and flat, you have hard water. Whether you have municipal or well water, if it is hard, consider having a water softener installed on your water supply.

Fix brown hot water

If the cold water is still running clear, you don't need a plumber. You just need to give your water heater a thorough flush. Here's how:

1. There are two water pipes sticking out of the top of the heater — the hot-water outlet pipe will feel hot. Note which one it is. If the heater is electric, turn off the power at the breaker box. If the unit is gas, turn off the gas shut-off valve. Open a nearby hot-water faucet, and let it run until the water is no longer hot. (This is so that cool water will drain out of the water heater — if you have a drain hose rated for hot water, such as an old washing-machine hot-water hose, you don't need to run the hot-water faucet.)

2. Follow the cold-water inlet pipe sticking out of the heater until you find the cold-water inlet valve, which is usually, but not always, just on top of the heater. Close this valve. Open a nearby hot-water faucet again.

3. Now attach your garden hose or a hot-water hose to the water heater's draincock, and let all the water drain out of the unit into a suitable drain. Close the draincock and the hot-water faucet. Open the cold-water inlet valve. When the unit is full, open the draincock and let it run until the water is clear. Restart the unit as described in your owner's manual or on the front panel. Your hot-water faucets will now run clear.

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