5 tips to make the most of a water heater

Having hot water at your fingertips is a luxury we sometimes forget to think about until it stops working. Here are five tips for maintaining a water heater.

5 tips to make the most of a water heater

1. Tie it

  • A 200 litre (50 gallon) water heater weighs more than 227 kilograms (500 pounds) when it's full. It can easily topple in an earthquake, causing fire and water damage.
  • Secure yours by wrapping it with two lengths of steel plumber's tape and securing the tape to nearby wall studs (wrap one length of tape near the top of the heater and the other near the bottom).
  • You can also buy a water heater strapping kit at the hardware store.

2. Wrap it

  • Wrapping your tank in an insulating blanket can save energy. But this isn't a job for grandma's handmade quilt — go buy a tank blanket at a home centre (make sure it has an insulating value of at least R-8) and follow the easy installation instructions.
  • You'll want to wear gloves to protect your hands against glass fibres.
  • Be sure to cut ample holes in the blanket around your heater's connections and access panels, and don't cover the instruction and caution labels on the tank.

3. Test it

  • Your water heater tank is equipped with a safety feature called the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve.
  • The valve sticks out of the top or side of your water heater tank; there's a pipe attached that runs down the side of the unit. If the temperature or pressure in the tank gets too high, the valve opens to prevent the tank from exploding. If the valve is rusty or malfunctioning, your tank could explode.
  • Twice a year, test the valve by flipping its lever open. Be careful: if it's working, hot water will come out of the pipe!
  • If no water comes out or if there's rust or mineral build-up around the TPR valve, have a plumber replace it.

4. Tidy it

  • Got junk stored around your water heater? Get rid of it. For safety's sake, you want an empty, one metre (three foot) radius around the water heater.
  • It's always a good idea to keep debris away from a heat source; you should also guard the tank from items that can absorb moisture. They could cause the tank to corrode.

5. Fix it

  • Submerged in every water heater tank is an aluminum or magnesium rod whose purpose is to corrode over time and, by doing so, keep the tank itself from rusting. Every four years or so (or every two years if your water is hard) drain the water heater. Then unscrew the anode rod from the top of the tank (have a friend brace the water heater so it doesn't fall) and remove it.
  • Replace it with whatever kind of rod was there before unless your water has a sulfurous "rotten egg" smell, in which case you should go with an aluminum rod.
  • If you can't pull out the old anode because the ceiling is too low, pull it up as far as you can and then grab it at the top of the heater with vice grips. Break it off above the vice grips, pull it up some more, and repeat the process. Replace it with a flexible link-style anode.
  • Install a water heater pan that's five centimetres (two inches) in diameter larger than your tank. The pans cost less than $15, are available in rustproof aluminum or plastic, and have optional fittings that channel water flow to a floor drain.
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