Caring for your water heater can pay off
It’s hard to know how long a conventional electric or gas water heater will last. Some experts say 8 to 12 years for a gas heater and a bit longer for electric. But you probably may want to replace them sooner than that to take advantage of improvements made in the energy efficiency of new equipment.
You might also be interested in installing a tankless electric water heater that heats water only when needed and does not store water in a tank. A tankless can use about 30 percent less energy than conventional models. But if you go tankless, you also must have a water softener due to our very hard Arizona water. Otherwise, you will greatly shorten the life of a tankless heater.
If you have a conventional tank water heater, as most homeowners do, you can greatly extend its life by draining it every six months to a year. That will keep sediment from building up and increasing corrosion of the heater.
Here are basic steps for draining the water heater. But be sure to check the instruction manual for your appliance. If you are uncomfortable with this process, call a plumber to do the job for you:
1 – Turn off electricity for electric models before you start. You’ll find a circuit breaker in your electric panel that controls electricity for the heater. With a gas water heater, turn off the gas valve on the tank, thus turning off the pilot light. Turn off the cold water inlet valve to the water heater.
2 – Connect your outdoor garden hose to the hose bib at the bottom of the water heater. Place the other end of the hose in a laundry sink or run it out the garage door to a drain or to a street or sidewalk. You don’t want it to drain into your landscape because hot water may damage plants and the amount of sediment may make a mess.
3 – Turn on the drain valve to start draining the water heater tank, including the sediment from the bottom. When the water finally runs clear, turn it off. The process will take 10 to 15 minutes.
4 – If the water doesn’t flow freely, you might have a huge build-up on the bottom of the tank, and you need a plumber to help remove it.
5 – When you’re done, disconnect the hose. Open the cold water and pressure relief valves to let the water heater refill completely. This is important because if the tank is not full, the elements will burn out. Turn on the hot water faucet somewhere in your home just to make sure the tank is full. When water comes out of the faucet, the tank has been filled.
After that, turn the electricity back on. Or for a gas model, turn the gas valve back on and follow instructions for relighting the pilot.
Special note: Sometimes your hot water starts to smell bad which means that a problem is developing in the water heater. The solution is to replace the water heater’s anode rod which can corrode over time. The metal rod is designed to deteriorate in order to protect other metal parts in the tank. This might be a job for a plumber to handle.
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