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A comprehensive guide to water heater maintenance and installation

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Regular access to hot water makes our lives considerably more comfortable. From hot showers to warm water for the dishwasher, your water heater is an important home appliance.

To keep your water heater running well, ensure the unit has been installed correctly and care for it properly. With proper care, your heater can work more efficiently and help you save money.

Keep reading to learn more about water heater installation and how to clean and maintain your unit. We’ll walk you through what you need to know about this important appliance.

 

What are the types of water heaters?

People in the market for a new water heater will quickly discover a few different options. The better you understand the differences between these various heaters, the easier it will be to determine the best fit for your home. 

Let’s explore some of the most common water heater options:

  • A conventional water heater with tank storage: This option is a typical water heater with a storage tank to hold the gallons of water it will heat. 
  • A tankless water heater: Also known as an on-demand water heater, this option has no tank and instead heats water almost immediately as needed. Since it does not store the water, it scales more easily according to the amount of hot water needed at a given moment without worrying about emptying the tank.
  • A heat-pump water heater: Also known as a hybrid water heater, this option draws heat from the air and ground to warm the water instead of relying on electricity. This option also stores the hot water in a tank.
  • A solar-powered water heater: This option draws energy from the sun to heat the water, creating an energy-efficient appliance. It also stores the water in a tank.
  • A condensing water heater: This gas water heater calls upon unused gas fumes to heat the water. It works best in homes with natural gas as the main energy source.

Once you determine the type of water heater that will fit your home best, the next step is to prepare to install the heater.

 

A 5-step process for installing a water heater

The steps involved in installing a water heater will vary slightly depending upon the type of water heater you choose to have in your home. We’ll give you an overview of what to expect from this process. 

Installing a water heater is not a typical DIY project unless the homeowner already has some home improvement experience as a plumber and electrician. Those who do not have this type of experience might want to have a professional contractor manage this process.

Even with professional installation, it is helpful to know the steps involved so you know what to expect when the contractor comes to your home.

Step 1. Position the water heater

First, put the water heater in the optimal place. Ensure you leave at least 6 inches of clearance on all sides of the heater so it can ventilate properly. The manufacturer’s guidelines will generally provide you with additional information about clearance distance for combustible materials in the heater as well. It’s important to follow all of these safety guidelines carefully.

When selecting the location for your water heater, keep in mind that you need to be able to reach the thermostat controls so you can make any necessary adjustments. 

Once you have selected the best position for your heater, use a level to ensure the heater is evenly placed for optimal function.

Step 2. Install the pressure relief valve

The pressure relief valve (also known as a T&P valve) will be unique to your water heater. Your new water heater will likely come with one of its own. You’ll need to procure a new one if it doesn’t (don’t reuse one from the old water heater tank).

Next, wrap the valve’s threads several times with Teflon tape and thread the valve onto the tank. Use a wrench to tighten the valve until it points to the floor. 

Once the T&P valve is in place, take your copper discharge pipe and thread it on the relief valve. It is possible to reuse this part from the old water heater. Again, use Teflon tape to thread it on.

Step 3. Install the water line connections

Now connect the plumbing supply lines so the water reaches the heater. Carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions to see what type of pipes you need (e.g., solid copper or flexible copper). 

It’s also a good idea to connect the heat-trap fittings. These fittings keep hot water from leaving the tank when you are not using it, helping improve its efficiency. Wrap the fittings with Teflon tape before threading them. 

Look at your instructions so you place the cold-water fitting (generally blue) and the hot-water fitting (generally red) in the correct designations. 

You may need to have soldered fittings depending on the type of water heater you have. If that is the case, working with a professional will likely be best.

Step 4. Fill the water heater tank

Now that you have all of your pieces connected, allow the water tank to fill so you can check for leaks and make sure everything is operating correctly. 

We recommend following this process for the best assessment as you fill your tank:

  • Open the shut-off valve so water can enter the tank. 
  • Open faucets on the highest floor of the house. 
  • Wait for the water to run through smoothly so you know the tank is filled. 
  • Once the tank is full, turn off the faucets and carefully check your water heater for signs of leaks. 
  • If you find any leaks, drain the water heater and recheck all of your fittings.

Step 5. Connect electrical elements and adjust temp settings

Now that the tank is full, you can connect the heating elements. Make sure you understand the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the proper electrical supply. As you connect the wires, make sure you properly ground them with a ground screw. 

Once you’ve connected the electricity, adjust the thermostat under its access plate. Using a screwdriver, slowly move the water temperature to 120 degrees (or whatever the manufacturer recommends) in 10-degree increments. 

Next, turn the power on to the water heater so it can begin to warm up the water. You can test the function by turning on a hot-water faucet in your home.

 

How to clean your water heater in 3 basic steps

Cleaning out the water heater can help it maintain its efficiency and maximize its life span. Fortunately, homeowners with a little DIY experience can do this project.

Step 1. Open the water heater drain valve

Begin by draining the water in the tank. Turn off the power and close the valves connecting the heater to the rest of the plumbing. This will help you better access any sediment that has begun to build up in the bottom of the tank. Getting rid of this sediment can help the appliance heat the water in the tank more easily and reduce corrosion.

Take a garden hose and connect it to the drain outlet near the bottom of your tank. The other end should go in a large bucket or drain. It can take around 30 minutes to drain your tank fully.

Step 2. Flush out sediment buildup inside the tank

After you drain the water from the tank, briefly open the cold-water supply valve. This will help stir up the sediment around the tank. 

Then turn off the water again and drain the water into a bucket. Repeat this process a few times until the water that drains is clear. 

Step 3. Close the drain and refill the tank

After you finish rinsing out the sediment, close up the tank, turn on the valves so the tank refills, and turn on the power. Your water heater is now reconnected and ready for use.

 

What maintenance is needed for a water heater?

Maintaining your water heater will help this important appliance run smoothly and keep your home comfortable. Regular water heater maintenance can extend the life of your water heater. It can also help you stay more alert to the condition of your heater so you’ll be more likely to catch problems before they cause the entire system to break down. 

Here are a few maintenance tips to keep your water heater in peak condition:

  • Use your vacation setting when you are out of town. The vacation setting keeps the system running (the pilot light will be on), but the heater won’t heat the water. This reduces unnecessary wear and tear and can reduce your costs.
  • Regularly check your anode rod. Replace it if it is less than a half-inch thick or has become thickly coated with calcium.
  • Check for leaks and loose drain valves. More specifically, check the temperature release valve regularly.
  • Ensure your tank and water pipes are properly insulated. Insulation is particularly important if the heater is older.
  • Flush the water heater regularly. You should also drain the tank to remove the sediment periodically.

Do water heaters need regular maintenance?

Yes, your water heater needs regular maintenance to keep it working efficiently. Plan on flushing your water heater about every six months, including draining the tank to clean out the sediment. Test the temperature release valve annually to ensure it works properly. If you have a tankless water heater, service it about once a year.

 

Discover how a Cinch warranty can protect your water heater

As a homeowner, you know the importance of taking care of your water heater. These appliances keep you comfortable and give you everyday luxuries like hot showers and clean dishes. 

In addition to knowing how to install, clean and maintain your system, you may also want to invest in home warranty coverage. With a Cinch Built-in Systems plan, you can have peace of mind knowing that your water heater is covered from normal wear and tear. If a covered issue happens to your heater, we’ll put you in touch with our vetted experts to get the problem corrected easily. Reach out today for an instant quote!

 

Taking care of your water heater can help maximize its life span. Here is what you need to know about water heater maintenance and installation.