Water heater maintenance: How to extend its life

Water heater maintenance: How to extend its life






There’s nothing worse than trying to take a warm shower on a chilly day only to discover you don’t have any hot water. Your home’s water heater helps prevent scenarios like this, providing the temperature-regulated water you rely on for cooking, bathing and cleaning.

You can help keep your water heater running optimally and avoid unexpected breakdowns with regular upkeep. Read on to discover some DIY steps you can take to keep your water heater functioning optimally.



Do water heaters need maintenance?


You likely use your water heater every day, whether it’s taking a shower or washing a load of laundry. Since it’s in constant use, this plumbing system is prone to normal wear and tear. Over time, key mechanical components become less efficient or break completely. Maintenance can help slow down normal wear and tear, extending the life span of the water heater.

Regular maintenance doesn’t just help prevent mechanical issues that could cause breakdowns. It can also help cut your utility costs. Water heating makes up about 18% of the average homeowner’s energy bill. The more you can do to cut that expense, the better!

Further, regular water heater maintenance is a safety issue. A neglected water heater can explode if the pressure inside the water heater tank gets too high (for example, because the pressure relief valve malfunctions). But gas heaters can experience gas leaks, which can cause a fire if the flammable vapors are ignited with a spark.



How to maintain a water heater


Here are some maintenance tips to keep your water heater in top condition. If you don’t have the time, tools or confidence to take care of these tasks yourself, a water heater technician or qualified plumber can do the job.

Drain the tank and remove sediment buildup

Over time, sediment and debris build up in the water heater’s tank and settle at the bottom of the tank. This is a natural side effect of hard water, which contains minerals like magnesium and calcium.

This buildup can impede the system’s function, causing sluggish performance, fluctuating water temperatures or visibly discolored water. You may also hear banging sounds coming from the tank, indicating hardened sediment at the bottom.

You can flush the water heater yourself, although it takes a bit of effort. Set aside at least three hours to get the job done. Here’s how to do it:

  • Turn the water heater off. If you have a gas-powered system, turn the gas supply off. There should be a valve on the tank’s side controlling the gas supply.
  • Turn off the heater’s water supply. This looks like any outdoor faucet and is usually on the top of the system.
  • Wait. Before draining, you want to let the water in the tank cool. This will take anywhere from two to three hours.
  • Empty the pipes. Turn on two hot water sources in your home, like a sink and shower. This drains the remaining hot water from the pipes and prevents an air vacuum in the water lines.
  • Locate the drain valve. This is attached to the side of the water tank.
  • Set up your drainage system. Connect a garden hose to the valve. If your tank is outside, you can let the hose drain into your garden. If it’s inside, you’ll need a bucket. 
  • Drain the tank. Open the valve to drain the tank, leaving it open until the water runs clear.
  • Flush the tank. To remove any remaining sediment that might be stuck to the tank’s bottom, turn the cold water supply to the tank back on and let fresh cold water run into the tank for a few minutes. Continue until the water exiting the tank runs clear.

Once these steps are done, you can remove your drainage system, turn off the running water in the house and turn the cold water back on to refill the tank. Finally, turn the gas supply and water heater back on.

Check the anode rod

The anode rod prevents the water tank from rusting. The rod is made of aluminum or magnesium. It’s inserted through the top of the tank and sits inside, corroding with the water — so the tank doesn’t. In most cases, anode rods last about three years.

You want to make sure yours is still in good shape because once it’s spent it loses its corrosive effect, causing the water tank to rust. This can cause holes, rusty water and general malfunctioning.

To check the anode rod, locate the screw at the top of the water tank and loosen it. You should then be able to pull the attached anode rod out. Signs that it’s time to replace the rod include:

  • The rod is coated with white deposits (calcium)
  • 6 inches of the steel wire at its core is exposed
  • The rod is less than one-half inch thick.

Check the TPR valve

The temperature-pressure-release valve, or TPR valve, is a critical safety component of your water tank. If the pressure in the tank gets too high (which might cause an explosion) the TPR valve opens to release the pressure.

To check the TPR valve, first shut off the power supply to the tank. If you have a gas-powered tank, turn off the gas supply (there should be a gas supply valve on the tank’s side). Also, turn off the cold water supply to the tank (this looks like any outdoor faucet and is usually on the top of the appliance).

The TPR valve is on the side or at the top of the tank and connected to a pipe. Place a bucket underneath the pipe. Then, open the valve briefly by lifting its tab to release some water before closing the valve again. If the water stops flowing, you’re good to go. However, if the water continues to flow after you’ve dropped the valve’s tab, it’s time for a replacement.

Insulate your water heater pipes

The pipes running from your water tank can be a major source of heat transfer. Insulation can help prevent this energy loss so that your heater doesn’t have to work as hard. You can insulate the pipes yourself using foam pipe insulation (you can buy it online or at a hardware store).

Look for self-stick insulation that fits your pipes’ diameter and measures about 3/8-inch in thickness. To install the insulation, simply slip it over the pipe, peel the adhesive and squeeze it firmly closed around the pipe.

You can also insulate your cold water pipes. Why bother? This will help prevent condensation buildup in the summer. Dripping water from condensation can cause a mess. Further, if there’s a continual damp spot because of drips, this area is at risk of molding or mildew growth.

Insulate your whole water heater

You can also insulate your water heater to prevent heat energy loss. Here, you will need an insulating blanket. Insulation is rated according to R-value. Look for an insulation blanket with an R-value of at least eight.

Wrap the blanket around the heater. Cut the blanket so that it can fit around the heater to accommodate the pipes, valves and temperature controls sticking out from the sides. You can seal these cuts with foil tape. Note that if you have an oil or gas heater, you should never wrap the top.

Adjust the water heater temperature

The ideal water heater temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Why? A higher temperature setting can increase energy costs. Even more important, if the water heater’s temperature is too high, the water may get hot enough to cause burns.

To avoid these scenarios, locate the temperature control panel on the side of the water heater tank. It will have a clear plastic cover that you can unscrew to remove. Then, use a screwdriver to adjust the thermostat so it’s at 120 degrees.



How often should your water heater be serviced?


It’s best to schedule a professional maintenance appointment at least once per year. A technician can take care of the tasks described above and ensure that your heater is running at maximum efficiency. If you notice issues (like it takes longer than usual to heat water), make an appointment right away.

Finally, a technician can advise you on when you may have to replace your water heater. In most cases, this home system can last for about a decade. After a certain point, the cost of repeated repairs will end up costing more than replacing the system altogether.



Water heater repairs are covered under Cinch warranty


Water heater maintenance is essential to your comfort and safety at home. Investing in regular upkeep will ultimately be cheaper (and less stressful) than paying for emergency repairs. Plus, with a home protection plan from Cinch, you don’t have to worry about the costs.

Cinch’s Built-in Systems warranty provides affordable coverage for water heaters. This is just one part of a comprehensive home warranty, which provides coverage for replacing or repairing many major appliances and built-in systems because of normal wear and tear. When issues arise, you can simply request service online or by phone and Cinch will find a qualified service provider to help. For homeowners, this means greater convenience and cost savings.

Get your free quote for a Cinch home warranty today.


Regular water heater maintenance can extend the life span of your home system, help avoid unexpected breakdowns and even cut utilities costs.

Your home protection is ready and waiting!