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Water Heater Maintenance: Do This At Least Once a Year

When it comes to water heaters, a few minutes of maintenance goes a long way. Most water heater problems are preventable with proper care. Unfortunately, many people go years without having their water heater serviced.

Performing these three basic maintenance tasks today will reduce the risk of costly water heater repairs down the road:

  1. Test the pressure release valve
  2. Flush the tank
  3. Inspect the anode rod

Below, we’ll explain why these aspects of water heater maintenance are so important.

1. Test the Pressure Release Valve

All water heaters have an essential safety device called a temperature and pressure release valve (often called a TPR valve or T&P valve). This valve is designed to gauge pressure inside of the water heater tank and open automatically to release pressure when necessary.

Without a working temperature and pressure release valve, there is a risk that the tank can over-pressurize due to excess heat — and potentially explode. While unlikely, the risk is one no homeowner should take.

Most water heater maintenance is about ensuring the efficiency and longevity of the unit. Testing the temperature and pressure release valve, however, is a vital safety issue.

2. Flush the Tank

Over time, naturally-occurring calcium will deposit on the interior sides of the water tank. Much of this sediment settles at the bottom of the tank. Although this doesn’t affect the water quality, it can interfere with the water heater’s performance, since it creates a barrier between the water and the heating element at the bottom of the tank.

The trouble with sediment is that it accumulates slowly. Most homeowners won’t notice a change to their water, and it’s only gradually that the water heater will become less efficient. By the time someone points out the issue, it may be difficult to restore the appliance to peak condition.

To prevent sediment build-up, homeowners should have the water heater tank flushed at least once a year. Flushing the tank involves shutting power to the water heater, closing the cold-water inlet, and opening the pressure and drain valves to allow water to drain until it runs clear. It’s a dirty job, and one that requires caution, since the water inside the tank is extremely hot.

Some homeowners do flush the tank themselves, and there are videos that demonstrate the process online. For safety reasons, we recommend calling an HVAC technician with experience in water heater repair and maintenance.

3. Inspect the Anode Rod

This maintenance issue should be done by a professional. Inside every tank-style water heater is a replaceable rod called an anode. The rod is made of a reactive metal like zinc or aluminium. So long as the anode is in place, the water’s electrolytes will corrode the rod instead of the walls of the tank.

But that anode doesn’t last forever. Eventually, it disintegrates, leaving the tank prone to corrosion.

Proper water heater maintenance includes removing the anode to ensure it is still intact. If the rod is less than half an inch in diameter, it’s time to replace it.

Bonus: Tidy Up Around the Tank

In most homes, the water heater is installed in one of two places: a laundry room or basement utility room. Both locations are prone to fill up with boxes and other clutter. But unless the owner’s manual states otherwise, it’s best to maintain at least 2 feet of clearance around the water heater tank.

If you have to clear away clutter before you can perform maintenance, don’t put those objects back where you found them. Leave plenty of space around the tank to make future maintenance a breeze!

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