Extending the Life Of Your Hot Water Heater

by Rachel Laurendeau on March 12, 2013

Simple DIY maintenance can help extend the life of your hot water heater and make it run more efficiently. Do this in the spring and fall when you are doing the rest of your seasonal home maintenance in order to have a regular schedule and no excuse to forget.

1. Be safe. When performing maintenance on your hot water heater, turn off the electricity at the main panel or turn the gas switch to “pilot”. Be sure to wear personal protective equipment, including gloves and goggles.
2. Check the pressure relief valve. The purpose of this valve is for it to open in case the pressure inside the tank gets too high, avoiding burst tanks or even explosions. You will hear a quick rush of air and see some water or water vapor when you release the valve. Since water should come out of the discharge pipe when you lift the pressure valve, make sure you have a bucket under it before you start. If no water comes out, you will need to replace the release valve.
3. Drain the sediment from the tank. When sediment builds up in the tank, it can clog your water lines and affect your hot water heater’s efficiency.

  • Start by shutting off the cold water valve to the water tank.
  •  Connect your garden hose to the drain valve and place the other end either in a large bucket or directly into your basement sewer. The water coming out of the hose will be scalding hot so wherever you place it, has to be able to withstand the heat.
  • Open the pressure relief valve and then open the drain valve and drain the tank. (Be careful: the water is hot enough to scald you.) Some sources recommend draining the tank completely while others say that simply draining 2 to 3 gallons should be enough. Either way, your objective is to let the run out of the tank until you no longer see any sediment or particles coming out.
  • Once the sediment has been drained out, close the tank valve, remove the house and close the pressure valve.
  • It’s likely that there will now be air in the system that needs to be purged. Open all of the hot water taps in the house and turn the cold water valve to the tank back on. Once the water flows freely from each of the taps, you can close them.
  • Turn the electrical power back on or turn the gas switch to “on”.

Helpful tips:
• Have a bucket, hose and pressure valve on hand when performing your maintenance so that you don’t have to run out for a part in the middle of the task.
• You can place an inexpensive water heater drain pan under your hot water tank to catch potential leaks and drips. These are available at home improvement and hardware stores.

Sometimes, a hot water heater is just beyond DIY maintenance and needs to be repaired or replaced. If you feel that your water tank is on its last leg or needs a professional, or if you just aren’t comfortable taking on a do-it-yourself plumbing job, call a licensed plumber to come take a look at it and replace it if necessary. Personally, I’d rather be proactive on this rather than wait for a major leak and a have huge mess to clean up.

References: Family Handyman and Lowe’s

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