5 Ways To Extend The Life of Your Water Heater
In many ways, your water heater is the heart of your home’s plumbing system. It gives you hot water on demand. But when a water heater fails, it’s an emergency that requires immediate attention. And just like with a heart, the best way to keep your water heater happy and healthy for years to come is to do regular, scheduled checkups and maintenance.
1. Check The Pressure Release Valve
Since water expands when it’s heated, and the water in your water heater tank has nowhere else to go, water pressure spikes during heating cycles. The pressure release valve helps prevent tank ruptures by letting out a little excess water when the pressure gets too high in the tank. It’s good to check your pressure release valve every three to four months.
To check the pressure valve, first shut off the gas or electricity going to your water heater. Open and the pressure release valve. If water comes out, you have a working valve. If nothing happens, try it a couple more times. If, after opening and closing the valve three times no water comes out, you need to replace the valve.
2. Flush The Tank
No, we’re not talking about your toilet here (although brushing up on toilet maintenance is always a good thing). We’re talking about flushing all the sediment and debris that builds up in your water tank over time. If you leave that stuff in there too long, it can corrode your tank and shorten its lifespan. Count on flushing the tank once per year.
How to Flush Your Water Heater
- Shut off the gas or electricity going to your water heater.
- Turn off the cold water supply and turn the thermostat on the tank to “off.”
- Find a sink or tub in your house and open the hot water faucet.
- Attach a hose to the drain spigot on your water heater.
- Open the spigot and drain the water into the bucket. Keep letting out water until it runs clear.
- Flush the tank. Turn the cold water supply on the water heater back on and keep draining into the bucket. Keep flushing the tank until the water is clear and free of sediment. You might have to pause a few times to empty the bucket. When that’s done, turn the cold water supply back to the off position.
- Now, you just need to go through the above steps in reverse. Turn off the drain spigot, disconnect the hose and turn off the faucet on the sink or tub that you opened before.
- Turn the cold water supply back on and crank the thermostat back up to your desired setting.
- Turn on the gas or electricity and your heater is back up and running, and totally flushed.
3. Change The Anode Rod
What the heck is an anode rod, you ask? It’s a magnesium, zinc or aluminum rod that goes through the top of your water heater tank. The material it’s made of is very important, because it actually attracts the little corrosive elements in water, thereby sacrificing itself for the greater good (the greater good being your actual water tank). It’s actually known as a “sacrificial rod.” Once an anode rod is expired, all that corrosion starts happening to your tank.
How to Tell if Your Anode Rod Is Bad
Replacing anode rods every three to five years is an important step in keeping your water heater alive and well. You’ll know it’s time when you see corrosion exposing the steal wire of the core. Ideally, you want to replace it before this happens. Using too much water or having acidic water will shorten your anode rod’s lifespan.
How to Replace Your Anode Rod
- Make sure the gas and power going to your water heater is shut off.
- Drain two gallons of water from your water heater.
- Unscrew the anode rod from the top cover of the water tank. If you have an older model, you might need to remove the water tank cover.
- Once you’ve unscrewed and removed the old anode rod, you can install the new one.
4. Get (Or Replace) An Expansion Tank
When your water heater’s doing its job, the water in the tank starts expanding. As that water expands, it leads to a spike in pressure, which would eventually cause your water tank to leak or explode if it doesn’t have a pressure release valve. Another device water heaters use to combat high pressure is an expansion tank.
Expansion tanks are small tanks attached to water heaters that take on excess water during expansion. The tank is filled with compressed air to match your system’s water pressure, and a bladder to take on extra water during expansion. The system creates a consistent water pressure in your water tank and protects it at the same time.
Testing Your Expansion Tank
If you already have an expansion tank, test it every time you flush your tank. Feel the bottom and top of the tank. The bottom should be warm and the top should be relatively cool. Tap the tank and listen to the sound. If it’s dull, it could mean you have a waterlogged tank that needs to be replaced. It should have a slight ringing sound when you tap it.
As an extra precaution, you can install the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff. This device will catch any leaks your expansion tank might spring, not to mention leaks throughout your entire plumbing system.
5. Use Vacation Mode When You’re Away
If you’re out of town, you won’t be needing any hot water. Turning your water heater to vacation mode could save energy and money, lowering your heating bill in the process. As an added benefit, having your water heater at such a low temperature setting means it doesn’t have to work as hard, which extends its life.
So how do you use vacation mode? Newer models typically have a vacation setting on them labelled “VAC.” If you have an older model or your model doesn’t have a vacation setting, don’t worry. Simply turn the thermostat down to the lowest setting possible, and you’re good to go. There’s one caveat here, though. If you’re leaving town during the winter, it’s best to keep your water heater running at full strength.
Keep It Healthy
If you stick to a regular maintenance schedule, you shouldn’t have any surprises when it comes to your water heater. Bear in mind, though, that water heaters don’t last forever. If you follow the steps in this article, you should see your water heater lasting about 10 years before it’s time to replace it.