It’s very important to keep the health of your water heater as high as possible to lengthen its life, but how long do water heaters last? The average lifespan of a water heater is between 8 to 12 years, but without regular maintenance, your unit may begin to fail much sooner than that. Now, the term ‘regular maintenance’ may scare some homeowners off, but don’t worry! Maintenance really only has to be done about once a year and consists of only four steps.
Before you do work on your water heater, it’s important to know if you should turn off the unit. Valves can be tested while the unit is running, but flushing the tank requires a complete shutdown. Electric units can be shut off by switching the electrical breaker off. Gas units usually have a temperature dial which can be turned to the off position.
Check Your T&P Valve
The temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P) is a safety mechanism on your tank that senses pressure buildup or excessive temperatures in your unit and automatically opens to relieve pressure. Without this valve, your water heater could be at risk for exploding – it’s best to make sure the valve is operational every year!
The T&P valve is usually located on the side or top of your tank with a tube running down to the bottom of the tank. Locate this tube first.
- Place a bucket underneath the T&P overflow tube.
- Open the valve manually by lifting the lever on it. This releases water from the valve, down the tube and into the bucket. This water is very hot, so be cautious!
- Once the water has run for a few seconds, let the lever go. It should snap back into place.
If the T&P valve does not release water, continues releasing water after you’ve let go of the lever or begins to leak after the test, the valve must be replaced.
Check Your Anode Rod
The anode rod hangs inside your water heater. It is made of magnesium, which slows down the corrosion and rusting inside your water heater unit. Anode rods do wear out faster than the steel your tank is made of, so a yearly check of your anode rod health is important. It’s much cheaper to replace your anode rod periodically than have to replace your entire water heater.
- Find the drain valve at the bottom of the tank (it looks like a garden spigot).
- Attach a hose to the valve and place the end of the hose in a bucket.
- Open the valve to release a few gallons of water (this may require a flathead screwdriver).
- Once the water is out, find the top of the water heater where the rod is connected.
- Use a socket to unscrew the rod.
- If the rod is less than ½ an inch thick or looks like it’s covered in calcium, replace it.
When inspecting or replacing the anode rod, feel free to contact a plumber for assistance.
Flush Your Water Heater
A water heater flush is used to clear out any built-up sediment on the inside of your tank. If the sediment is allowed to settle to the bottom, it can cause corrosion of the tank over time – it can even eat straight through the tank and cause major leaks! Flushing out the tank once a year prevents the sediment from settling and makes the water heater more efficient. Here are the steps to flushing your tank yourself:
- After you’ve checked the anode rod, drain the rest of the water out of the drain valve into a large bucket.
- Briefly turn on the cold water inlet to allow fresh water to stir up the sediment on the bottom.
- Drain the tank again and repeat the process until clean water comes from the drain valve.
- When you’re finished, close the drain valve.
- Make sure to refill the tank and turn it back on when you’re done with maintenance.
Although a complete flush of the water heater tank is best, it does require a complete power shutdown. An alternative solution is to do a mini flush on your tank. It takes less time and can be completed while the unit’s power is on.
- Place a bucket under the drain valve at the bottom of the tank.
- Turn the valve counterclockwise (to the left) to drain between one and two gallons of water. (Some drain valves require a flathead screwdriver to make them turn.) This water is very hot, so be cautious!
- Turn the valve clockwise (to the right) to close it.
If the drain valve won’t open or is leaking when closed, contact a plumber for more assistance.
Check The Temperature
When your water heater was originally installed it was likely preset to 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it is actually recommended that your water heater runs at 120 degrees in most households. For every 10 degrees the water heater is lowered, you can expect up to 5% energy savings.
- A gas water heater has a temperature dial which can be turned down to 120 degrees.
- An electric heater usually has a small metal panel that covers the thermostat. Make sure the power is still off! Unscrew the panel.
- Set the temperature to 120 degrees. Replace the panel and turn the unit back on.
- Some electric water heaters have an upper and lower thermostat. Make sure to adjust both.
By completing these four steps, your water heater is much more likely to last the full estimated lifespan. It will also run more efficiently and save you money on energy bills. If you feel uncomfortable performing any of the maintenance listed above, Gotelli Plumbing is happy to complete it for you. As the best San Rafael water heater maintenance company, we are always eager to help you keep your water heater in the best shape possible! Contact us today.