When was the last time you thought about your hot water heater?
Was it when you had no hot water?
Most homeowners think about major appliances, such as hot water heaters, when there is an issue. And this is perfectly understandable.
Home appliances are typically out of sight and out of mind. Hot water heaters are generally out of the way in the basement.
As long as you have hot water when you need it, why bother inspecting or servicing the hot water heater?
Well, there is a great reason to check your hot water heater.
If something goes wrong, then no hot water could be the least of your problems because water damage can be pretty expensive.
As one of Connecticut’s leading plumbing companies, we help thousands of homeowners with routine and emergency service calls related to water damage. Every year, we see thousands of dollars worth of damages due to faulty heaters. These are damages that could have been prevented with some preventative maintenance.
In fact, the Allstate Insurance Company produced a report that summed up the dangers of water damage and concluded that
“water heater failures are one of the three most preventable sources of water damage in your home.”
The average residential heater contains 40-50 gallons of water and is pressurized, when the tanks rupture they can cause massive damage to your home.
While annual maintenance, including comprehensive review of your plumbing system and water heater, cannot guarantee damage to your home, they can dramatically reduce it as well as offer a action plan to avoid such catastrophes.
We recommend that only the more advanced do-it-yourselfers try to perform water heater maintenance.
To help our fellow homeowners, here are some of the benefits of routine maintenance to act as a Water Heater 101 guide to help perform water heater troubleshooting and inspection.
1. Flush The Tank
Sediment or “scale” is created when hard water is heated. The sediment builds up at the bottom of your hot water heater tank.
This is NOT GOOD because it:
- Decreases Your Heater’s Efficiency.
Gas heaters have burners at the bottom of the tank (and electric heaters have elements at the bottom of the tank). The tank contains sediment, which acts as an insulator between the water and the heating source.
This process results in longer run times to properly heat and therefore, more money. The extended run times also create premature failure on the mechanical parts of the heater.
- Accelerates Damage To The Tank.
Accumulation of scale at the bottom of the tank becomes an insulator. This causes longer run times for your burners or elements, which results in excessive heat at the bottom of the tank.
The excessive heat burns off the protective glass liner causing the tank to rust and possibly rupture at a quicker pace. It also can cover the bottom element of electric heaters causing it to short out.
- Your Plumbing System Flushes The Sediment.
The sediment gets distributed throughout your plumbing system clogging aerators, supply lines and contaminating your potable water throughout your entire home.
2. Inspect The Anode Rod
The anode rod or “sacrificial anode rod” is a magnesium or aluminum rod that is inside your tank.
The anode rod’s job is to protect the tank from rust and corrosion.
Although most all homeowners have never heard of the anode rod, you would be surprised how many plumbers have never even inspected them. Worse, many plumbers don’t know what they do or how they work.
The rod screws into the top of your tank and should be inspected during a water heater flush. During inspection, keep in mind:
- If there is more than 4-6” of bare wire and/or the anode rod is heavily corroded, then it should be replaced.
- If the anode rod is barely intact, the damages to your tank may be too great and replacing the heater may be a more viable option.
- Keeping a good anode rod in place can extend the life of your tank by 50% or more.
The above pictures of a corroded rod, with exposed wire, and a brand new rod to compare. As you can see the one on the left only has about an inch of exposed wire, but due to heavy corrosion we would recommend replacement.
3. Testing The Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve (T&P)
The pressure relief valve is a safety device.
The valve is located on the side or top of the tank and it ensures the water pressure and temperature stay at a safe operating level.
For reference, International Plumbing Code 504.5 requires no more than 210 degrees Fahrenheit and 150 PSI. If the tank temperatures and/or pressures are not monitored the tank can explode, ala the recent Allstate commercial.
While you may think that is a bit extreme, it can happen…just watch Mythbusters.
The valve should be tested annually as sediment build-up can corrode the valve seat, rendering the valve useless.
- Tested water should flow out the valve freely when you pull up on the handle.
- When you release the handle the valve should close causing the water to stop flowing.
Frequently, the corrosion and sediment build-up is so bad that they may continue to leak, which means replacement.
There are different installation scenarios as it relates to building codes, but it is best if the valve is connected to a pipe that runs to the outside of the home.
4. Inspect the Expansion Tank
The expansion tank is a 2.5 gallon tank next to the hot water heater and is another safety device for your plumbing system.
When water is heated it expands (in a 40 gallon tank, water at 90F heated to 140F can expand by a ½ gallon). Plumbing systems are closed systems, which means water is only going in one direction. And when the water expands it needs to go somewhere!
The thermal expansion tank is a rubber bladder enclosed in a metal tank, the bladder takes on this extra water and when temps lower the expansion reverses, allowing the water back into the heater.
This rubber bladder can rupture causing the metal tank to pressurize with water making it useless. The tank should be pressurized with the air, close to the same PSI of the plumbing system.
(Of note, it is typically a good idea to replace this when installing a new water heater.)
As you can see, servicing your heater is as important as changing the oil in your car, and can be a little confusing for the average homeowner.
A full water heater flush and inspection is included in SolvIt’s annual Home Protection Plan. For the low cost of preventative maintenance, we recommend a licensed plumber to perform this for you!
Hot water heater inspection may seem like a winter activity, but we want hot water all year long! Don’t be left in the cold and make sure your plumbing system is working properly. Afterall, annual maintenance works like insurance and helps prevent larger expenses down the line. For any questions, then remember that SolvIt is here to help, so call today!