Taking any home-comfort system for granted is a big mistake. All home-comfort systems, including the hot water heater, require regular and diligent maintenance. Otherwise you risk failure at the most inopportune time – when you’re in the shower, for example. To get maximum longevity from your water heater, take care of your maintenance.
Learn water heater trouble signs and simple maintenance tips to keep your unit out of the recycle bin a little longer. You’ll enjoy longer showers and brighter whites and colors with lower water-heating bills.
Water heater basics
A water heater tank is basically a 40- to 80-gallon cauldron that heats and stores hot water until it’s needed. As hot water leaves the tank, cold water is piped into the top of the tank. The dip tube channels the water to the bottom of the tank, separated from the stored hot water. The cold water is heated at the bottom of the tank by a gas burner or electric element.
Depending on hot-water usage, preventive maintenance and the amount of water impurities, the life expectancy of water heaters is 10 to 15 years. That’s approximately 3,650 to 5,475 days in a row the water-heating system is “on” – heating, reheating and storing hot water. With this kind of work schedule, it’s plain to see why maintenance is so important.
Trouble signs: Leaky water heater
A leak at the bottom of the tank indicates that the inside of the tank has rusted and deteriorated to the point of no return. You should start shopping for a new water heater right away to avoid 40 to 80 gallons of water spilling inside your home in the event of a rupture. The pressure relief valve relieves pressure inside the tank to prevent a rupture. If the PRV is leaking, call your plumbing professional to have it checked out.
Water impurities (sediment and minerals) are common. Impurities can distort the taste, smell and color of water, and destroy the tank from the inside. Discolored water (red-tinted or brown) is a sure giveaway that your water heater needs to be flushed or repaired.
As water is heated, sediment and minerals are separated from the water and either sink to the bottom of the tank, or they (metals) are attracted to the anode rod, a device used to protect the tank’s lining from rust. If the anode rod goes bad, or if the tank isn’t flushed regularly, impurities accumulate in large amounts, which hinder heating efficiency and create unpleasant cracking and popping noises. This is in addition to rust damage and water discoloration, odors and odd tastes. (Note: If your hot water smells or tastes odd, do not use it for cooking until the issue is resolved. Cold water is fine.)
There are three main causes for hot-water temperature swings:
- Dip tube: If your hot water is nice and hot for a few minutes, and then the temperature fluctuates, the dip tube may be leaking cold water into the top of the tank, diluting the stored hot water.
- Impurities: Accumulation of water impurities gradually reduces heating efficiency until it’s noticeable upon each use.
- Heating element: A failing electric heating element produces inconsistent temperatures, as does a dirty or malfunctioning burner.
Preventive maintenance: Professional and DIY
Preventive maintenance is important to help your water heater age gracefully with vitality and efficiency. A preventive maintenance strategy should include regular service from your plumber, as well as periodic care tips you can do. Use a bucket to drain about one gallon of water from the drain bib located at the bottom of the water heater. This should be done every three months to help remove impurities from the tank. (Important note: Do not drain water from the PRV or you may be scalded by hot water.)
It’s wise to schedule professional preventive maintenance every year to keep your water heater working efficiently. These are some of the steps your plumbing professional should perform:
- For gas water heaters, the burner is inspected for cleanliness and function.
- The entire tank is flushed.
- The anode rod and dip tube are removed and inspected.
- Thermostat(s) temperature settings are evaluated. (Note: Temperature should be 120 degrees. Temperatures in excess of 120 degrees deteriorate the tank more quickly. If your tank has two thermostats, the top thermostat should be 120 degrees, and the bottom thermostat should be 115 degrees.)
To get maximum use and efficiency out of your water heater, please contact us at Meyer’s Heating & Cooling today. We serve homeowners in Griffith, Munster, Gary and the surrounding areas.