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water heater maintenance

Hot-water heater service

Water heater maintenance has an impact on two important factors: the service life of the heater and your costs to operate it. With an average life expectancy of only about 13 years—even less in locales where hard water prevails—the water heater is the most frequently replaced major appliance in most households. There are about 100 million water heaters installed in homes in the U.S. The Department Of Energy estimates that approximately 7 to 8 percent of these will require replacement in an average year.

Even when you’re not facing the expense of replacing a worn-out unit, the price of simply having hot water on demand is considerable. In the typical residence the water heater represents more than 15 percent of the total energy consumption in the home and, depending on the size of the household, generally costs between $200 and $600 annually to operate. That places water heating third behind the energy expense of cooling and heating the house.

To reduce costs, extend service life and improve performance, regular water heater maintenance must be part of the plan.

DIY Water Heater Maintenance

Two items dominate home water heater maintenance:

  • Temperature pressure relief (TPR) valve check: The TPR valve is a frequent site for annoying leakage. It’s also an important safety factor that should be tested every year by the homeowner and replaced by a plumber if defective.
  • Annual flushing: Flushing accumulated mineral deposits from the tank is the single most important DIY task to improve water heater efficiency and extend service life. A layer of sediment in the bottom of the tank insulates the water from heat produced by the burner, causing the unit to run longer “on” cycles to bring the water to proper temperature. This greatly increases energy consumption and operating costs. In addition, sediment accumulation accelerates tank corrosion—the principle cause of early water heater failure and replacement.

TPR Valve Test

Located on the upper side of the tank or the top of the tank, the temperature pressure relief valve is a spring-loaded valve operated by an attached handle. In most installations, a discharge tube is threaded into the valve outlet that safely diverts water down to the floor when the valve opens. To prevent scalding hazard, don’t test a TPR valve that lacks a discharge tube. Call a plumber instead.

Here’s how to test the TPR valve. Place a bucket under the end of the discharge tube to catch discharged water. Lift the spring-loaded valve on the top of the TPR valve and hold it open momentarily.

Listen for the sound of water emitted by the valve and watch for discharge entering the bucket. When you see that the valve has released water, allow the spring-loaded valve to snap shut. Monitor the discharge tube for a few moments to verify that the valve properly sealed and no dribbling is visible.

If the TPR valve fails to release water when opened or continues to dribble water after it closes, contact your plumber to replace the valve.

Annual Tank Flushing

To flush the tank, turn the heater gas valve to the off position or turn off power to an electrical heater at the circuit breaker. Then close the cold water inlet valve on top on the heater.

Attach a garden hose to the faucet-style drain valve at the bottom of the tank and route the other end of the hose outdoors. Open the tank drain valve to initiate drainage. Also, hold open the TPR valve to allow air into the tank to break the vacuum.

After the tank is fully drained, open and shut the cold water inlet valve several times to admit more water. This creates a flushing action inside the tank. Allow the tank to drain again.

Close the cold water inlet valve and the TPR valve. Then close the drain valve and disconnect the garden hose. Follow manufacturer’s instructions to relight the gas heater. For an electrical unit, restore power at the circuit breaker.

For more information on water heater maintenance check out Aqua Plumbing & Air’s plumbing solutions or call 941-306-3715.