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Your water heater plays a vital role in your home. It heats all the water you need for bathing, cooking and washing your dishes and clothes. With so much daily usage, it’s not surprising that water heating accounts for a significant portion of your monthly energy bill, sometimes as much as 20 percent. Yet, water heaters are often neglected, which shortens their life expectancy, increases energy consumption and can be a contributing factor for a ruptured tank.

Learn the basic ins and outs of your water heater, and implement an easy maintenance strategy, which will allow to enjoy consistent hot water and consistent energy savings.

How water heaters work

The basics of tank water heating haven’t undergone many changes over the decades. Cold water flows into the top of the tank, and it’s piped to the bottom of the tank through a long tube (the dip tube). This prevents the cold water from mixing with stored hot water near the top of the tank. As the cold water is heated by an electric element or gas burner, it rises, which allows more cold water to be heated until the entire storage tank is full of water heated to the thermostat set point.

Signs of troubled water heaters

On average, water heaters last about eight to 12 years, constantly storing, heating and reheating water for convenient around-the-clock access. This means water heaters are literally “on” 24/7/365. That’s a lot of overtime, which creates issues with quality and energy consumption when a regular maintenance strategy isn’t in place. These are common issues of neglected or aging water heaters:

  • Water-temperature fluctuations may be caused by a number of issues, from a faulty component, such as the dip tube to sediment buildup on the bottom of the tank.
  • A leaky pressure-relief valve (PRV) is a safety hazard. The PRV releases pressure inside the tank, which prevents a tank rupture.
  • Water discoloration is a sign of corrosion and rust inside the tank or perhaps a deteriorated anode rod.

Temperature fluctuations

A cracked dip tube releases cold water into or near the top of the tank. At first use, hot water may seem fine. But as hot water leaves the tank, and cold water flows in, water temperatures fluctuate at the outlet. Sediment accumulation or a faulty electric heating element are also common causes of water temperature fluctuations. 

Leaky PRV

The PRV prevents tank ruptures by releasing water and pressure. Otherwise, excessive pressure ruptures the water heater. If your water heater is in your living space, such as a utility closet, a ruptured tank may cause serious and costly water damage.

Discolored water

The anode rod protects the inside of the storage tank from rust and corrosion by attracting chemicals in the water that would otherwise harm the lining of the tank. The anode rod may be inspected and replaced if needed, but if the tank has already begun to corrode and rust, you may want to begin searching for your replacement water heater before a rupture or failure occurs.

Easy maintenance strategy

With regular do-it-yourself maintenance and annual professional maintenance, your water heater can last for many years.

  • Every three months: Using a bucket, drain about one quart of water at the PRV. Regularly draining water helps remove sediment and ensures the PRV is working correctly.
  • Once a year: Flush the entire tank. Turn off the electricity to the tank or shut off the pilot light, as applicable. Turn off the cold-water inlet valve. Connect a garden hose to the bottom valve, and extend the hose to a floor drain or outside. Turn on a hot-water tap to release pressure. Open the valve attached to the garden hose to drain the tank. Once the tank is drained, turn on the cold-water inlet valve, and continue flushing the tank for five minutes. Turn off the cold water, disconnect the garden hose, and turn the cold water back on to fill the tank. 
  • Every three years: Check the anode rod by loosening and removing the hex screw. The anode rod has a core of steel wire. If more than five or six inches of the wire is exposed, you should replace the anode rod.

For more information about maintaining your water heater, or if you would like information about our plumbing maintenance program, contact the professionals at Aqua Plumbing & Air. We’ve proudly served homeowners in Sarasota and Manatee Counties since 1974.