How to maintain a hot water heater
If you're mindful of maintaining your hot water heater, you may be able to avoid serious issues and save money on your energy bills. Perhaps even more importantly, maybe you won't have to worry about losing hot water in the middle of your shower.
There are certain early signs that could indicate there’s an issue with your water heater. If you notice varying water temperatures, unusual coloring, leaking, weak water flow or strange noises, you'll want to try some DIY maintenance to see if you can fix the problem before it gets worse.
Keep these maintenance steps in mind when you're ready to get to work on your water heater:
Gas or electric?
To make sure you're performing the right steps, you should confirm which type of water heater model you have. If it's gas, your unit will have a pilot light, which you'll need to turn off before working on the unit. If you have an electric heater, make sure you turn off the electricity before starting any maintenance tasks. It's also important to read the manufacturer's instructions for tips specific to your model.
Regulate your thermostat
While most heaters are automatically set at 140 degrees, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends setting units at 120 degrees to help save energy and avoid scalding. According to House Logic, you can save up to five percent in energy by lowering the temperature just 10 degrees. Remember to turn off the power before lowering the temperature on an electric heater.
Insulate the unit
Insulation is especially important for older units. When you wrap the hot water heater in a fiberglass jacket or insulating blanket, it will use less energy to maintain the water's temperature. It's also a good idea to cover all of your water pipes with thick foam pipe insulation, which you can find at a local hardware store. Before covering pipes, inspect for any leaks or damage. You can use compression fittings for DIY repair, but call a professional if you think your pipes need replacing.
Check the pressure valve
The temperature and pressure relief valve protects the water heater from too much pressure or overheating, so it's important to check that it's still working correctly. When you release the valve, you should hear a puff of air or notice water vapor. If you don't, or your valve is constantly dripping, it's probably time to replace it. Drain the tank completely before doing so, then raise the lever on the valve to release the pressure. Loosen it with a wrench to slowly remove it. Screw on the new valve, but make sure you don't over-tighten it.
Drain the tank
The sediment, debris and minerals that build up in the water heater can lead to serious issues. You can avoid malfunction by draining the tank. Start by turning off the electricity or gas, depending on your model. Connect a hose to the drain valve, then place the other end in a bucket or near a floor drain. Open the drain spigot, and allow the water to flow until it's clear. Home Depot suggests doing this every six months.
With regular maintenance, you may be able to extend the life of your water heater, increase its efficiency and maybe even save money on your monthly bills. However, even a well-maintained unit may experience serious issues that require hot water heater repairs you can't fix without a professional. In the event of unexpected problems, plans from HomeServe can help. Enter your ZIP Code to learn more about affordable home repair services available in your area.