Imagine turning on your hot water faucet on a cold morning only to be hit by a blast of icy cold water.

Awful, right?

A functioning water heater is vital to every Yooper’s life. Aside from the underrated privilege of warm baths, we need hot water supply for chores like doing the dishes, laundry, and other household errands.

This is why regular water heater cleaning is so important. Periodic water heater maintenance helps you spot potential faults before they spiral out of control. In the long run, it increases the lifespan of your water heater. You’d be shocked at how much money you can save by fixing a leak early!

Still, water heater maintenance can be pretty scary for the average individual. It doesn’t need to be, though! In this blog, we’ll break down water heater maintenance into easy steps you can do yourself. 

Common Ways For A Water Heater To Fail Or Malfunction

Your water heater is an essential part of your home. And, if you’re like me, odds are you have it running at least half the day.  Several of our day-to-day activities depend on the water heater, and a faulty water heater can significantly disrupt your daily schedule. 

Here are some common ways your water heater could malfunction. 

Leaking Water

Water leaks are probably the most common fault water heaters develop. They are usually caused by one or more of the following:

  • Tank corrosion.
  • Loose water connections (I.e., your cold water inlet pipe and hot water outlet pipe aren’t fastened securely).
  • Small cracks or fractures in the tank. 
  • Condensation or a faulty pressure relief valve. 

Inconsistent Water Temperature 

Usually, the thermostat helps you control the temperature of the water coming from the heater.  

Therefore, if the temperature of the water coming from your heater is inconsistent — one second it’s too hot, the next it’s not hot enough — it’s most likely an indication that the thermostat is faulty. 

If your heater isn’t producing hot water, the fault could also be from its heat source. Perhaps its heating element is faulty, the gas burner is broken, or there’s an electric or gas connection issue.  

Smelly Or Dirty Water

Smelly or dirty water indicates bacteria build-up in your heater’s tank. This means your heater needs to be flushed (we’ll talk more on that soon).

Common Types Of Water Heaters 

There are three main types of water heaters: gas water heaters, electric water heaters, and tankless water heaters. 

  • Gas water heaters are powered by natural gas. The cold water entering the tank is heated by a gas burner located under the tank before passing through the outlet pipe.  
  • Electric water heaters also have a tank. However, the cold water is heated by a pair of metal elements near the bottom and top of the tank. 
  • Tankless water heaters do not store hot water in tanks. Instead, cold water passes through the unit’s heat exchanger whenever a hot water faucet is turned on. 

Gas Or Electric Water Heater Maintenance

The steps for water heater maintenance, whether the water heater is gas or electric, are almost the same.

Inspect your water heater for leaks every month. 

This includes checking for leaks and signs of rust and ensuring all the pipes are properly connected. 

Inspect The Pressure Release Valve

The pressure release valve is an essential part of a water heater. It ensures the pressure in the tank doesn’t exceed a predetermined value.

To inspect your pressure valve: 

  1. Switch off your water heater.
  2. Shut off the valve that supplies cold water to the heater.
  3. Place a bucket under the valve and lift it to see if water comes out. 
  4. If water comes out, your valve is in good shape. If it doesn’t, your valve needs a replacement.

PS: The valve also needs a replacement if water keeps coming out after you’ve released it. 

Flush Your Water Heater At Least Once A Year

The water coming into your home contains minerals and some sediments. These impurities form scales and settle at the tank’s bottom over time. 

The combination of scales, minerals, and sediments deposited at the bottom of the water heater reduces its efficiency and promotes corrosion. 

As a part of your hot water heater maintenance, you should flush your tank at least once a year to clear this buildup. Here’s how:

  1. Turn off the heat to your unit. For a gas heater, set the control knob to off. For an electric heater, turn the power off from its source (make sure the breaker is off, or else the heating elements will blow when the tank is drained).
  2. Empty the heater by turning on the hot water at a faucet and letting it run till it’s cold. Once the water becomes cold, close the tap and turn off the water shut-off valve. 
  3. Attach a hose to the drain valve, making sure the other end of the hose is directed outdoors. To equalize the pressure, turn on a hot water faucet before opening the water heater’s drain valve. If water isn’t coming out, open the water heater’s pressure release valve. 
  4. When all the water has drained out (this should take 20 to 30 minutes), open the water shut-off valve and let cold water flush out whatever is left at the bottom. Do this until the water coming out of the hose is clean. 
  5. Lastly, remove the hose, close the pressure valve, turn on your thermostat and let your water heater refill and heat up. 

Check And Replace The Anode Rod Every Three To  Five Years

The anode is a metallic rod that prevents the water heater’s tank from rusting by attracting elements in the water that cause corrosion.  As a result, the anode rod corrodes faster than the tank’s lining and lasts at most five years. 

Regularly checking and replacing the anode rod plays a significant role in prolonging the lifespan of your water heater. 

Without opening your tank, you can tell your anode is ready for change if your heater is producing rust-colored or metallic-tasting water.  You could also open up your tank and take a look at the anode rod. If it’s significantly rusted, it’s due for a change. 

Tankless Water Heater Maintenance

You can perform tankless water heating maintenance by visually inspecting it regularly, flushing it yearly, and cleaning the air intake filter. 

Carry Out A Visual Inspection 

Inspect your tankless water heater for cracks, fractures, leakages, and faulty connections. 

Flush Your Tankless Water Heater

Like gas and electric water heaters, tankless water heaters should be flushed yearly to remove minerals and sediments that could have settled in the pipes. 

  1. Turn off the gas or power to the unit.
  2. Shut off the cold and hot water valves responsible for receiving and sending water to the house. 
  3. Connect the outlets of a sump pump to your unit’s cold water isolation valve using a garden hose.
  4. Attach another hose to your unit’s hot water isolation valve and place the end of this hose together with the pump in a five-gallon bucket filled with white vinegar. 
  5. Open your unit’s hot and cold water isolation valves, turn on the pump and let the vinegar circulate through the unit for about 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, replace the vinegar with water and flush the unit again for about 10 minutes. 

Clean The Air Intake Filter 

The air intake filter prevents dirt from getting into your water heater.  It’s crucial you keep it clean for air to flow unrestricted into the unit. 

  1. Locate and remove the air intake filter using the user manual. 
  2. Rinse it with clean water.
  3. Dry with a paper towel or rag and reinstall.
  4. After reconnecting and powering the heater, check for leaks and address them immediately. 

Planning Your Water Heater Maintenance 

As you can see, water heater maintenance need not be difficult. And in my experience as a home inspector, I can tell you that it’s well worth the time and effort. This is especially true should you ever decide to sell your home. A well-maintained home will always command a better price and usually sells faster. Even if you never sell, regular maintenance prevents unpleasant surprises!  

If you’re still feeling daunted at the thought of doing water heater maintenance yourself, or don’t have the time, there’s no shame in hiring someone to do it for you. Many people enlist the services of a professional HVAC provider for their water heater cleaning to be sure they’re not missing anything. 

Are Your Mechanical Systems Up to Par? 

Rich Beasley recommends regular water heater maintenance
Rich Beasley, certified home inspector, recommends regular water heater maintenance.

As a home inspection company it would be a conflict of interest for us to provide construction or maintenance services. So if you do feel you need help, we suggest calling an HVAC company in your area. 

But if you have any reason for concern about the general condition of your home and its mechanical systems, consider giving us a call. U.P. Home Inspection, LLC offers maintenance inspection services to homes across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. 

A maintenance inspection is a special type of home inspection that is specifically tailored to the needs of a homeowner. Click here to learn more about home maintenance inspections and the 3 top reasons to schedule one.

Whether you’re located in Escanaba, Marquette, Houghton, or Hancock, you can avoid cold surprises by scheduling a maintenance inspection today!

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