Water heaters have a pretty long life expectancy, particularly in light of what we ask from them. For a tank-type water heater, the average lifespan is between 7 and 10 years; for tankless units, they’re known to last upwards of twenty years. Your tank-type water heater is working twenty-four hours a day, keeping anywhere between forty and eighty gallons of water hot at all times. Tankless water heaters only operate when the hot water is required and is only heated on an as-needed basis.
As the most used plumbing appliance in the home, water heaters need regularly scheduled maintenance and repairs when required. For homeowners to achieve the goal of keeping their water heaters running at peak operation and optimum efficiency for a decade or longer comes down to how your unit is cared for.
Proper Care and Feeding of a Tank-Type Water Heater
From the moment they are installed, tank-type water heaters begin the process of corrosion. Water heater tanks are made of a steel cylinder with a glass-like coating on the inside to protect the metal from the water. This lining can be worn away by mineral-rich hard water, bringing the metal in contact with water, causing the tank to rust. If you notice any signs of rust along the seam of your water heater or around the drain valve, it’s time to start considering a new water heater.
There are several do-it-yourself projects the handy homeowner can undertake to contribute to your water heater’s long and healthy life.
Drain and Flush Water Heater Tank
Water heater tanks are under constant attack, first from the demands that homeowners put upon them with multiple showers, laundry, and dishwashing all at once. The second attack is the effect of mineral-rich, or “hard” water on the steel tank shell and all its components. We already know we have hard-water in the Houston area, and while we can see the day-to-day effect of that on our dishes and glasses, the damage to our plumbing fixtures often goes unchecked.
Tiny, rock-like mineral particles get into your water heater from your city water supply and promptly settle to the bottom of the tank. Since the hot water for your home is drawn out through the unit’s top, this sediment layer can get thicker, separating your water from the heating elements.
The only way to get rid of the sediment is to thoroughly drain the tank, allow it to refill, and drain it one more time. Your water heater has a valve located near the bottom of the tank; it will look like a standard outdoor hose spigot. Connect a garden hose to this valve and place the other end in a drain or outside. Open the valve and allow the tank to drain completely, and be sure you’ve turned the valve off before allowing the tank to refill.
Replace the Anode Rod
Anode rods are made of a length of steel core wire that has either an aluminum or magnesium outer layer. The rod is placed in your water heater tank to allow for the natural corrosion process to occur in the tank, but not by rusting through the metal tank. Instead, this anode rod is commonly known as a ‘sacrificial’ component, as it cheerfully gives up its own life to protect the steel interior of the tank.
Anode rods should be checked after five years of service and need to be replaced when showing advanced corrosion. Some signs that your anode rod needs attention include “popping” sounds. At the same time, the water heater is in “heating” cycles, an unpleasant “rotten egg” smell to your hot water, as well as slimy oxide deposits in sinks and faucet aerators. You can remove the anode rod, which is attached to a threaded bolt on the top of your tank, by turning it counter-clockwise and pulling it up and out of the tank for inspection.
Making Water Temperature Adjustments
For safety reasons, namely the scalding burns that are possible from water that is too hot, most water heaters are set to 120 degrees. In homes that use hot water from multiple taps simultaneously, or when bathrooms are located far away from the water heater, a temperature of 140 degrees is more appropriate.
Every modern water heater has an adjustment for water temperature, and those with Wi-Fi connectivity can be adjusted through an app. Older or more basic water heaters will have a dial with printed numbers on it to change the temperature of the water that leaves the tank. Use a hand-held thermometer underneath a sink or bathtub faucet to check the actual temperature at the taps.
Extending the Life of My Tankless Water Heater
Tankless water heaters are easier to install, take up much less space than tank-type units, and are up to 30% more efficient than tank-type. Tankless water heaters supply hot water only when it is needed, eliminating the need for the storage tank full of water, just waiting to burst.
While it is minimal, tankless water heaters do require an annual check-up and descaling of the heating elements. Once again, our local hard water is to blame as mineral deposits collect on the heating elements’ surfaces. With enough neglect, we can accumulate inside the water line, creating a blockage.
While being a handy, DIY inclined homeowner can bring many people serenity and peace, Nick’s knows that it’s not for everyone. Not comfortable draining your water heater tank or unscrewing the anode rod? Give Nick’s Plumbing and Air Conditioning Services a call for any repair, installation, or maintenance issues you have with your water heater.
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