A water heater is an important appliance in any home — it keeps your showers hot, your dishes clean and your clothes washed. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household runs hot water:
- Americans use 64 gallons of water per day
- We spend $400 to $600 heating water each year
- Our household budgets allocate 14 to 16 percent of total utility bills to heating water annually
- Heating water is the second largest utility expense for a typical home.
Your hot water heater is a big part of your life! Any issues to the water heater make a big impact on your daily routine, your comfort and your overall cleanliness — which is why water heater maintenance is so important.
Standard Water Heater Maintenance Techniques
Luckily there are a few easy things you can do to keep your water heater running smoothly and efficiently.
Caution: While performing maintenance on your hot water heater, keep in mind that the water and many of the pipes around the unit can be quite hot. Consider using gloves while you work. If you don’t feel comfortable performing any of the tasks below, put down your tools and call a professional plumber!
1. Flush your heater
Once or twice a year, you want to drain your water heater to clear out sediment or accumulation of minerals (especially if you live in an area with hard water).
First, shut off the power and then the water supply (this may involve manually closing the valve). Attach an ordinary garden hose to the drain valve, and run the other end to a bucket. Open the valve and let the water run until it comes out clear.
When finished, close the valve, refill the tank and restore power to the unit per the manufacturer’s instructions.
2. Test the TPR valve
At the same time as you flush out the sediment, check the temperature-pressure relief (TPR) valve. Place a bucket under the valve and lift the tab so that water comes out. See if water continues to flow when you release it, which indicates a leak. Repeat once more.
3. Replace the sacrificial anode rod
Every so often, check the sacrificial anode rod for wear and tear. Corrosion of this part could cause you to have brown or rusty-looking water. You will probably have to remove the anode rod using a hex-head screw. If the rod appears to be covered with mineral deposits, has 6 or more inches of the wire threads exposed or has deteriorated to smaller than a half inch in width, replace it.
4. Insulate your pipes
Older units may benefit from some additional insulation. You can find different sizes of pipe jacket insulation at a home improvement store — both cold and hot water pipes will benefit from the additional layer. To insulate the unit itself, buy an insulation blanket, cut it to fit around controls and pipes and seal it with foil tape.
5. Lower the temperature
If you want to save money, lower your temperature to 120 degrees if the unit is set higher than that. Every 10 degrees you lower the dial results in 10 percent annual savings on your energy bill.
Bonus: You won’t accidentally scald yourself in a too-hot shower! Take note that some new water heaters have a “vacation” setting that also allows you to conserve energy while you are away. If you have an older unit that does not have this setting, simply set the dial at the lowest setting during your travels.
These water heater maintenance tips should help keep your unit in tip-top shape. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with regular maintenance or suspect you have a larger problem, call a local plumber who can help you out.