We are so used to getting hot water in our home without a thought, until something goes wrong with our water heater, or it stops working. A cold shower or a leak can take us by surprise and are signs that the water heater is not working properly. This can happen when we neglect to periodically drain it. A water heater needs to be drained and flushed as part of its maintenance routine. Why is this so important? Over time sediment from minerals and other deposits in the water build up in the bottom of the tank, called scaling, and can lead to a clog in the valves which can cause leaks and corrosion. This can result in poor heating efficiency and costly repairs. Drainage helps flush out the sediment that can cause malfunction and makes it easier to heat the water when blockage is freed. With regular maintenance the heater will perform better, saving you money over time.
Signs that your water heater needs to be drained or needs repair—No hot water or limited supply, low water pressure, discolor and odors, unusual noises, leaks, and high utility bills. Strange smells can be due to bacteria build-up while unusual noises can be caused by loose sediment that scrapes against the metal as the water enters and leaves.
Drainage frequency—How often should you drain and flush your water heater? Water heater manufacturers and certified plumbers recommend draining and flushing on average approximately once per year. However, increased frequency is recommended when the following factors come into play: the tank is over 15 years old; the local water supply is hard or heavy with minerals; or the filtering process in your community is faulty. For situations like these, you should increase your maintenance regiment to 2 or 3 times per year. After draining the first time, you will have a better idea of how often to drain your water heater depending on the conditions and how much sediment has accumulated. You may find that once per year is sufficient enough, especially if your tank has a hydro-jet to reduce sediment. Electric and tankless water heaters, although more efficient and last longer, also need the same maintenance care. If uncertain, check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
The draining process—You may choose to do this yourself or hire a plumbing professional. If doing it yourself always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Basic guidelines are as follows: turn off the power, the water, and let the tank cool; connect a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and place the hose where it can be properly drained; turn on the hot water faucet to enable quicker drainage; turn on the drain spigot and let it run until the tank is empty; turn the water to the tank back on to flush it. You may need to add vinegar or a lime descale; once the water is clear, close the valve to allow the tank to fill; shut the hot water faucet off; when the tank is full, turn the water heater back on.
Test the pressure-relief valve—The pressure-relief valve releases unsafe amounts of pressure from water vapor. Scaling can block the valve from functioning; hence it is important to check it at least once per year. If it is working properly, you should see water on the ground below the valve’s discharge pipe. Test by placing a bucket below the pipe and opening the valve. You should see water coming through the valve, down the pipe, and into the bucket. If that doesn’t occur, you have a problem with the valve that needs to be addressed by a plumber.
It’s easy to take our major appliances such as our water heater for granted so it’s important to pay attention to any signs of malfunction and address promptly with a systematic draining and flushing.
As hot water is such a necessity, regular maintenance of your water heater is imperative if you want to keep it in good functional condition. Put it on your schedule this season so you are sure to keep it top of mind.