Tips For Maintaining Your Water Heater

Maintain your water heater
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I know we are having some unusual weather here in Central Florida and those water heaters are in high gear. You might have been using your heater for a while and may have never checked on it. Fact is,  it should be on the checklist for your home maintenance and I am here to help.

Please note : Some tips may require the help of a professional.

Maintenance Tip #1 Preparing the water heater

  • Turn off power if water heater is electric.
  • Shut off water to the heater by closing the valve on the cold water line( located on top of the water heater). The cold line is always to the right.
  • Turn on hot water tap inside the house. Expect  Air pressure to come out of the tap.
  • Open the drain valve located at the bottom of the water heater. It looks like a hose bibb.
  • Let a gallon or more out of the water heater.

Do not allow anyone to use hot water during the time you are working on the water heater.

Maintenance Tip # 2 Removing sediment by dissolving it

You can dissolve sediment by using a descaler called Mag-Erad. It’s made by A.O. Smith Corp. who also builds water heaters. Carefully use the instructions of the descaler, but definitely ignore the section about leaving the gas water heater on. Turn the flame off by setting it to PILOT. The heat without water in the water heater can cause damage to the gas systems.

You may also use lye to dissolve sediment, but  It is very flammable and volatile. Only a professional plumber should use this chemical.

Maintenance Tip #3 Controlling sediment

Sediments can be kept under control if you use softened water. Salt softened water only reduces sediment; it doesn’t get rid of the problem and also causes other problems. Anode rods’ life expectancy is reduced 50% to 65%.

Sediment grows rapidly at 140°. Legionnaires’ Disease can grow at temperatures of 115° or less. and is caused by inhaling water vapor rather than drinking infected water. To keep both of these problems at bay, it is best to set your water heater at 130 °.

The only way to check what temperature of the water, is to fill a cup of hot water and place a meat thermometer in the cup. If you have a gas water heater, the dial can be adjusted until hot water of 130° is coming out of the tap. Be sure to give the water heater about an hour to recover between adjustments on the dial.

Some gas water heaters can adjust the size of the flame produced.  At the center of the control knob, look for a  small screw-like button. If so, this button can be used to adjust the flame size. If you are having trouble getting enough hot water, then leave this alone though.

If you have a sediment problem in an electric water heater, have a low-watt density element installed. Don’t be fooled by its name. It’s not as hot as a high-watt density element, however, the surface area of the low-watt is double and heats just as well. The reduced heat slows the production of sediment.

If you have high water pressure over 50 psi, then have a plumber install a pressure reduced for your water heater. High pressure causes more sediment build-up

Maintenance Tip #4 Check water heater plumbing fittings

Check any threaded connections on your water heater for possible leaks. Threaded connections are located on the top of the water heater for both the hot and cold lines running to and from the water heater. The T&P valve  is on to one side of the water heater and may become leaky. It has a plastic pipe connecting it and a loose metal switch which can be lifted to stand on end. The drain valve can leak. It is at the bottom of the water heater and often looks like a hose bib. The thermostat controls for both gas water heaters and electric water heaters can leak. The gas control has the words ON/OFF/PILOT written on it. The electric control is behind one but usually two metal compartments on the front of the water heater.

Maintenance Tip #5 Steel connections

Rust can occur if steel touches copper or brass. The rust occurs on steel only on not on the copper or brass. To control this problem on a water heater use a steel nipple with a plastic lining. This allows the water heater, which is steel to touch the steel nipple with no problem.

The steel nipple with plastic lining can also touch any copper plumbing because the plastic prevents them from touching. Dielectric unions can also touch steel nipples since their function is to prevent rusting or corrosion.

Maintenance Tip #6 Broken nipples

If the nipple breaks when you remove it with a pipe wrench, grab a flat-end screwdriver and a hammer. Hit the circle opening with the screwdriver and hammer and bend in the ring. Now use the screwdriver to pry up the broken nipple. Use a hacksaw blade only to cut the opening slot to the threads if the screwdriver doesn’t do the trick. Clean the threads with a pipe tap. Now wrap the new nipple with Teflon tape on the threads and install it.

Maintenance Tip #7 Electric heating elements

To check the electric heating elements on an electric water heater, locate the two ports in the front of the water heater. Sometimes there’s only one port, but nonetheless, you need to remove them. Here you can see the heating elements are screwed or bolted into the water heater and kept water-tight by a rubber gasket. Remove the element, but only if you’ve drained the water heater and turned the power off first. Replace the gasket if the rubber has turned hard. Wrap the element with Teflon tape if it has threads. Put the tape on the threads and wrap it a couple of times.

Hard scale can build-up directly on an electric element. This is rare, but it can happen. Scale usually just sloughs off elements and falls to the bottom of the water heater. If enough scale (also known as sediment) falls to the bottom of the water heater, it could bury the lower element.

There are two types of heating elements, the high-watt density element and the low-watt density element. The high-watt sloughs sediment off more easily but the total amount of sediment is greater due to the higher temperatures. A low-watt creates lower overall sediment because it is not as hot, but it still heats up the water just as well because it has double the surface area. It tends to get flakes of scale directly on itself more easily, but in most instances, the low-watt density element will cause fewer problems. Use a toothbrush and vinegar to gently clean the sediment off of the elements.

If your anode rods have become heavily deteriorated, then this can affect your elements. Corrosive actions between the copper on the sheath of the element and the steel of the water heater’s tank can sprout slow leaks and destroy the elements. If your elements are burning out frequently after replacement, the anode could be to blame.

I know is a lot to keep up with, but it will pay off in the long run. Do those regular checks now or you’ll regret later. They pay me to do this stuff so if you have any problems whatsoever with your water heater, you can call me. I provide Emergency services, so if you hear a loud bang in the night and it’s not critters, give me a call.