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Water heater maintenance

Maintenance guidelines for water heater storage tanks

Proper water heater maintenance will extend the life expectancy of any system. Whether electric, gas, heat pump or solar powered; storage tanks require periodic maintenance to maximize performance, efficiency and durability.

Periodic maintenance can eliminate most of the causes of premature tank failure. Before servicing, it's always wise to reference the owners' manual.

Warning, Always Exercise Caution

In many instances water heater maintenance can be preformed by the systems' owner. Be advised that when servicing a water heater there's always the risk of scalding, and scalding is a serious health hazard even for healthy adults.

It's always a good idea to have additional towels and/or rags available when performing water heater maintenance tasks.

If you're uncomfortable or uncertain performing such water heater maintenance tasks on your own (especially repairs, retro fitting and replacing parts) consult with a local water heating professional. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Internal corrosion and rust

The biggest cause of premature storage tank failure is corrosion and rust. Tanks (electric, gas and solar powered) are made of steel and when exposed to oxygen, electrical conductivity and excessive heat, steel can corrode and rust rapidly.

Protect against corrosion

Tanks come equipped with protective glass coatings along the internal steel lining. These coatings are designed to protect the steel from internal corrosion. These glass coatings inevitably have flaws, and other important metal fixtures are not sufficiently protected by the coatings.

To further protect the steel and the other metallic fixtures, a sacrificial metal rod is immersed into the storage tank.

  • Water Heater Anode; the anode rod is the most important safety feature any storage tank has against corrosion. Unfortunately most people are either unfamiliar or unaware of them.
  • Inspecting and Replacing a Water Heater Anode Rod; is an essential water heater maintenance procedure. In protecting the steel tank, these sacrificial rods are designed to deteriorate, but once they're gone, the steel tank and metallic fixtures are seriously at risk.

Storage tank sediment build up

When water is heated, minerals (usually calcium carbonate) are extracted. These minerals, also referred to as sediments, settle along the bottom of the storage tank. Sediment build up can seriously compromise the performance and the overall efficiency of any water heating system.

Overtime this build up forms a layer between the stored domestic water and the tanks' lower heating element. This makes the heat transfer less energy efficient, and it can reduce the systems' overall storage volume.

Sediment build up also causes the bottom of the storage tank to overheat. This overheating can eventually destroy the protective glass lining that's designed to prolong the life of the steel tank. Removing sediment build is an essential water heater maintenance task. 

  • Drain Hot Water Heater; a periodic drain, or a flush, of the storage tank removes the harmful sediment build up that compromises energy efficiency.
  • Drain Hot Water Heater With a Clogged Valve; if periodic water heater maintenance has not been performed on an older tank, the sediment build up can become so severe that the drain valve can become clogged.  

Valve leaks and malfunctions

An important water heater maintenance task is the inspection for leaky and faulty valves. Valve leaks and malfunctions not only compromise energy efficiency; they can compromise safety and overtime result in costly property damage.

Temperature Pressure Relief Valve On The Storage Tank

The temperature pressure relief valve on a tank is an important safety feature. It's plumbed along the top portion of all water heating storage tanks. The T & P valve releases excess hot water and pressure within the tank.

If installed properly, the valve should be plumbed to a drain line and the drain line should always be positioned downward. The all important temperature probe of the valve should always be fitted within the tank itself.

These valves can become compromised for several reasons. Sediment and mineral build up, high water pressure and over heating can all cause a T & P valve to fail. Faulty T & P valves are not only inefficient, they're also very dangerous.

Inspecting The Temperature Pressure Relief Valve

  • Faulty pressure relief valves usually become stuck open or closed. When inspecting the valve, the lever should be lifted. This should release fluid from the attached drain line.
  • If the water does not flow through the drain line when the lever is lifted, this usually indicates that the valve requires replacing.
  • Gently lower the lever back to it's original position. If the valve leaks, even minutes after the lever has been returned to it's original position, this also indicates that the valve needs replacing.
  • Most water heater manufactures recommend testing the valve as often as every six months. We recommend that you reference the owners manual.

Inspecting The Water Heater Drain Valve

The drain valve is located near the bottom of the storage tank. These valves are often made of either metal or plastic and depending on the manufacturer of the storage tank; they can be both very durable and very fragile.

  • Water Heater Drain Valve; periodically inspecting the drain valve is an important maintenance procedure.
  • Replacing a Water Heater Drain Valve; replacing a faulty drain valve can stop the unnecessary waste of heated water. This waste compromises the systems' overall efficiency and overtime can cause property damage.

High water pressure

High water pressure can significantly compromise any storage tank. Inspecting for high pressure is another water heater maintenance task that is often overlooked. Many industry professionals recommend checking the pressure every six months.

Pressure higher than 80 psi can have adverse effects on the storage tank as well as other major appliances.

Inspecting Storage Tank Water Pressure

Determining the water pressure is fairly easy. Place a water pressure gauge on the drip valve. Observe the pressure when the heating element is on and when the hot water tap is closed. Then open the hot water tap, but after the heating element has been on a while, and observe the pressure again.

  • If the water pressure exceeds 80 psi when the hot water tap is closed, more times than not a water heater expansion tank is required.
  • If the water pressure exceeds 80 psi when the hot water tap is open, more times than not a pressure reducing valve is required.
  • In some instances there can be several causes for high water pressure, when in doubt consult with a local water heating professional.

Gas powered tanks and maintenance

All the for mentioned water heater maintenance procedures apply to gas powered tanks. With that said, overtime gas powered tanks pose additional concerns that can be properly addressed with periodic maintenance.

Gas Flue Maintenance

The gas flue is immersed in the storage tank and protrudes outward along the top. The gas flue is responsible for two very important functions; it serves as a mechanism to transfer heat to the stored domestic water, and the flue expels and exhausts gases from the burner.

A poorly maintained gas flue can result in the loss of energy efficiency, and more importantly, the build up of dangerous carbon monoxide.

Always follow the manufacturers' maintenance guidelines and recommendations. When in doubt, consult with a local water heating professional.

Gas Burner and Pilot Light Maintenance

The gas burner along the bottom of the tank consists of the burner itself and a pilot light that ignites the burner. Proper function of both components is vital for both energy efficiency and performance.

Overtime a pilot light can become compromised due to a faulty thermocouple or a faulty connection to the gas valve. A poorly maintained gas burner or a faulty pilot light can result in insufficient hot water and/or slow system recovery. When in doubt, consult with a local water heating professional.

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