Your guide to maintaining your water heater

You and your family rely on your hot water heater to shower, wash the dishes, and complete your laundry. Without a functioning hot water heater, you’ll soon find that your morning routine has become a mess. Unfortunately, your home’s hot water heater is often out-of-sight, out-of-mind. You don’t mean to neglect it. It’s just that they don’t come equipped with a bright, flashing light that says “pay attention to my maintenance.”

Your friends at Wagner want to remind you that it’s a good idea to keep close tabs on your water heater, especially as it nears the end of its life expectancy. In this post, we’ll share some quick water heater maintenance tips that you can do at home while also reviewing several situations in which you need to put down the wrench, pick up the phone, and call us for 24/7 emergency service.

Wagner is proud to be your top local provider of plumbing services from experienced, friendly plumbers. For help with either your water heater maintenance or with water heater replacement, contact our team today!

Maintaining your water heater

First, do you know where your hot water heater is located in your home? In most newer homes, the system is located in the garage, but the location may vary in older homes, or be placed in a basement if you have one. Next, you need to know what kind of water heater you have. Most older heaters are going to be storage tanks, but newer ones may be tankless.

This matters: tankless systems are very different from their hot water counterparts, and their maintenance requirements will be different. You’ll also need to figure out if your system uses electricity or gas. If your home doesn’t have a natural gas connection, your water heater is likely an electric model.

There’s some important safety steps you should consider first. Wear gloves and goggles, and always make sure the power source is off and that the cold water intake is shut down. Ensure that you’re familiar with the location of these switches. The last thing you want is to desperately need to shut the water off in the event of a leak, but not be sure where the switch is.

Our 5 water heater maintenance tips

At a minimum, here are the four things you need to do every year to ensure your water heater keeps running smoothly and efficiently:

Flush your water heater

If you have hard water, most experts recommend you flush your water heater at least once per year. Otherwise, the minerals in your water can accumulate in your water heater.

If you are no longer able to get as much hot water from your appliance as it used to provide, sediment may have accumulated in the tank. Flushing the sediment out regularly can prevent hard water corrosion of your water heater’s components and ensure that it continues to perform efficiently.

Watch this video from This Old House to see how you can go about draining and flushing your home’s water heater:

Inspect your water heater’s anode rod

Your water heater’s anode rod protects the metal inside and outside your tank by absorbing corrosion that would otherwise attack the inside of the tank wall. By their nature, anode rods are not designed to last forever—there’s a point where they become “used up”—so it’s important to have them inspected every few years. When they deteriorate, it’s important to replace them with a new sacrificial anode rod. This can greatly extend the lifespan of your system.

If you decide to inspect your own anode rod, take steps to prevent scalding (including wearing protective gloves and/or clothing). If you’re uncomfortable checking your own anode rod—which is perfectly normal!—please call us and have one of our plumbers check your anode rod. We can then advise you on whether or not the rod has been spent and needs to be replaced.

Check for leaks

Most water heater leaks occur because of faulty or damaged water supply connections. Make it a habit to check around your water heater for leaks and water damage every few weeks. Even a minor leak should be quickly repaired. Just one drip per-minute can equate to a loss of 34 gallons each year!

Test the pressure-relief valve

All water heaters maintain a certain level of pressure inside the tank. If this pressure builds due to excess heat or other causes, it can damage the tank shell and lead to other problems. This is why the pressure-relief valve is so important. When pressure builds past a certain point, the valve automatically opens and releases both water and steam, relieving the built-up pressure inside the tank. You’ll see the valve on the side of your water heater tank, often with a drain pipe attached.

As time passes, the pressure-relief valve can start to fall victim to the aforementioned corrosion attacking the inside of your water heater, causing the valve to become stuck in place. This could mean that it ultimately isn’t able to open when pressure builds. To keep this from happening, you should test your pressure-relief valve annually by manually opening it and allowing water and steam to escape. Ensure that the valve clicks back into the closed position when you’re done.

Replace the heating element

If you’ve noticed that your water heater is no longer providing your home with hot water—or the water just isn’t as hot as it used to be—the heating element could be to blame. Instead of buying a brand-new water heater, you could replace just the heating element.

Heating element installation is a fairly involved project that requires draining the water heater, shutting off the power supply, and working with electrical wiring to both disconnect the old heating element and then reconnect the new one. Read our heating element replacement guide to see the basic summary before you decide to move forward with this project. If you’re not comfortable with this project, give our plumbers a call—we’d love to help you out.

When to call the professionals

If you get stuck at any point in your water heater maintenance, don’t hesitate to call our friendly experts here at Wagner. Our plumbers can either talk you through the process or come out to your home to fix the problem. If, at any point, you feel uncomfortable with the maintenance process, stop what you’re doing and call our team.

If you followed the safety steps above, you shouldn’t have any potential for a major leak. However, if you encounter a water heater problem that you can’t solve, call Wagner immediately before it gets worse. In the next section, we’ll review some of the signs that you have a serious problem with your water heater and need to bring in our plumbers.

Preventing water heater problems

No homeowner wants to find out there is a problem with the water heater the hard way. A water heater tank failure can result in a burst tank and a flooded garage or home, costing you thousands in repairs. By both knowing the warning signs of impending water heater problems and taking care of your water heater with routine maintenance, you have a better chance of avoiding this catastrophe and keeping your water heater running better for longer.

Know the signs

How do you know that trouble is brewing within your water heater? If you notice any of the following changes, call the professionals at Wagner and have us inspect your water heater. You may need to have your water heater repaired or replaced:

– You run out of hot water quickly when showering, doing laundry, or washing dishes.
– Your water has a metallic smell or taste or is rust-colored.
– Your tank drips water from any pipes or has water collecting underneath.

Any of these signs should be enough to concern you, especially if your water heater tank is getting up there in age or the sacrificial anode rod has already been spent. You’re probably already at the point where you need to give Wagner a call and bring in our water heater experts for a closer inspection.

Know the causes

Nothing lasts forever, and eventually all tank water heaters start to show signs of stress and corrosion. In most cases, standard water heaters last about a decade or so—potentially longer if the anode rod is replaced halfway through the water heater’s lifespan. If yours has been around for 10 years or longer, you should be extra vigilant about potential problems.

Other factors that can contribute to a tank burst include:
– High water pressure in your home.
– Hard water, which leads to faster scale buildup inside the tank.
– Lack of routine maintenance, as described above.

Know the solution

If you suspect you have any of these problems, you should not ignore them. As mentioned in the sections above, the best thing you can do to prevent a water heater tank failure is to inspect, monitor, and maintain your tank regularly.

A visual inspection is just a starting point. You should have your automatic shut-off valve tested to determine if it is functioning properly. If your home doesn’t have an automatic shut-off valve installed, you should call Wagner and have us put one in.

Thanks to Wagner, you don’t have to be an expert on water heater tanks. Our plumbers not only inspect and repair your tank, but—as we’ll explore in the next section—we can also replace yours with a more energy-efficient standard or tankless system.

Signs you need a new water heater

Preventative maintenance can only get your water heater so far. As time passes, eventually all water heaters begin to succumb to age. Most standard water heaters should be replaced soon after their 10th birthday. But, here are three other signs you should replace your water heater:

– If the water coming out of your faucets is rusty when you turn the faucet to the hot setting. The presence of rust may be an indicator that the interior of the hot water heater has begun to start the rusting process. This can eventually lead to a burst if not treated by a professional immediately.
– If your hot water heater has begun to leak, even if only slightly. As tanked water heaters age, the continual process of heating and cooling will cause the tank to expand and contract. After doing this for a decade or more, hairline fractures begin to form in the metal tank.
– If all the connections are dry but your hot water heater is still leaving water on the floor, you’ll want to call the Wagner team to determine what’s gone wrong.

Related Article: How long do water heaters last?

Should I repair or replace my water heater?

This is a question we get from a lot of Albuquerque homeowners. The answer almost always comes down to the age and condition of the system. As we’ve already mentioned, most water heaters live about 10-15 years. It’s possible to have a water heater that beats that average life expectancy, but—past a certain point—you’re almost always better off replacing the system than repairing it. The money you invest in repairs may only buy you another year or two before the system needs to go.

If you’re ready to upgrade to a new water heater, check out our water heater buying guide. It has a full breakdown of what you need to consider when shopping for a new water heater, from variables like type, size, and cost to some of the differences between electric and gas systems.

Call Wagner to get started

Wagner is here to guide you through the process of maintaining your water heater. Whether you’re a DIY expert who is ready to jump right in, or you need some help from our team, Wagner has the expertise to help you keep your water heater running right. Give us a call to learn more!