When was the last time you had your hot water heater serviced?
When was the last time you even performed a visually inspection your water heater?
If you are like most homeowners the answer to both of the questions is probably never. This is understandable; the heater is probably located in a closet or basement area out of sight and out of mind. If you have hot water when you need it, why would you even need to service or inspect it?
Not only is it important to understand how your hot water heater works in case the water goes cold, but water damage is expensive.
As one of Metro Atlanta's leading plumbing companies running thousands of service calls per year, we see tens of thousands of dollars worth of damages created by faulty heaters that could have been prevented. In fact, the Georgia Insurance Information Service with help from the Allstate Insurance Company reported that water heater failures are one of the three most preventable sources of water damage in your home. The average residential heater contains 40-50 gallons of pressurized water. If the tank ruptures, then massive damage to your home likely occurs.
While annual maintenances on your plumbing system, and water heater in particular, cannot guarantee no water damage in your home. Preventative maintenance dramatically reduces the chances of an incident. Plus, annual maintenance provides an action plan to avoid such catastrophes.
We recommend that only the more advanced do-it-yourselfers try to perform water heater maintenance. Below are some of the benefits of routine maintenance, as well as a basic Water Heater 101 to help perform water heater troubleshooting and inspection.
Flushing The Tank
Sediment or "scale" is created when hard water is heated; this sediment builds up at the bottom of your hot water heater tank. This build-up at the bottom of the tank is NO GOOD for several reasons:
- Decreases Your Heater's Efficiency because gas heaters have burners at the bottom of the tank (electric heaters have elements at the bottom of the tank). The tank contains sediment, which acts as an insulator between the water and the heating source. This process means longer run times to properly heat and therefore, more money. These extended run times also create premature failure on the mechanical parts of the heater.
- Accelerates Damage To Your Tank because the accumulation of scale at the bottom of the tank becomes an insulator. This causes longer run times for your burners or elements. This causes excessive heat at the bottom of the tank that burns off the protective glass liner causing the tank to rust and rupture at a quicker pace. It also can cover the bottom element of electric heaters causing it to short out.
- Your Plumbing System flushes the sediment. The sediment gets distributed throughout your plumbing system clogging aerators, supply lines and contaminating your potable water throughout your entire home.
Inspecting The Anode Rod
The anode rod or "sacrificial anode rod" is a magnesium or aluminum rod that is inside your tank, the anode rod's job is to protect the tank from rust and corrosion. While most all homeowners have never heard of the anode rod, you would be surprised how many plumbers have never even inspected them. Worse, many plumbers don't know what they do or how they work.
The rod screws into the top of your tank and should be inspected during a water heater flush. If there is more than 4-6 inches of bare wire and/or the anode rod is heavily corroded, then it should be replaced. If the anode rod is barely intact, the damages to your tank may be too great and replacing the heater may be a more viable option. Keeping a good anode rod in place can extend the life of your tank by 50% or more.
The above pictures of a corroded rod, with exposed wire, and a brand new rod to compare. As you can see the one on the left only has about an inch of exposed wire, but due to heavy corrosion we would recommend replacement.
Testing The Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve (T&P)
This valve is located on the side or top of the tank, it is a safety device to ensure the water pressure and temperature stay at a safe operating level. International Plumbing Code 504.5 requires no more than 210 degrees Fahrenheit and 150 PSI. If the tank temperatures and/or pressures are not monitored the tank can explode, ala the recent Allstate commercial.
While you may think that is a bit extreme, it can happen…just watch the mythbusters.
The valve should be tested annually as sediment build-up can corrode the valve seat, rendering the valve useless. When tested water should flow out of the valve freely when you pull up on the handle. When you release the handle the valve should close causing the water to stop flowing. Many times the corrosion and sediment build-up is so bad that they may continue to leak. We recommend replacement if the valve leaks.
Different installation scenarios exist as it relates to building codes. But it is best if the valve connects to a pipe that runs to the outside of the home.
Expansion Tank Inspection
The expansion tank is a 2.5 gallon tank next to the hot water heater. The expansion tank is another safety device for your plumbing system. When water is heated it expands, (in a 40 gallon tank, water at 90F heated to 140F can expand by a ½ gallon) because your plumbing system is a closed system, water is only going in one direction, and needs to go somewhere! The thermal expansion tank is a rubber bladder enclosed in a metal tank, the bladder takes on this extra water and when temps lower the expansion reverses, allowing the water back into the heater.
This rubber bladder can rupture causing the metal tank to pressurize with water making it useless. Of note, it is typically a good idea to replace this when installing a new water heater. The tank should be pressurized with the air, close to the same PSI of the plumbing system
As you can see, servicing your hot water heater is as important as changing the oil in your car. However, the task can be a little confusing for the average homeowner.
A full water heater flush and inspection is included in Snappy's annual Home Protection Plan, for the cost it only makes sense to have a licensed plumber to perform this for you!
Winter is quickly approaching, so take some time in the next few weeks to prep your house. Annual maintenance works like insurance and helps prevent larger expenses down the line. For any questions, then remember that Snappy is here to help, so call today!