The Complete Guide to Basic Hot Water Heater Maintenance
Whether you’re rocking a standard hot water tank, or you’ve decided to embrace the future via a tankless hot water heater, your ability to enjoy long-lasting hot water relies on a properly maintained unit.
Now, there’s no reason to feel daunted by the task of maintaining your hot water heater. In fact, just by completing a couple routine spot-checks from time to time, you could prevent unexpected breakdowns and possibly even extend the life of your water heater for years to come.
Unsure where to start? That’s okay! We at Action Furnace have created this wonderful guide to help you get your feet wet in the world of hot water heaters. But, if you feel like you’re a little out of your depth, then don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for any questions or concerns you might have.
Let’s dive into it!
How Often Should You Maintain Your Water Heater?
Hot Water Tanks
Hot water tanks are the standard for most homes across the country. Sometimes called “storage water heaters,” these units are usually pretty big and have a lifespan between 8 and 12 years. However, this lifespan can be cut short if damages and wear are left to develop over the years.
Once every 6 months, it’s recommended to flush, clean, and inspect your hot water tank for any possible damages. If you are starting to notice strange tastes or odours coming from the tank, stop using it and check it immediately.
Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters do not face the same problems water tanks could since they don’t actually store any water for lengthy periods of time. Instead, it heats and delivers hot water on demand.
Because of this, it’s not necessary to perform a full flush of the system once a year. If you start noticing issues with the performance of your hot water heater, you can then perform a flush with water and white vinegar to remove lime and mineral build-up.
Electric vs. Gas vs. Tankless Water Heaters
In a lot of cases, you aren’t going to have a say in the type of water heater you have in your home. In fact, most of us are going to use the one that just comes with the home as is. While that’s all well and good, there are some things you should know about how your water tank operates before getting your hands dirty performing any maintenance on it.
Gas Water Heater
Gas water heaters are the most common you will find, and will most likely be the one you have in your home.
Gas water heaters operate by igniting a gas burner at the bottom of the tank, which then heats up a gas chimney that leads exhaust out of the home. This chimney heats the water inside the tank before it is pulled out of the tank for use through the heat-out pipe. Water is then replenished by a dip tube connected to the waterline.
There are a variety of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to using a gas water heater tank. For starters, one of the advantages is its wide availability. As said earlier, this is the most common type of water tank found, so it will not be hard to find replacement parts or even technicians skilled in working on these types of tanks.
However, the downside is that they can be costly to install if they ever do break. Being connected to a gas line requires the skill of a professional to do safely and correctly, so if you live in a rural area with no gas line connection, your options are going to be limited on what type of water heater you can use.
Electric Water Heater
Electric water heaters work very similarly to gas, but instead of using a gas burner at the bottom of the tank, it uses electric elements that heat up and warms the water.
The fact that this type of water heater doesn’t need a gas connection to work can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
One of the advantages is that because it isn’t using gas, it’s not producing harmful emissions. This means there is a lower risk of experiencing a gas leak in your home with this type of water heater.
However, a downside is that it could take a little while for the heating element to heat the water. This can be annoying if you live in a home with a group of people or a family that has showers around the same time. These elements are also constantly running, which can add some serious cost to your electrical bill.
Tankless Water Heater
Tankless water heaters are unique in that they don’t store any water at all. Instead, it heats water as it is demanded. How this works is that the water heater pumps water through a series of gas or electric-powered elements that instantaneously heats up the water as it is being transported. The result of this is a seemingly endless supply of hot water.
Tankless water heaters also boast a variety of other advantages compared to their tank counterparts. Tankless water heaters are space-saving, energy-conserving, and long-lasting (the average lifespan of a tankless water heater can reach up to 20 years!)
However, this isn’t without a downside. Because these water tanks aren’t storing any water to heat, they have to pump in water at a certain rate so that it is heated properly. This can lead to decreased water pressure.
Did you know that your water heater can also have air filters, just like your furnace? Gas-powered tank and tankless water heaters both have to have air filters to help keep dust and dirt from getting into and building up inside your gas burners.
For your gas burner to work effectively, it needs airflow to ignite. If dirt and grime end up on the inside of your gas burner, it could possibly damage the part. On the flip side, if your air filter becomes blocked with too much dirt and grime, it can affect how well your gas burner heats up.
Cleaning your air filter is a great first step when you perform a water tank maintenance. You can do this simply by washing and drying the air filter and placing it back inside the unit.
Flushing the System
Flushing your hot water heater should be performed annually. Doing this can help clear away any calcium or mineral build-up inside the tank as well as give the tank opportunity to flush old water that could be causing strange odours or tastes.
Standard Water Heater
When you flush out your standard water heater, start off by turning the water supply to the tank off.
Follow this by shutting your heating source off. If you have an electric heater, you will have to turn off the breaker it’s connected to. For gas heaters, you will either need to turn your thermostat to “pilot” or switch the gas valve to the off position.
Then turn on the hot water spout in your tub or sink. Having this on will help prevent pressure from forming inside your water tank that could block the draining.
Connect a garden hose to your tanks drainage spout and lead it to a drain. The water will be very hot, so be careful! Make sure kids and pets are away from the area while you are draining the water tank.
After the water tank has emptied, you can turn on the water supply line again for a brief time before draining the water again. You will repeat this process a couple of times to make sure sediment build-up is cleared from your tank. Once your tank is draining clear water, you can fill your water tank back up again.
If you notice your water is draining very slowly, you might have sediment build up on the inside of your drainage spout, and you will need to call a professional to help get this clean.
The first thing you should do is gather materials to drain and clean your tankless water heater. You will need a large bucket (at least 19 litres), 2 garden hoses, a submersible pump, and 15 litres of food-grade white vinegar.
Then shut off all the valves connected to the water heater, including the cold water in, hot water out, and the gas valves. Connect the cold water valve to one of the hoses and attach the other end to the pump. Fill the bucket with the vinegar and place the pump inside it.
Attach the second hose to the hot water valve and place the other end loosely in the vinegar bucket. Turn on the 2 water valves and the pump, then leave it for 45 minutes to an hour. The vinegar will run through the system, cleaning sediment build-up on the inside of the hot water heater.
Every water heater comes with a thermostat to manage the temperature of the water kept inside the tank. You can keep operating costs down on your water heater if you keep your temperature down on your water heater.
If you believe your thermostat isn’t giving you an accurate reading of your waters temperature, or if you are changing your waters temperature but you aren’t finding any difference to your water’s heat, you can dismantle the thermostat to see if the switch button has tripped at all.
If you are unsure what is causing heating problems with your water, talk to a professional to help get this fixed.
Checking for Leaks
If you are seeing pools of water forming underneath your water tank, turn off the power to the tank, turn off your water valves, and contact a professional immediately.
Leaks can form from the tank itself, or they can spring from any of the pipes that transport water to and from the tank. Letting leaks fester over time can lead to water damage in your home or even flooding.
Calcium & Other Mineral Buildup
When it comes to flushing your water heater, the name of the game is cleaning out calcium and mineral build-up.
You are more likely to develop sediment build-up if your home is using what is called “hard-water.” Hard-water is a name used to describe water with a high mineral count. These minerals can include calcium, magnesium, and even iron. And while these aren’t necessarily harmful for you to ingest, it can build up inside your water tank.
You will begin to notice that you have a pretty significant build-up of minerals if you start noticing a dip of quality from your water. Some signs can include weird tastes and smells, clogged pipes, and stains and rust spots.
Flushing out your hot water heater will help make sure these build-ups are cleaned.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does a water softener reduce the need for hot water heater maintenance?
Absolutely! If “hard-water” is water cultivated with a variety of different metals, then a water-softener can help reduce the amount of minerals in that water, thus preventing sediment build-up. Now, this isn’t a permanent fix. Mineral build-up can still occur over a long enough period, simply performing a flush every year or so will keep your hot water heater in amazing shape.
How do you know when your hot water heater needs a repair?
There are a variety of ways to tell if your hot water heater needs a repair. It will probably need a repair or at least a flush if:
- Your water is smelling or tasting weird
- You water pressure is lower than usual
- You water isn’t heating up enough
- There’s a leak coming from your water heater
- If it’s almost passed its lifespan
- Your water has a brownish or reddish tinge
If you are noticing any of these problems, please contact our professionals to help get you sorted.
How much does a new water heater cost?
There is no one set price for a water heater because of the factors that are all at play. A traditional storage hot water tank can range from around $300 to over $2000, while tankless water heaters typically start around the $1000 mark.
But added to this cost is the price of labour. If you have a gas-powered water heater, you will need to spend the money on getting it properly installed by a professional. If you have an electric heater, you might be able to install the heater yourself, but this is not recommended unless you have at least some history working with plumbing systems. By hiring a professional, you can rest assured your hot water heater is installed correctly.
Each water heater can vary on their price to run. For example, gas-powered water heaters typically cost less to run than electric water heaters. At the end of the day, there are a lot of options to choose from, and you will need to make the right decision for you, your home, and your budget.