All hot water in a house is heated by the water heater. Water comes in from a water supply, down a dip tube, and into the tank. The dip tube runs to the bottom of the tank where cold water will naturally reside. The heating element is located underneath the tank to help focus on the colder water. As it warms it will travel up and get sucked out the hot water pipe for use in sinks, tubs, and showers. The exhaust fumes from a gas-powered water heater will travel out the vent on the top.
The temperature is is controlled by a knob on the lower part of the tank where the gas pipe leads to the water heater. On top of this temperature control is a reset switch. If something malfunctions and the temperature get too hot, a limit switch will activate and shut down the unit. The reset button will return the unit to normal operation but be vigilant about a possible problem with the water heater.
Another safety included is the TPR (Temperature Pressure Relief) valve located on the top of the tank. If the pressure becomes too, this valve will automatically activate and drain water from the tank.
Be mindful when setting the temperature level. Setting the temperature below 120 could possibly lead to bacteria developing in the tank, which is a health risk. High temperatures equal lower energy efficiency and a short life span. Aim to set the temperature between 125 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
The last major feature of a water heater is the cathodic anode rod. This simple component helps to neutralize minerals that could be potentially corrosive. Due to the nature of how this rod chemically reacts with the minerals from hard water, it will slowly deteriorate over time and need to be replaced.
Water Heater Maintenance Checklist
The main focus when maintaining a water heater is to prevent corrosion. It can lead to a tank leak, lower energy efficiency, and a broken TPR valve. This corrosion is a result of minerals commonly found in hard water. Preventive maintenance is very important because leaks caused by this corrosion happens on the inside of the tank and won’t be detectable until it is too late.
There are a few features that help to manage these minerals. The tank has a glass liner to act as a barrier. Also, the cathodic anode helps to neutralize the corrosive minerals.
Despite these help features homes with an electric-powered water heater should consider getting a water softener. The heating elements for these units are exposed to the water. The minerals will create a scale buildup on the element and decrease the efficiency of the unit.
- Power – Remove the power source from the water heater as a safety precaution.
- TPR Valve – Find the lever labelled “test” on the top of the tank. Press the lever two to three times. Water should rush out of the attached drainpipe if everything is working correctly. No flow or a trickle indicates a problem. Have a professional replace the TPR valve.
- Cathodic Anode Rod – Remove the rod by loosening the hex nut on the top of the tank. Visually inspect the rod for deterioration and the replace it, if necessary.
- Drain Sediment – While the cathodic anode rod is removed, add a citric-acid-based cleaner and let it sit overnight. Do not use the hot water during this period. Next, attach a garden hose to the drain valve and place the other end of the hose in a bathtub or outside. Slowly open the drain valve as to not stir up the sediment. Have a partner monitor the color of the water coming out the end of the hose. It’ll probably start out yellow or brown in color. Once it turns clear, shut off the valve and remove the hose.
- Gas Burner – Make sure the gas valve is shut off. Remove the access panel and vacuum out the dust. Use a wire brush to clean the burner ports. Turn the burner back on and check the color. If it is blue, everything is operating properly. If it is orange the burner is still dirty or the shutter needs to be adjusted.
- Electric Heating Element – For electric units the water needs to be completed drained from the tank before cleaning the elements (make sure to close the water supply valve). Once this is done, remove the cover or insulation to access the heating elements (usually more than one). Remove each element by taking out the bolts. Clean the surface of each one with a vinegar-based cleaner. Replace corroded ones with a match from the hardware store. Put the elements back in place and reopen the water supply valve. Don’t put the cover or insulation back in place until the unit is completely filled so you can see if there is a leak.