What maintenance does a tank water heater need?

Learn what you can do to extend the life and efficiency of your tank-style water heater.
Tank heaters can last for years. However, rust and sediment buildup can reduce their efficiency and shorten the lifespan of the water heater.

Follow these steps to make your water heater last.

  • Drain the water heater tank at least once a year to remove all sediment buildup. This is particularly important if you have hard water. You can do this by attaching a basic garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. Make sure the other end of the hose is outside or by a drain in the basement floor. And be very careful, as the water can be dangerously hot and cause severe burns. Consult with a professional plumber who can advise you on the best method to drain your hot water heater.

  • Check for leaks or rust on the exterior of the water heater.

  • For gas water heaters, check the flue to make sure air is venting properly by lighting a match next to the bell housing. You should see smoke going up the flue.

  • Test the temperature relief by placing an empty pail below the extension pipe and opening the valve. When the valve is open, water should come out. When it's closed, the water should stop.

  • Make sure the temperature is set to between 120 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit, as it should never be set above 125 degrees Fahrenheit. And some experts even recommend not setting it above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Make sure you have a pan under the water heater tank to help you detect leaks.

  • If you have a gas unit, check the pilot light to make sure it is burning blue and steady. Check the side of your tank for instructions on re-igniting the pilot light.

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