Rosie on the House: Maintenance, care for your water heater

Your water heater heats and stores a lot of heated water. Calcium deposits and other gunk can collect in the bottom of it. You don’t want that to mix with the water you use to cook and bathe. Regular maintenance reduces the amount of minerals that collect in the tank which can cause smelly, foul-tasting water, low water pressure, and odd noises. A water heater flush is key to keep your water heater functioning at its best and lasting longer.

You could pay to have a plumber flush your water heater regularly, or you could follow the steps below to flush the heater yourself. If there are other issues, you may want to reach out to a plumber instead of tackling this task yourself.

We spoke with Andrew Dobbins, owner of Intelligent Design Plumbing, who provided some tips to keep your water heater functioning well and possibly extending its life. “To keep your water heater operating smoothly, it’s a good idea to flush it every six months, or at the very least a year,” said Dobbins.

Let’s get started.

Flushing the water heater

• IMPORTANT: Turn off the electricity to the water heater before you begin.

You’ll find a circuit breaker that controls just the water heater in your home’s main breaker box. If your water heater is gas fired, there will be a small in-line gas valve close to the tank, so just turn that valve off.

• Find the hose bibb. Look on the bottom of the water heater for a hose bibb with an on/off valve, like the one you attach your outdoor garden hose to.

• Connect a garden hose to the water heater’s hose bibb and place the other end of the hose in your laundry sink, through a window, or out the garage door, so the water will not land on the floor inside your home. Make sure it does not drain into a landscape or grass area as the hot water may damage your plants.

• Turn the valve to allow water to flow from the tank through the hose you just attached.

• Caution! Hot water. Let the water cool as it can be 120 degrees draining through the garden hose. Water will start to drain out of the water heater, along with the gunk from the bottom. When it starts to run clear, it’s finished. It will take roughly 10 to 15 minutes.

• Water should flow freely. If the water doesn’t flow out freely, it could mean there is a huge sediment build-up on the bottom of the tank. In that case, call a plumber.

• Bring it back to working order. Turn the drain valve off, disconnect the hose, and turn the electricity to the water heater back on. For gas fired units, turn the in-line gas valve back on and following the instructions on the heater, relight the pilot light. Make sure that the water heater is completely full of water before you turn the electricity or gas back on.

Flushing your water heater not only makes the appliance run more efficiently and ensures your family is using clean water, it saves energy. In some water heaters, a quarter of the tank can fill with deposits. The higher they build up, the less efficiently the heater works, and the less hot water you have to save.

A note about anode rods. Sediment in the tank is normal. The job of the anode rod, the steel core wire encased with aluminum, magnesium, or zinc that is attached to the inside of the water heater, prevents the heater's lining from corroding. Over time the anode rod gets smaller, as it is supposed to, because it is keeping minerals out of the water flowing through the faucets.

To extend the life of your water heater, replace the anode rod as soon as the magnesium layer is used up and only the steel rod is intact. If you wait until the steel rod is corroded, it is probably too late as that means the inside of the tank is also likely to be corroded. Rods cost between $20 to over $100 depending the heater.

As noted, Arizona’s water is loaded with minerals. You may want to remove those minerals by installing a water softener to treat water used for showers, bathing, and laundry. Softer water also reduces corrosion in pipes and mineral build-up in the water heater.

“Whatever water softening system you use; it is important to regularly replace the filters and/or membranes in to extend the life of your water heater and keep it working at its highest capacity, said Dobbins.

For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson and from 7 to 10 a.m. on KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 888-767-4348.

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