Checking Your Home’s Water Heater

While our home’s water heaters might be a bit overlooked when it comes to home maintenance projects, anyone who has dealt with no hot water for an extended period of time knows what a critical role they play in our daily lives. Instead of waiting for your water heater to stop working, there are a few things you can do on your own to make sure that your water heater is functioning properly and isn’t costing you an unnecessary amount on your heating or electricity bill.

Safety Valve

Water heaters store waters at high temperature and high pressure. If a water heater didn’t have a safety valve installed that released water and steam when the pressure inside reached an unsafe level, the water heater could explode with enough force to send it straight through your roof. That’s why it is important to check your water heater’s safety valve every six months to make sure that it is functioning properly.

There should be a pipe that is attached to the safety valve that directs the flow of steam and water downwards, allowing you to approach the water heater safely. First, place a bucket under the extension drain pipe. Flip the valve’s release lever, and water should flow out and into the bucket. If water doesn’t flow out, or if it doesn’t stop flowing after you flip the valve off, you need to call a plumber to get the water heater’s safety valve fixed.

Checking Your Home's Water Heater

Is It Insulated?

Your water heater is very hot, and it’s very hot all the time. If you don’t have a modern well insulated water heater, much of that heat could be escaping through the walls of the water heater. While this could be seen as a source of heat on a cold winter day, it becomes a problem during the summer when you are trying to keep your home as cool as possible. You can typically tell if you’re losing energy from the water heater if you touch it and it feels hotter than any other surface nearby it. Find the make and model of your water heater, and then look online to see if you can find a water heater blanket or jacket that will fit your water heater. It’s estimated that you can save 5-10% of your water heating bill just by using a water heater blanket or jacket.

Draining Your Water Heater

While your water system should filter out dirt and sediment from reaching your faucet, it may get trapped in your water heater. This can your water heater to malfunction and require it to be professionally repaired or replaced. This can be mostly avoided by draining your water heater once a year. If you haven’t ever drained a water heater before, my advice would be to leave it up to a professional, or watch someone more experienced than you do it before trying it out yourself. You’re dealing with hot water and steam that can leave you seriously burned, and a misstep can lead to a serious flooding problem in your basement. Otherwise the proper steps typically involve:

  • Reading the water heater manufacturer’s specific instructions for draining the water heater.
  • Determine if the water heater is gas or electric. Gas water heaters require cleaning of the burner and ports.
  • Flip off the water supply valve – a very important step to avoid any flooding.
  • Shut off the supply of propane to the water heater or flip off power to the water heater on your home’s circuit breaker – also a very important step. It’s better to wait a few hours if possible to allow the water to cool off a bit.
  • Attach a hose to the water heater spigot and connect the other end to a tub with a drain, a large sink, or outside.
  • Turn the spigot counter clockwise, and then flip the water pressure safety valve on to start the flow of water. Be careful not to burn yourself!
  • Once that finishes draining, turn on the supply of water back on to remove any remaining sediment until the water runs clean.
  • Tighten the spigot, close the pressure release valve, turn on the supply of water if it isn’t already on, wait for it to fill and then turn the power back on to heat up the new water.
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enjoys providing plumbing, repair, maintenance, and home improvement information. Mike works with Blakeslee & Son, Inc, who install water heaters to homes the Grand Rapids and Rockford communities in Michigan.