De-Mystifying The Water Heater

You know that strange cylinder shaped thing in your basement? It has pipes coming out of it and it may make a few hissing noises from time to time. That’s your water heater, and it is one of the most essential items in your home. While other items in your home like your television, computer and even washing machine get plenty of attention when they don’t function as well as they should, no one blinks an eye when we get sudden cold spurts of water when we’re in the shower, or our water starts smelling like rotten eggs. That’s why we want to de-mystify the water heater for you, which will help you avoid costly repairs in the future and help save you money on your energy bills.

The Important Parts of your Water Heater

While there are plenty of internal workings of a water heater that are important to how well it operates, there are a few parts of your water heater that you or a professional will want to adjust and change with regular annual maintenance.

Pressure/Temperature Relief Valve

A water heater is an enclosed tank filled with hot water at a high pressure. If the water’s temperature and pressure were to get too high, and the pressure had no way to escape, the water heater would explode with a huge amount of force. A pressure relief valve solves that problem by releasing air, steam and water when the pressure or water temperature are too high. The pressure relief valve is typically located on the side of the water heater near the top, and has a pipe attached to it pointed towards the floor – known as the discharge pipe.

Drain Valve

While you may have a professional repair and perform maintenance on your water heater, it’s important to know why the drain valve serves a critical role in the longevity of your water heater. Dirt and sediment will build up over time in your water heater, and if it isn’t removed, your water quality will be poor and it will lead to maintenance issues that typically lead to water tank replacement. By draining and flushing your water heater’s tank through the drain valve, you remove all the sediment from the tank. How to properly flush and drain your water tank is enough information for a whole other blog post, and if you haven’t ever done it before, it’s best to leave it up to a professional, or let an experienced friend show you how it’s properly done.

De-Mystifying The Water Heater

Cold Water Supply Valve

There should be two different pipes connecting from the top of your water heater. The hot water line is the pipe that transfers hot water from the water heater to all areas of your home. The cold water supply line supplies your water heater with new water for it to heat. Sometimes these pipes will be color coded red and blue to make it easier to identify. The cold water line will have a valve on the pipe that controls the flow of water to the tank. Before performing any sort of maintenance on the tank, this valve always needs to be turned off.

Gas Burner Control Valve

Just like it is important to know where the cold water supply valve is located, you should also know where the gas burner valve is located and how to turn off the supply of gas to the water heater. If you’re performing maintenance on your water heater, it’s better to avoid working with scalding hot water, which is why you should shut off supply the supply of fuel to your water heater several hours before maintenance if possible. Cutting off heat to your water heater when it’s empty also avoids causing structural damage to the water heater. The control valve will likely be located either above the water heater or next to the Gas Burner Control Module, which will have an ignition control of the pilot light and information about the temperature of your water heater.

If your water heater is controlled by electricity, there should be a switch in your home’s circuit breaker that controls electricity to your water heater. Make sure the switch is properly and clearly labeled.

Above all, take the time to read the instructions labeled on your water heater. If you can’t find any instructions, look up the model of your water heater and read any instructions or watch any installation and maintenance videos that you can find online.

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enjoys providing home improvement and maintenance tips to average home owners to help them cut back on living costs and live in safer and healthier environments. Mike works with Blakeslee & Son, which provides water heater installation in Rockford and Grand Rapids Michigan.