Water heaters won’t last forever, but there are certain simple operations that can be performed by the homeowner that will improve the chances of keeping them longer than usual. In this article I will explain how to do this and also how to keep them from flooding your house and belongings.
One thing that the manufacturers tell you but your plumber will not is that cleaning the inside of the water heater will vastly improve the chances of you not having a leak. After all, the plumber can make a tidy sum by replacing your water heater, so why take away his/her chances to make a profit? Although I am a plumber, I hate to see people’s houses ruined by water damage. I also hate to see people that can’t afford it have to fork out their hard-earned money to have their water heater replaced. The heaters and labor involved are not inexpensive, not to mention the inconvenience. By cleaning the water heater (referred to as W/H from here on out), I don’t mean that you have access to the inner tank. But you do have access to a garden hose and the W/H should have a drain cock on the side of it towards the bottom. Simply hook up the garden hose to the drain valve, turn the drain valve on and let the water circulate through the tank and flush it to the outside or another safe place ( a bathtub will suffice, but make sure that the hose is secured in the tub and will not spill out onto the floor!). If you have a shut-off valve on the cold water inlet side, let it remain open.
DO NOT run the water completely out of the W/H while the electricity or gas is still on. This will damage your W/H, so you might consider turning the power/gas off to the W/H before starting this procedure. Over the years the W/H will build up deposits at the bottom of the W/H, which will eventually cause a leak in the tank. As you flush it, you will see these deposits coming out of the hose. By purging these deposits at least once a year, you are extending the life of your water heater and causing it to work more efficiently, which in turn will save on your electricity costs. If the drain valve doesn’t want to drain properly, it is due to those deposits clogging the valve. You can tap the valve gently to release these deposits if this happens. Purge the W/H for at least 10-15 minutes. And that is all there is to it. Be sure to turn the drain valve off completely and restore power to the W/H afterwards. Before restoring power, make sure that the W/H is filled completely with water. Turn on a faucet (hot water side) and let it run while the W/H is refilling. This will let any air out of the W/H and will let you know when the W/H is full.
To prevent any damage to your house if there is a W/H leak, there are products on the market that will shut off the water supply to the W/H, ensuring that you will have minimal damage to your belongings. You will most likely have to employ the services of a licensed, certified plumber to install these products as they take a little more expertise and tools than the layperson has. However, if it saves your house from water damage, it is well worth the cost.