In some ways, a water heater is very simple. Cold water pours into a tank where it’s heated and then it sits until a faucet turns on or some other appliance needs it. In the tankless options, the process is similar, but the unit doesn’t have a tank to hold onto the water. The system waits until a shower or appliance needs the water and then let’s cold H2O into the unit and warms it up.
In both types of water heaters, calcium and dust build up on certain parts, making the unit less efficient or even inoperable. Leaks occasionally occur. If you own your own home, chances are you’ll either need to fix your water heater or have it serviced.
Here are some of the common maintenance procedures to keep your water heater running smoothly. If the heater stops working, you’ll also need to troubleshoot problems and fix them. Farther down, you can find ways to troubleshoot problems. Some of the potential repairs are easy to do yourself, others, like replacing a pressure valve, may make more sense for a professional to complete.
For an annual water heater checkup, you’re going to need several tools, including a bucket, socket wrench, garden hose, cleaning brush and possibly a few other things, depending on the model.
Before you start, you’ll want to turn off the gas and electric connections to the heater. If you have a gas heater, set the heater to pilot.
For owners with a tank, you’ll want to let the contents cool and about an hour later, attach a garden hose to the drain valve and let out a few gallons of water.
Check for leaks around the inlet and outlet valves as well as the pressure relief valve. If there are leaks around the drain valve, a new one may need to be installed. You can find videos demonstrating how to replace the various valves on a water heater, but unless you’re experienced with plumbing, you probably want to call in a professional. No one wants to have to buy a new water heater because of stripped threads on it while replacing a valve.
Ensure the air flow into the water heater is clear. The flame arrestor screen should be free of dust. If it isn’t, the system can get clogged, cause backdrafting and blow out the pilot light. Any dust around the flu valve should also be removed.
Test the temperature and pressure release valve. These are designed to release water if the pressure inside the tank rises too high. Put a bucket under the tube attached to the water pressure release valve and let out some water. Make sure that the valve closes tightly after you’re done with the test. If water continues to drip, it may be a sign that the valve needs replacing.
Before you remove the anode rod for inspection, run a faucet and let out several gallons of hot water, helping to clear out the tank. You’ll need a long socket rocket, possibly with a breaker bar, to unscrew the anode rod. A pair of needle nose pliers works well for lifting it out of its space.
As Vance from Amre Supply explains in the above video, anode rods last four to six years, depending on the the pH and purity of the water in your home. If the rod is completely encased in calcium, it probably needs to be replaced. Of course if you’re uncomfortable removing the anode rod from your hot water tank, there’s no shame in calling in a pro.
Finally, you may want to remove sediment from the bottom of the tank. Connect a garden hose to the drain valve and open it up to let the water out. Water can take 30 minutes or more to flow out of the tank. Once empty, turn on the cold water valve and let some of the sediment drain out. You may want to repeat the flushing process four or five times until the water draining out of the tank is clear.
Troubleshooting a Problem
Water heaters, like all machines, are fallible. If your hot water heater is not working, here’s a short list of items to check to get the tank working again. These suggestions are for a gas water heater with a tank.
Visual inspection: First check if there’s any water on the floor around the tank, which would suggest a leak from one of the valves or the tank itself.
Status light on gas valve: Depending on how many times the light is blinking, an error may be occurring. Two flashes means there’s a weak thermopile voltage. The thermopile has several functions in a water heater, one of them being to shut off the gas valve if the pilot light isn’t working. Four, five and seven flashes are different errors codes for issues with the gas control valve.
Pilot light: Remove the panel concealing the burner door sight glass and check that the pilot is lit. If it isn’t, you may want to inspect the thermopile and wiring.
Thermopile: Check the thermopile voltage to make sure it aligns with the manufacturer’s specs. If it fails, you may need to replace it. If the thermopile passes the test, consider replacing the gas control valve.
Gas supply: Make sure the gas supply to the home is steady by turning on a gas stove or other appliance that uses the fuel. If it’s off, check that it’s running through the meter.
Igniter: Spark the igniter to make sure it’s properly lighting. One flash every three seconds is normal.
Resettable thermal switch: If the resettable thermal switch is tripped, the pilot won’t stay lit. To reset it, you’ll need to hold the button in to reset it.
Exhaust valve: An obstructed exhaust valve can cause the chamber to overheat. Brush away or vacuum any dust.
Baffle: The baffle underneath the draft hood can be misaligned when the tank is moved. Issues can arise when it does.