Taking Care of Your Water Heater

Your home should be equipped with an electric or gas water heater to provide hot water to your family as needed. A thermostat controls the temperature in your water heater and the thermostat temperature setting should be checked. TREC does not provide recommendations for the correct temperature of a water heater, but we recommend between 120 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. This will help conserve energy and provide you with a comfortable water temperature.

Water heaters should be visually inspected for leaks or corrosion at supply pipe fittings at the top of the tank, and for rust or corrosion on the tank or at the drain valve located near the bottom of the tank. Check the temperature and pressure relief valve at the top or the top 6” of the side of the hot water heater (annually) to be sure the lever is functioning. Consult the operating manual or ask a qualified plumber to show you the procedure. Before testing, check for proper connection of the drainpipe to the T&P valve and the proper termination of the drain line. If the valve does not work, have it replaced by a licensed plumber.


Water Heater Flushing

Most manufacturers recommend periodic flushing of both electric and gas water heaters. Open the drain valve located at the bottom of the water heater tank and drain 2 or 3 gallons of water from the heater to remove any sediment that may have accumulated in the tank bottom (semiannually; if drain water contains a high degree of sediment, drain more often). (Note: If this procedure is not done regularly, residual sediment particles may prevent the faucet valve from re-seating properly upon closing and the valve washer may have to be replaced.)


Location and Insulation

If insulation has been mounted on the exterior of the water heater tank, inspect it to ensure that the insulation remains in the proper position, noting particularly that it is not blocking the combustion air inlet or the exhaust vent of gas units (quarterly). Water Heaters located in the garage or compartments opening into the garage should be mounted at least 18” above the garage floors lowest elevation. This helps protect the water heater from physical damage and help prevent to possibility of causing fires by igniting hazardous paint, gasoline or other flammable vapors.

IMPORTANT: Water heater closets or compartments should not be used for storage of any type. Special caution should be used to keep flammable products (i.e. gasoline, paint products, solvents, adhesives) in tightly sealed approved containers far way from any water heater, boiler or furnace and out of reach of children. Vapors from flammable products can catch fire causing damage, death or severe injury.


Gas-Fired Water Heaters

Gas water heaters require slightly different maintenance procedures. At least every three months, a visual check should be made of your water heating venting system to check for obstructions, damage, or deterioration, which could cause leakage. At this time, also make a visual inspection of the main burner and pilot burner of your water heater. A chemical odorant is added to the gas used by your gas water heater. If you smell gas, open the windows, don’t touch any electrical switches, extinguish any open flames, and immediately call the gas supplier or a licensed plumber. Also, for your safety, do not store or use gasoline or other flammable vapors and liquids near your gas water heater or any other appliance.

Gas-fired water heaters should be checked for excessive rust and scale on the burner compartment and for a bright blue flame. If rust and scaling exist in the burner area, it can be removed with a standard shop-vac, using the right precautions. Inspect the exhaust stack on gas fired water heaters to ensure that all pipe connections are secure and free of rust, corrosion, and obstructions (annually). (Note: It is essential that fuel fired water heaters vent their gasses to the outside; escape of gasses inside the home could be lethal and pose a fire hazard.)


Water Interruption

To avoid having the heating elements burn up in your electric water heater, you should follow these suggestions. Whenever water service is interrupted (such as due to work on the municipal service line), the 220-volt breaker marked “Water Heater” should be flipped off or gas turned off immediately.

To ensure that the heating elements do not become dry, causing them to burn up, there are three simple steps that should be followed before turning the electricity/gas back on to the water heater.

  1. Allow water to run at least five minutes after turning water back on.
  2. Bleed pop-off valve (located on top of water heater) at least two or three times to ensure that no air is trapped inside the heater.
  3. Allow hot water faucet inside home to run until all air has escaped from lines.

After these steps, you may turn the electricity/gas back on to the water heater. If gas service is interrupted, the pilot burner will have to be re-lit. Please refer to the instructions on the water heater tank for how to re-light the water heater, or call a licensed plumber.


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