Testing the Valve and Cleaning the Tank
Now that we’re moving into the colder seasons, let’s talk about the importance of water heater maintenance. The water heater is a crucial appliance that is easily neglected. Part of why it’s so easy to neglect them is because they can actually go a pretty long time, about 10 years, without displaying any obvious issues. But once those issues start to plague your heater, it can cost a lot more in the long run. Even if you do have a newer heater, there are still tips you can follow now to ensure it continues to operate efficiently and remains in good condition for longer than it normally would. The most common and basic DYI maintenance you can do involve testing the TPR valve, or temperature-pressure-release valve, and draining the tank to clean and flush out sediment. These are simple and easy but go a long way in maintaining your appliance preventing possible damage. Buying a new valve is a whole cheaper than buying a new tank!
- Test the TPR Valve
The tank is designed to release pressure and bits of water automatically when the pressure gets too high. This is important because high pressure can actually cause the tank to explode so you want to make sure it’s working properly every few months. Anything such as rust, freezing temperatures, debris, etc. can cause a valve to malfunction. First, you want shut off the cold water inlet and water heater for safety and preferably let it cool for a bit. Then, place a bucket underneath the discharge pipe to catch the water. Then, you want to lift the valve lever gently and the valve should release some water, then let the lever close the valve. The idea is the valve opens automatically to release some water and pressure and then it closes again so that it doesn’t discharge continually. If you need to install a new valve, three things will indicate this. Either the valve doesn’t open, the valve opens but doesn’t release any water, or the valve will continue to release water even after you have let go of the lever. If your valve isn’t behaving properly, then you turn off the heater and cold water, drain the tank completely, and unscrew the old valve with a pipe wrench and screw a new one back on. Depending on the condition of the pipe, it may also need replacing or some maintenance. Once that’s done, test it again the same way as before. If it functions properly, you’re all done.
- Drain and Clean the Tank
If your maintenance requires you to drain the tank, then you can knock out two birds with one stone. If not, you should test for this anyways. Overtime, tanks will build up sediment that settles at the bottom of the tank. This affects the functionality of your system, so you want to flush that sediment out. You should start by shutting off the heater and cold water. The water that will drain will likely be very hot. You can let the tank cool after shutting off the heater but even then, the water may still be hot enough to burn. You should drain the tank into a bucket or attach and thread a hose to a drain or outside. Let the tank completely drain, until water stops flowing. The process might not stir up and take a lot of the sediment with it, but you don’t want to leave that sediment there. Once the tank has completely drained of water, you can turn the cold-water inlet on for 10-15 seconds. This will dispense a burst of cold water down into the sediment at the bottom of the tank, agitating and stirring it up so that I can flow out of the drain valve. After the first burst, let it drain and observe the sediment that comes with it. Once it completely drains again, repeat this process as many times as needed until the cold-water bursts run clear. At this point, you can be finished if you’re satisfied but if you want to go a step further, try this next step. You can close the tank drain, close the TPR valve, turn the cold-water inlet on again and let the tank fill up completely. Again, this is to stir up the particulates and sediment still left behind. Once the tank is done filling, turn off the water, open the drain valve and TPR valve, and let the tank drain completely. Again, you don’t need to do this last flush, but it can’t hurt if you’re up for it. Once its drained and the water is clean, you can close the drain valve and turn the water back on to fill the tank. Leave the TPR valve open for a little bit so that the air in the tank has somewhere to escape while it fills with water. Turn it off once the tank is filled somewhat. You don’t want a bunch of air in your tank and plumbing! Once the tank is filled, turn your heater back on. Turn on any faucet in your house on hot to let out any air that did get trapped. Once it stops sputtering air, you can turn it off. And that’s it! It isn’t a difficult or skilled job; all you need is some free time. Cleaning the tank about once a year will ensure that it continues to run smoothly and efficiently for a long time.