Hot Water Heater Maintenance Checklist & Tips: Gas, Electric, & Tankless
Do you want your water heater to last as long as it possibly can, while still being completely reliable? In order for you to have that, there are two words that you should always remember to accomplish that: regular maintenance.
Water heaters, though designed for heavy-duty use, are susceptible to kinks and breakdowns. All homeowners who own water heater units know that, and in some cases, have even learned this the hard way.’
What they don’t realize is that these issues are actually preventable, as long as their water heaters are well-maintained. Are you one of those who tend to neglect their water heaters? If you are guilty of this, then our article is for you.
How Long Does a Hot Water Heater Last?
There is no set time as to how long a water heater can last. Some may only last for a few months, especially if it is used wrongly or are poorly installed. But most of the time, it will last for years.
Water heaters are made to be used at home or on the road for lengthy periods of time, and water heater are even installed in RVs. However, this will all depend on several factors, such as the type of water heater, how well it was installed, the quality of the water it is supplied with, how often it is used, and if it experiences regular maintenance, among others.
On average though, you can use it for several years, with some homeowners reportedly even using the same water heater at home for several decades already with no issue. But in truth, water heaters are designed to work for at least a decade before it gives up; around 15 years is its maximum average lifespan.
Despite having the same purpose, some types of water heaters last longer than others. The traditional water heater that you know of, which uses a tank and is powered by either gas or electricity, can work without issue for as long as eight to twelve years, on average. The tankless ones, which use a different system, can typically work well even for as much as two decades.
Don’t worry if your water heater starts exhibiting problems around six years after you had it installed, no matter which type you use. This is still within the average range. But if it is already giving you a headache earlier than that, you may have to get a professional plumber to check it out.
How Do You Make Your Water Heater Last Longer?
Were you surprised to see how long water heaters can actually last? You need to remember that just because you have the certain type that the installer or contractor says will last for a long time does not mean it actually will.
How long you can use a water heater will always depend on several factors, such as:
- How properly it was installed – you may not realize it but how your water heater was installed actually contributes to how long you can use it. If it was improperly done, this can damage your water heater in the long run, preventing it to work at its best.
- Water quality – if the water that passes through your water heater is full of sediments, it will have to work even harder and this will shorten its lifespan, especially if it is a traditional water heater that constantly runs even if you are not using it.
- Electrical supply – specifically for electricity-based water heaters, a reliable electrical connection is a must. If it keeps fluctuating, power surges are inevitable and this is one sure way to ruin your unit.
- The frequency of maintenance – if you were playing close attention, we mentioned that this is actually the most important factor. Regular maintenance will prevent most of the problems that water heaters usually experience, like leaks, noises, corrosion, and the water no longer heating up to your desired temperature, among others. Roofs will also start leaking if they’re not regularly maintained – it’s the same principle.
These four factors will determine how long you can expect your water heater to work for you. What you need to remember is that periodic maintenance is the biggest factor and is also something that most homeowners fail to consider. Make sure that maintenance works will be done by a qualified professional so that it will be done correctly, since mistakes may cause your water heater to fail quicker than expected, not to mention can cause burns and other injury especially due to the hot water.
Types of Maintenance Required
If you love warm showers or baths, one of your worst nightmares would have to be your water heater breaking down while you are in the bath and having the hot water cut off. This is an avoidable scenario, if only your water heater is regularly checked by a professional.
Maintenance on your water heater is not just about cleaning it. It also includes the replacement of old parts and the installation of accessories and chemicals that can improve its performance, doing checkups, and so much more. To give you an idea, here is a general checklist involving water heater maintenance, regardless of type:
Water heaters are not only used for heating, since they also rid the water that passes through it of sediments. Over time, these sediments will settle in different sections of your water heater. If this is not removed, it can lead to corrosion, which will ultimately break your water heater.
The best way to prevent this from happening is for your water heater to undergo flushing every year. Even doing this just annually will make a huge difference in its performance.
Flushing a water heater is a fairly simple process. The water heater must first be turned off, including the T&P valve, and allowed to cool down over time or let someone use up all the hot water. After shutting off the water supply, a hose will be attached to the drain valve and the other end of the hose must be placed inside a bucket or directly to a drain.
To start draining the water, a faucet for hot water must first be opened and the drain valve will then be opened gradually until it is fully opened. Allow it to drain until there is no more water left inside the tank. To completely remove the sediments that settled inside, let cold water flow back into the water heater without closing the drain valve.
The hose will only be removed and the drain valve will only be closed off when the water being drained out is clean and free from sediments. At this time, it is also a good idea for the professional to check out other components of your water heater, namely the T&P valve and the anode rod.
This method is among the most important, and also the cheapest, ways to maintain your unit.
Quite similar to flushing, draining will completely empty your water tank of water. The difference is that draining is done when it will not be used for some time, such as when you are going away on a vacation, especially during winter, and water will not be immediately supplied back to your water heater.
This can prevent leaks, and even flooding of your basement, and is often part of the process of winterizing a water heater.
- Installing an Anode Rod
Not all water heaters make use of aluminum or magnesium anode rods, but if your water heater has it, you need to make sure that it is replaced when needed. Anode rods function like a magnet that will attract water sediments, preventing them from damaging your water heater. These sediments will eat away the anode rod, instead of the components of your water heater.
If the anode rod is not replaced when it has either been completely covered with sediments or has fully corroded, you can expect the sediments to attack your water heater next.
Anode rods are usually replaced annually, but this will depend on various factors. As a result, they may be replaced as soon as just a month after it was placed in your water heater, or even after over a year.
Some water heaters also allow two anode rods to be placed simultaneously and if you have this type, make sure to do so. Anode rods are very inexpensive, costing just $50 on average, and the benefits you will get from it will far outweigh the amount you have to shell out.
- Adding Insulation
Certain types of water heaters can work more efficiently and use less resources with the help of insulation, the same way an insulated home works more efficiently.. But if your water heater is the type that makes use of heat or has already been insulated at the factory, this is not for you.
Even if gas water heaters can be a fire hazard, they can still be wrapped in insulation. To do so, the insulating blanket should be wrapped around the entire water heater and at the top, making sure that it does not cover the anode, the T&P valve, and especially the controller. Entirely covering the top of a gas-powered water heater may cause a fire.
Electrical water heaters normally do not have exhausts, which means you can only add insulation at the top and sides of it, not all over the entire unit and especially not including the access panels of the heating element. Completely wrapping it up may cause your water heater to overheat.
You can also have the pipes of your water heater insulated, particularly if these pipes are exposed and can be subjected to harsh winter temperatures. The insulation can help prevent the pipes from freezing up and later bursting.
- Having a Professional Check its Condition Regularly
Water heaters are one of the household appliances that needs to be periodically checked by a professional. Even if everything looks the same for you, a professional may see some shrinking on the washer, pipes and water lines about to burst, corrosion, and other issues. Think of this as a preventive measure that you can make before issues on your water heater get worse.
Make sure you also read our post on maintaining your HVAC unit.
Also, leaks occur on water heaters more often than you think. It’s important that you get someone to check components of your water heater, such as the overflow pipe, cold water inlet, and the T&P valve. Leaking may either be just a simple issue or already a sign of something worse.
- Repairing What Needs to be Repaired, ASAP
Homeowners often make the mistake of putting off repairs, and they would only get in touch with a contractor or technician once the problem has worsened. Unfortunately, they will be faced with either sky-high bills or an unusable water heater as a result of this.
In order to avoid this headache, you need to immediately address any issues with your water heater, as soon as you discover them. Any problem on your water heater will never go away on its own.
- Setting the Thermostat to the Proper Temperature
While you can set the temperature of water heaters to whatever you prefer, it is important that the thermostat of your water heater be at the correct setting. For both gas and electric water heaters, the ideal thermostat is 120 ˚F. But if you think you normally use more hot water than the average household, this can be increased by 5 to 10˚. If you’re remodeling a home for a senior, it’s also important to adjust the unit so as to lower the risk of scalding. It can also be an important measure in adjusting a home to someone with a handicap that’s also at higher risk of scalding.
For energy efficiency, you can set the thermostat to a lower temperature if you will not be using your water heater for some time.
- Adding Softener
No, we are not talking about fabric softeners here, nor should you use them as a substitute. We are referring to water softeners, which must be used if the water coming into your unit is hardwater. This type of water contains minerals and other sediments that can cause your water heater to work less efficiently and damage it over time.
Water softeners act like a net that catches these sediments, preventing them from settling inside and damaging your water heater. This can also slow down the wear and tear, not just on the water heater but also your entire plumbing system.
- Regulating Pressure
Experiencing too much pressure is not a good thing, even for water heaters. Ideally, the water pressure must be constantly below 90 psi. If your water heater is constant subjected to high pressure, this will make it deteriorate much faster.
To counteract this, you can have a pressure regulator valve installed, which will allow you to monitor the level of pressure in your water heater and keep it at an ideal level. In relation to that…
- Connecting an Expansion Tank
Pressure regulator valves and expansion tanks often come hand in hand with each other. Even if water heaters already have safety precautions in store, as well as the T&P valve, it doesn’t hurt if you have an expansion tank added to yours, especially if it is part of a closed system.
Expansion tanks can help prevent your water heater from failing earlier than expected, which can be attributed to the stress brought about by the repeated expansion and contraction of your water heater. This tank catches the water volume that overflows as a result of excess pressure in the tank, instead of confining it in the water heater and expanding due to pressure.
- Having Ample Space
Water heaters need to be properly ventilated, that’s why they need to have space to breathe no matter where they are installed. This is one thing that most homeowners fail to do, especially if their unit is installed in the basement. They want to maximize the limited space, that’s why they often place their stuff beside their water heater.
This is a bad practice, because crowding your water heater prevents air from circulating around it. If you have ever felt suffocated, this is what your water heater will experience.
Even if your water heater has its own exhaust or ventilation ducts, this would be useless if they are blocked. Not only that, this may also cause your water heater to overheat, since the hot air it expels will go back inside instead of outside.
- Replacing a Damaged Dip Tube
Certain types of water heaters come with dip tubes that helps heat up the water much faster, as well as prevent it from flowing out of the tank using the pipe located at the top of the water heater earlier than it should. In effect, dip tubes can help keep up with the demand for hot water, because it stops your water heater from running out of it.
Dip tubes are pretty tough, but they will still break down over time with use. They should be checked out roughly every six months and need to be replaced if they have become shorter, crumbled, or already falling apart.
What we enumerated here are the basics you need to know to make sure your water heater will be in perfect, or at least near-perfect, condition for a very long time.
Tankless Water Heater Maintenansce
In the past, all water heaters come with a tank that serves as a reservoir for hot water. At present, there are now water heaters that serve the same function but come without a tank. These tankless water heaters do not store water and as a result, they work on-demand; when you turn on your hot water faucet, that’s the only time they would kick in and work.
A misconception about tankless water heaters is that their regular maintenance is not needed. That’s why some homeowners mistakenly purchase this type of water heater, believing that they can basically leave them alone once it has been installed and it would last them decades without having to lift a finger.
While it is true that tankless water heaters are much more low maintenance compared to the traditional ones, they still need to be properly maintained. Despite not having tanks, they do have a complex system that needs to be in perfect condition and doing maintenance work is the best way to achieve this.
So, how exactly do you do this for a tankless water heater? The different types of water heater maintenance we highlighted above will also apply to tankless ones, although there may be slight changes in the process. And one of these is involving flushing.
Tankless water heaters may have some slight differences, but they generally follow the same steps for flushing, which are the following:
- Completely shut off the water heater, including its water supply and the three water valves, to stop the cold water from entering and the hot water from flowing out.
- If the water heater comes with purge port valves, the port valve caps that cover them must also be removed. This is important because unrelieved pressure can cause hot water to be expelled and accidentally injure the person working on your unit.
- Water hoses should next be connected to the water valves, with the other ends placed inside a bucket or drain. The purge port valves may now be opened, making sure that its position is perpendicular to that of the hot and cold water valves.
- The actual process of draining may vary, so the technician will have to refer to the user manual to properly drain your water heater.
The most common enemy of tankless water heaters is the formation of limescale. That’s why when it needs to undergo flushing, vinegar must be added to the water. While water can easily dislodge the sediments and other debris that may have settled in the water heater, the vinegar will dissolve the lime, calcium, and other minerals. This is why flushing a tankless water heater with vinegar will also descale it.
Limescale is common to tankless water heaters that take in hardwater. As a result, they may need more frequent checks and undergo maintenance works. Most tankless water heaters can stand not being checked for as long as 4 to 5 years, but only if soft water is being used. Otherwise, it needs to be checked annually, even as often as twice a year, if your household tends to use your water heater a lot.
Some tankless water heaters also have sensors that will detect the amount of lime and other minerals that are present in its components. This is why it is important to monitor these and get a professional to check it out when the sensors show errors in your water heater.
Another important thing to remember when it comes to tankless water heaters is that temperatures will affect the limescale buildup. The higher you set your water heater’s temperature, the more it will promote the growth of limescale. If you remember, we mentioned setting the temperature to 120˚ ideally, and this also applies to tankless water heaters.
Tankless water heaters also have an air intake filter, which is located behind the face plate, that needs periodic cleaning. The face plate must be unscrewed first, then the air filter that is also screwed in place. Cleaning this filter is as simple as running water over it.
Gas Water Heater Maintenance
Due to its volatility, gas-based water heaters can be a fire hazard when not properly maintained. Regular monitoring is important for this type, as they can also have gas leaks that can set your entire house on fire.
Aside from the methods we previously discussed, a qualified professional can diagnose if there are loose connections, especially where gas passes through, or the couplings and flex hoses connected to it are no longer in perfect condition. It is important that these be remedied as soon as possible, because they are common sources of gas leaks. Make sure to have them checked out as often as every month or two.
Gas water heaters come with burners that will collect carbon residue and cause buildups over time and with constant use. They also come with vents and flues to allow air to circulate and prevent overheating, and these will also collect dust and dirt over time. You need to have all these regularly cleaned as well. Remember to keep away all flammable items away from your water heater, especially on the bottom area where the vents are usually found.
It is important that this type of water heater is kept away from heat, that is why ventilation is of utmost importance for them. If you recall, we talked about how water heaters need to have ample space and this is especially true for this type. This is why we mentioned not fully covering the top if you are having insulation installed to it.
Pilot lights are also unique to gas water heaters, and these should be steady, blue flames. Monitor this for changes and get a technician to do a thorough check on your water heater if this is not the case for your unit.
Electric Water Heater Maintenance
Compared to the gas type, electric water heaters require less periodic maintenance. Its entire system is not as complicated as that of a gas water heater, which makes it easier to maintain.
There really is no other type of maintenance you need to do for this type of water heater, aside from what we previously enumerated.
Electric water heaters that make use of water from the municipal water system needs less flushing, since the water already goes through filtration. As a result, less chemicals and sediments will get in your water heater. But if you use well or hard water, you need to get your unit flushed more often.
Regardless of what kind of water heater you have installed at home, you need to make sure that it undergoes routine checks and maintenance works. Even if some of the methods we mentioned seem easy for you, it is vital that these should be done by a professional. After all, they know what signs to check and watch out for while they are working on your unit.
And because you are dealing with an appliance that has a lot of safety hazards, it is vital that anyone who will work on it with will be equipped with protective gear.
Signs That It’s Time to Replace Your Water Heater
Despite doing regular maintenance, there will always come a time when you will have to replace your water heater. Doing maintenance work on it is just prolonging the inevitable, allowing you to maximize the use of the unit you have at home. We all know how expensive water heaters are, so this will allow you to save money in the long run.
Considering this, when should you have your water heater replaced? Here’s a handy list to help you decide on that:
- If your unit has surpassed its expected lifespan – let’s face it. The older your water heater is, the more likely it will break down. If your unit is already considered vintage and you have had it repaired more often than you would like, think about getting a new one.
- It keeps breaking down – even if your water heater is not that old, yet you regularly meet up with a professional to have it checked it, it might save you money to get a new one. Despite having issues that are repairable, the cost of working on a water heater can be quite high on average. You might not have noticed that the amount you spent on repairs has already surpassed the price of a new unit.
- You’re getting higher bills – water heaters generally take up a huge portion of your bills. Modern water heaters nowadays are much more economical, allowing homeowners to save some money. You can upgrade your unit to a new one that consumes less energy and resources to lessen your bills.
- The hot water it should be producing is lukewarm at most – water heaters are designed to provide you with hot water, after all. If this is no longer the case, you need to get it checked if it can still be remedied or not.
- You can hear and smell unusual noises and scents – if your water heater is emitting an odor it should never have, or is making noises that you are hearing for the first time, this might be a sign that it is about to break down.
- Constant leaking is present – leaks on your water heater are both a big annoyance, especially with the dripping sound it makes, and something that you need to immediately address. Most leaks are fortunately repairable, while there are also some leaks that would require you to change your entire water heater already.
Turning it Off or Setting it to Low: The Debate
If you’ve ever gone on a vacation, chances are you’ve wondered about what you need to do with your water heater, especially if you are using the tank-type. Should you turn it off before you leave for your trip, or should you just let it run but at the lowest settings possible?
Some people still advocate completely turning off the water heater if it will not be used for a period of time. They believe that this will allow them not only to save on electricity bills or gas consumption, but it will also lengthen the lifespan of their water heater. After all, water heaters take up a significant percentage of your water bill and if you can cut costs in any way, then why not?
The other side of the argument is that it would be better to leave it on, despite its non-use, but just set it to the lowest temperature possible. This would supposedly prevent the water heater from being strained; they believe that turning it on after being switched off for some time would be harmful in the long run. Aside from that, you’ll have to wait a long time for the water to heat up once you turn it back on, and nobody has time for that.
Our take on this is that it’s fine for you to leave it on if you are not going to use it for a month at most, as long as you set its temperature to the lowest possible. That way, its consumption would be way less than usual, even nearly zero. It’s like you turned it off but without waiting too long for hot water to flow from your faucet once you get back and need it.
But if you will not be using it for a few months or more, the more economical option would be to completely turn it off. Heating up cold water in one cycle is actually cheaper than allowing your water heater to keep it hot at a certain temperature for a long time.
Some water heaters have a ‘vacation mode’ that can be used as a compromise for this debate. This mode will allow water inside the tank to be kept at a warm temperature, which doesn’t require your water heater to constantly work to keep the water hot. And at the same time, this won’t use up a lot of energy, once you get home and require hot water. If your water heater has this setting, use it.
If you’re worried about how any of these would affect your water bill, you’re in luck. They will all cost nearly the same, no matter what method you use. And on average, it would only cost you less $2 a day if you leave it on at the lowest setting without using it.
How to Save Money on Your Water Heating Bill
We all hate the thought of paying the bills, that’s why we strive to lower the costs as much as we can. We often do this with our appliances and other electrical equipment; we know that turning off the lights when not in use, using LED lights, and unplugging electrical appliances that aren’t being used are effective at keeping electrical bills down. These conservation measures should also be practiced for water heaters.
Did you know that water heaters can take up as much as 20% of your overall bills? It is even said to be the second biggest contributor to the household bills. Because of this, you need to make sure that your water heater unit uses the least amount of resources it possibly can at all times.
So, how exactly do you do that?
- Lower the temperature – we mentioned that the optimum temperature for water heaters should hover around 120˚. That’s the middle ground between efficiency and cost, since a water heater would consume more resources the higher the temperature set. In fact, a 20˚ temperature difference can make a difference of as much as 10% on your bill.
- Regular maintenance – aside from making sure that your unit is at peak condition, regular maintenance will also lower your bills. A poorly maintained unit will take up a lot of energy to function, which translates to bigger household bills for you. And speaking of…
- Flushing – this is very important if you want your water heater to not raise your bills. Regularly flushing your water heater will prevent sediments and other debris from settling in your water heater, which will affect not only its longevity but also its efficiency. Any water heater that works efficiently will conserve resources.
- Get leaks fixed ASAP – one or two drops coming from leaks may not seem much, but imagine how much 24/7 leaks would cost you.
- Update your fixtures – showerheads and faucets nowadays are designed to be as green as possible, compared to the ones manufactured some time ago. Using these eco-friendly ones, especially those low-flow models, will help you cut costs, while still working efficiently.
- Add heat traps and insulation – if you haven’t yet, it’s a good idea to use these to conserve heat. They will prevent your unit from working overtime to compensate for the heat that is released by your water heater.
- Run your washing machines and dishwasher only when it has full loads – constantly running half-loaded dishwashers and washing machines will end up using more resources, compared to using them only at full load.
- Lessen your use of hot water – whenever possible, just use cold water to wash the dishes, do the laundry, and even for baths. This is the easiest and most obvious way to save on your water heating bill. It also helps a lot if you don’t take too long in the shower.
Follow these tips and you’ll surely notice an immediate drop on your household bills, even in as fast as one month.
Why You Need to Hire a Pro
When dealing with your water heater, you should never be complacent that you can do anything related to it by yourself and with just the help of YouTube and other internet tutorials. This mindset would most likely set you up for failure.
Doing repairs on any kind of water heater is not as simple as it may seem; it’s not as easy as changing a lightbulb. Water heaters have a very complicated system, and this should always be considered when doing any kind of repair on it. You’re not dealing with cold and hot water alone – you have to take in mind that water heaters involve gas and electricity as well, which are dangerous if handled improperly.
Qualified professionals that will handle your water heater will ensure that accidents will not happen, and the risk of an exploding water heater is eliminated. If you are doing the maintenance activities all by yourself, are you sure that your output will be at par to that of a professional?
Professionals are also trained to see the first signs of trouble on your water heater. They know what to watch out for whenever they handle one. Even if you think there is nothing wrong with your unit, a contractor that personally checks it out may see a poorly ventilated heater, water lines with splits, connections that have loosened up, a malfunctioning pilot light, sediment buildup, and so much more.
Working on water heaters is not something that you can freely experiment on. Always get a professional to do it for you.
How to Get Free Quotes from Contractors
Now that you have decided to get a contractor to check out your water heater, it’s time for you to choose the most suitable one. If there is more than one in your vicinity, this would make it harder for you to choose.
The ultimate tiebreaker in this scenario is their rate. You need to go for the contractor that offers you the best value, that is, their skillset and rates. Since they hardly differ when it comes to their skills, the rate they have will make the biggest difference.
Some homeowners will just go for whoever is the first they get in touch with, not bothering to check out their rates first. This is why they often get surprised at how much they have to pay after the work is done. They have no choice but to pay for the finished work, no matter how much it costs.
If you know more than one contractor who can possibly work on your unit, ask them first about their rates and compare afterwards. They will freely give you a range of how much it would likely cost you, especially when they find out you’re considering other contractors. They know their rates will make the biggest difference for you, so they’ll likely volunteer to charge you less, as long as you hire them for the job.
The easiest way to go about getting quotes from competing contractors is by filling out the form on our site, and we’ll quickly match you with the most relevant contractors near you to bid on the project. Knowing that they’re competing, you’re bound to have them offer the best that they’re able to.