Water Heater Maintenance

A home’s water heater is an appliance that is commonly forgotten about until it fails. Sometimes the failure means just no hot water and at other times it is more serious such as when the hot water tank corrodes to the point of leaking and possibly causing costly water damage. There are some simple maintenance procedures a homeowner can perform to extend the life of their water heater.

How Water Heaters Work

When you turn on the hot water tap, heated water is drawn into your home’s pipes from the top of your water heater. To replace the water being used, fresh cold water flows into the bottom of the tank, activating the heating element.

Gas and electric storage water heaters operate this same way. However, gas heaters have a pilot light at the bottom to ignite the burner when needed. They also have a flue running through the center of the tank to exhaust combustion gases. And while gas models have only a single burner, electric heaters have a lower and an upper heating element.

Both models feature a temperature/pressure release valve near the top of the tank. This valve will allow steam or hot water to escape safely, should a thermostat malfunction occur.

Corrosion & Scale

Corrosion, scale, and sediment are the enemies of your water heater. The best way to reduce water-heater corrosion and scale is to keep the water temperature at or below 120˚ Fahrenheit. Hotter water makes more scale fall out of solution and cling to the elements and tank of your water heater. Hotter water is also more corrosive. Your water heater has a sacrificial anode rod that sacrifices itself to the weak acid in the water so the acid won't attack the tank.

If you have soft water, you may want to replace the sacrificial anode when the water heater is 3 to 5 years old. This would extend the life of your water heater.

Electric Heaters

Electric water heaters burn out their elements when the elements get surrounded by sediment or scale or else when they corrode. Gas water heaters, filling with sediment, first lose capacity to heat water quickly, and then start making noise, and then fail as the metal in the tank overheats. The softer the water, the more corrosion is a problem. The harder the water the more scale is a problem.

Hot Water Heater Tips

Check the temperature and pressure relief valve on your hot water heater annually to be sure the valve is functioning. Consult the operating manual for the procedure. If the valve does not work, have it replaced.

Inspect the exhaust stack on gas fired hot water heaters to ensure that all pipe connections are secure and free of rust, corrosion, and obstructions annually. (Note hat it is essential that fuel fired hot water heaters vent their gasses to the outside; escape of gasses inside the home could be lethal and pose a fire hazard.)

Check the temperature setting on the hot water heater. Setting should be between 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (midway between low and medium on a gas heater dial is normally at this temperature range).


If you have installed an insulation blanket around the tank of your hot water heater, about every three months you should check to ensure that the insulation stays in the proper position, noting particularly that it is not blocking the combustion air inlet or the exhaust vent of gas fired units.

Every six months, open the drain valve near the hot water heater tank bottom and drain 1 or 2 gallons of water from the hot water heater into a bucket or through a garden hose to remove any sediment that may have accumulated in the tank bottom


If this procedure is not done regularly, residual sediment particles may prevent the drain valve from re-seating properly upon closing and the valve washer may have to be replaced. Flush hot water tank, most manufacturers recommend this to be done annually.


Follow manufactures procedures for flushing hot water tank.