Water Heater Maintenance (7 Essential Tasks)

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With the right care, a water heater can last for 8-12 years on average. Some water heaters can even last up to 20 years – but only with regular maintenance.

In this guide, we’ve discussed the 7 essential water heater maintenance tasks that you shouldn’t ignore.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Performing maintenance on your water heater will improve or sustain the unit’s energy efficiency, enable it to perform optimally throughout its life, and extend its lifespan.
  • 7 key water heater maintenance tasks are:
    1. Regularly flush the heater
    2. Test the pressure relief valve
    3. Adjust the temperature
    4. Inspect the anode rod
    5. Check the heater for leaks
    6. Inspect the gas and electrical components
    7. Insulate the pipes and water heater tank

📝 7 Important Water Heater Maintenance Jobs

Below, we’ve shared the 7 most important maintenance tasks for a water heater, and how often these tasks should be carried out.

Maintenance TaskFrequency
Regularly Flush The HeaterOnce a year
Test The Pressure Relief ValveTwice a year
Adjust The TemperatureOnly when needed
Inspect The Anode RodEvery 2-5 years
Check For LeaksTwice a month or as needed
Inspect The Gas And Electrical ComponentsEvery 2 months
Insulate The Pipes And HeaterOnly when needed

1) Regularly Flush The Heater

🔄 Maintenance frequency: Once a year

One of the easiest maintenance tasks is to drain and flush the water heater tank periodically to remove sediment buildup. Sediment can reduce efficiency and lead to corrosion, so it’s important to do what you can to prevent it from taking over your water heater.

Follow these steps to drain and flush your hot water heater:

  1. Turn off the heater’s thermostat. Depending on the model, you may need to flick an “off” switch on the bottom of the heater, or turn off the switch in your home’s breaker box to stop supplying electricity to the unit.
  2. Turn off the gas supply. If you have a gas heater. Find and press/switch the “off” button or valve on the pipe that leads to the thermometer.
  3. Shut off your water supply. Locate the handle or lever that controls the flow of water into the heater and switch it off.
  4. Turn on a hot water faucet. Leave it on until all the water has drained.
  5. Attach the hose to the drain spigot. If your heater doesn’t already have a hose, use a garden hose. Attach it to the drainage spigot, then place the other end above a floor drain or inside a large bucket.
  6. Drain the heater through the hose. Turn on the drain spigot and wait until all remaining water drains out of the tank.
  7. Flush the tank. Turn the water supply valve on and off in short bursts. The rush of cold water will stir up and flush out the sediment that has settled at the bottom of the tank. Repeat the process until the water runs clear from the hose.
Man conducting preventative maintenance on a hot water heater

2) Test The Pressure Relief Valve

🔄 Maintenance frequency: Twice a year

Another important maintenance job is to test your hot water heater’s temperature pressure relief valve, which opens if the pressure in the tank gets too high. Testing this valve helps ensure it’s functioning properly and prevents excessive pressure buildup.

Here are the quick steps to test the pressure relief valve:

  1. Turn off power and water. Switch off the power to the heater and disengage the cold-water supply valve to prevent water from accessing the heater tank.
  2. Place a bucket under the valve. You’ll usually find the valve on the side or top of the heater tank.
  3. Let some water out of the valve. Lift the tab on the valve, allowing a small amount of water to exit. If water continues to flow after you’ve let go, you’ll probably need a new valve*.

*How do you install a new pressure relief valve? It’s pretty easy – partially drain the heater tank, then use a pipe wrench to remove the old valve. Install the new pressure relief valve in its place.

3) Adjust The Temperature

🔄 Maintenance frequency: Only when needed

Next, check and adjust your water heater’s temperature settings to prevent scalding and reduce your energy costs while maintaining efficient operation.

The recommended temperature for a hot water heater is usually around 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).

To adjust the temperature on your heater, follow these basic steps:

  1. Locate the temperature dial. This should be on the side of the heater’s tank.
  2. Unscrew the cover. Use a screwdriver to remove the cover from the dial so you can access the temperature adjustment settings.
  3. Adjust the temperature. Turn the dial until the temperature is reduced to 120 degrees F.
  4. Further reduce the temperature when necessary. If you want to reduce energy costs while you’re away from home for an extended period, turn the thermostat down until it’s at the lowest setting.
Woman adjusting water heater temperature

4) Inspect The Anode Rod

🔄 Maintenance frequency: Every 2-5 years

We also recommend routinely inspecting your water heater’s anode rod for signs of degradation and corrosion. The anode rod helps prevent the tank from rusting, and a corroded rod won’t be able to do its job. Replacing the rod when necessary can extend your water heater’s lifespan.

Here’s how to inspect the anode rod in your heater tank:

  1. Connect a hose to the drain spigot. Attach a garden hose to the heater’s drain spigot, placing the other end of the hose above a floor drain or in a large bucket.
  2. Drain the water. Allow a few gallons of water to drain out of the hose. This will relieve some pressure and heat.
  3. Locate the hex head bolt. This should be on the top of the heater tank or under the top plate, but if not, the rod might be built into the heater system (in this case, you’ll need to hire a licensed plumber to help you check and replace it).
  4. Unscrew the rod. Fit a 1 1/16-inch socket onto the hex head and unscrew the rod. Pull it out of the heater (use caution – it’s probably hot!).
  5. Examine the rod. Give the rod a once-over. If it has a thick layer of limescale or it’s less than half an inch thick, it’s time to buy a new one.*

*The cost of a replacement anode rod is about $30-$60. Once you’ve bought the rod, wrap Teflon tape around its threads and install it in the old rod’s place. Tighten it well and check for leaks 24 hours after installation. If you notice any leaks, you might need to create a better seal with more Teflon tape.

5) Check For Leaks

🔄 Maintenance frequency: Twice a month or when you suspect a leak

An essential preventative maintenance task for your water heater is to regularly check for leaks around the unit.

As and when you notice leaks, make sure to address them promptly. This should prevent costly water damage and maintain the system’s efficiency.

Here’s an order we recommend when checking for leaks around your heater:

  1. Pressure relief valve. Inspect the pressure relief valve (TPR valve) on the top or side of the water heater. Ensure it’s properly closed and isn’t dripping.
  2. Drain valve. Examine the drain valve at the bottom of the tank (this might leak if it’s loose or damaged).
  3. Cold and hot water connections. Inspect the connections where the cold water supply pipe enters and the hot water outlet pipe leaves the tank for leaks ( which are often caused by loose fittings or deteriorated gaskets).
  4. Tank body. Assess the tank body, including the welds and seems, for water marks or droplets, rust, or moisture.
  5. Pipes & fittings. Check all the pipes and fittings connected to the heater and the relief valve discharge pipe for any signs of leakage.
  6. Underneath the heater. Inspect the area beneath the heater for puddles or dampness.

If your water heater has an expansion tank, it’s also worth checking this for leaks.

Leaking hot water heater

6) Inspect The Gas And Electrical Components

🔄 Maintenance frequency: Every 2 months

Another important tip to maintain a water heater is to inspect the electrical components (if you have an electric water heater), or check gas connections (for gas water heaters).

If you have a gas water heater, inspect the gas connections for any signs of leaks or corrosion and make sure the gas shut-off valve works properly. Don’t attempt to alter or repair gas connections – this should be done by a licensed plumber only.

For electric water heaters, inspect the heater’s electrical components, including the wiring and heating elements, for signs of damage. Repair them if necessary (or hire a professional electrician to repair them for you).

7) Insulate The Pipes And Heater

🔄 Maintenance frequency: Only when needed

While not an essential water heater maintenance task, we also recommend insulating the hot and cold water pipes and heater unit to reduce heat loss during distribution, and prevent condensation in the warmer seasons, improving the water heater’s efficiency.

Start by insulating the heater’s pipes:

  1. Purchase pipe insulation. Go for 3/8-inch-thick insulation made of foam. Make sure it’s the right diameter for the pipes.
  2. Install the insulation. Place the insulation over the pipes that you can access.
  3. Wrap it up. Remove the tape on the insulation and press it together.

Modern water heaters are already insulated enough and don’t require additional insulation. However, if you have an old unit, you can follow these steps to insulate it:

  1. Buy the insulation blanket. You can use a few different insulating options, here, including a hot water cylinder jacket and a foil-covered wrap.
  2. Install the insulation. Place or wrap the insulation around the heater tank (don’t cover the top of the tank if you have a gas heater). Secure the insulation in place.
Hot water heaters and pipes with insulation

📑 Final Word

There you have it: the 7 most important water heater maintenance practices.

It’s important to note that these are simply the key preventive maintenance jobs, and the above list could be expanded to include other jobs, including cleaning the intake valve and venting areas, (if you have a gas water heater), checking and replacing the heating element when necessary, and anything else that’s mentioned in your user manual. The older your heater, the more likely it is to require maintenance and repairs.

These water heater maintenance tips also aren’t intended to replace the need for a professional inspection. You should still pay for regular inspections by a plumber to check that the heater is performing safely and efficiently. It’s generally recommended that you get your water heater inspected at least once a year.

We’ve discussed the routine maintenance tasks for a tank-based water heater in this guide. If you have a tankless water heater, check your user manual for instructions on how to properly maintain the unit.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

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