Water Heater 101

How much do you know about your home’s water heater?  When was the last time you gave it any thought?  Traditional water heaters can hum along for years without a problem, but can suddenly stop working with little warning.  There’s a lot of buzz about new “tankless” models because they can be up to 22 percent more energy efficient. However, these models are expensive and because of this Consumer Reports noted that, “it can take up to 22 years to break even — longer than the 20-year life of many models.”

Most households today still use a traditional water heater.  Considering the costly (and chilly) outcome if it breaks you’d probably agree that it’s important to regularly check on it. Here are some tips on how to keep it working for years to come.

How This “Mack Truck” Appliance Works
Your water heater is like the Mack truck of home appliances — simple, sturdy, reliable.  It’s a large, metal, water-filled cylinder usually found in the basement or laundry room of your home.  It serves an essential function because it provides hot water for washing clothes, bathing and washing dishes.  It’s ingeniously built to take advantage of the fact that heat rises to deliver hot water to you.

The average water heater holds between 40 and 50  gallons of water. There’s a device inside to heat the water and another to make sure the pressure doesn’t build up too much.  The heated water rises out of the tank into your pipes to your shower, bath, sink or dishwasher.

If You Love Me, Show It!
It’s not your home’s most high-maintenance appliance, but your water heater can still benefit from routine TLC.  One way to avoid your tank overheating — and also lower energy costs — is to reduce the temperature setting to between 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, occasionally check the pressure relief valve by simply lifting it up and then quickly letting it go.  If you see some water being released, it’s in good shape.  If not, call on someone to look into this more. You can also occasionally flush your tank yourself, on a smaller scale than what the professionals do.  This will remove sediments from the bottom.  Simply place a bucket under the pressure release valve and release a few gallons of water. Then close the valve again when you’re done.

Did You Hear/Smell That?
There are some general warning signs that signal your water heater may be heading for a breakdown.  You’ll usually notice them a few weeks before it completely conks out, so make a mental note to be aware of the following.

Strange noises – This one is the most obvious sign of impending trouble and generally foretells a problem that will require professional help.

Dirty water – If you start seeing dirty water, don’t immediately panic.  First ask your neighbors if they see the same. Then, determine whether you have a water filter problem. If neither of these applies, it’s time to call a plumber.

Water smells funny – If there’s an odor you don’t recognize, it might mean that minerals have built up in your tank, and you would need to call a pro to pump it out.

Hot water runs out – If your water starts running out earlier than usual, it’s possible that there’s a problem with the gas burner or electrical elements inside.  It’s best to call a plumber.

Given the important role your water heater plays, you might want to purchase a home warranty to mitigate the risk and cost of having it breakdown.   Depending on the type of plan you choose, home warranties are a very effective way of ensuring that you’ve got a safety net if your water heater “tanks” out on you.  They also link you to a network of top-notch and vetted service professionals who can be called in emergencies.

Your water heater doesn’t require much in terms of maintenance and by following our simple advice you’ll decrease the likelihood that it will breakdown and you’ll extend its lifespan.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.