Replacing an aging water heater can be costly. Regardless of whether it’s because a replacement just isn’t in your family’s budget right now or because you want to get the most out of the water heater you already own, everyone should be interested in learning how to squeeze those last drops of life out of their water heater. During the years of our conducting home inspections in Ohio we have come across old water heaters still operating, a few times 50-60 years old. Many of these tips will also help shave money off your heating bill, too!
Testing your TPR (temperature, pressure, release) valve and anode rod can be great ways to make sure your water heater is running optimally. To test your TPR valve, turn off power to your water heater and turn off the cold-water supply valve. Keep a bucket underneath the pipe connected to the TPR valve, located on the top or side of the tank. Lift the TPR valve’s tab enough to allow some water to escape, then let go. If the water continues to flow, drain the tank enough to allow you access, unscrew the old valve with a pipe wrench, and take the same to install a new one. What is a TPR valve?
To check your anode rod, install a hose to the tank drain’s cock and allow a few gallons of water to escape. Fit a 1 and 1/16-inch socket onto the rod’s hex head on top of the heater or under its top plate, and unscrew the rod. If the rod is less than half an inch thick or it is coated in calcium, it is time to replace it. The role of an anode rod inside the water heater is to attract corrosive elements in the water, thereby limiting corrosion of the actual water heater. Simply keeping a good anode rod in your water heater will greatly increase your water heater’s lifespan.
Another great way to maintain your water heater’s health is by draining your tank and washing out built up sediment. It is common and expected for sediment to build up in the water heater. When the water heater makes a bubbling or rumbling noise when heating the water is an indication that it should be done. Attached or hose or place a bucket at the drain valve near the bottom of the tank and release the water until the water is clear and then close the drain. It is common to see rust or calcium flowing out. A tank water heater should get drained once a year. If you bought a home with an old water heater ask the sellers if they drained it recently. Sediment could be high enough on the bottom to prevent the tank from draining. (draining a water heater tank and psychically knowing the level of sediment is of course beyond the scope of a home inspection).
Adjusting your water heater’s temperature, while not useful in maintenance, can definitely help you save a few bucks; for every ten degrees you lower the temperature, you can expect to save up to five percent in energy costs. If you know you will be away from home for more than three days, it will be more than worth it to save the energy-and your money-and turn the water heater or the thermostat down to its lowest setting.
Lastly, you can choose to insulate your pipes and your water heater. To insulate the pipes, purchase some self-sticking ⅜ inch thick foam pipe insulation that matches the diameter of your pipes. Simply slide the foam over all the hot and cold water pipes as far as you can reach. Make sure you squeeze the insulation closed and if the pipe is six inches or less from the flue, to cover it with a one inch thick unfaced fiberglass pipe wrap. To insulate the water heater itself, cut the insulation to allow it to fit around pipes, TPR valve, and the temperature control. Wrap the tank’s sides, and seal any cuts with foil tape. Do not cover the tops of oil or gas water heaters. For an electric heater, cap it with an oversize circle of insulation and tightly tape its edge to the side of the tank.
These are all tasks that may seem tedious, but will in the long run prove their worth as annual tasks by saving you money, and increasing the lifespan of your water heater. Water heaters tend to be considered a home’s most reliable appliance, but often these appliances could last so much longer if they received just a little more TLC!