Tank water heaters are a reliable way to secure a fast supply of hot water for your home. The presence of a storage tank ensures some hot water is readily available. But over time, foreign substances can accumulate within the storage tank. This could be sediment or mineral buildup getting in from the main water line or a crack in the pipes. Whatever the source is, this buildup will sometimes lower the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can plug up drainage and could even cause premature failure.
Fortunately, draining your water heater and clearing out sediment buildup is a relatively straightforward task. A certified plumber in the U.S. can handle the process, but you can also drain the tank on your own if you know what you’re doing. Whatever you choose, draining the tank now can help minimize the risk you’ll need premature water heater replacement.
Before you start draining the tank, you’ll need to shut off the cold water supply. The supply valve connects your water heater with the main water line. Unless you have access to a well (and you may need to drain the tank more regularly if you do), the water main provides all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve shut will stop more water from reaching the tank, allowing you to completely drain it.
You’ll also want to fetch a rubber hose, like one you could use for yard work. The hose allows you to safely drain the water heater tank without spilling water in your garage, utility closet, attic or wherever the water heater is stored. Make sure you place the other end of the hose far away from your home to keep the water from flooding back inside.
Finally, a screwdriver should help you loosen tight screws or valves. You shouldn’t need any more tools than this unless you come across a problem with the water heater or adjacent piping. At that point, it might be best to contact a certified plumber in the U.S..
After you’ve turned off the water supply, you can shut off the water heater itself. This should be on the thermostat for natural gas water heaters or with a breaker switch for electric models. The pilot setting on gas water heaters can continue to stay on during flushing, but electric models need to be completely off. This is because of the heating elements electric water heaters have, which remain submerged. In a drained tank, they could quickly overheat. You should also check the model’s manual, as some water heaters need to be completely full before the heating elements are started.
Even after you’ve shut off the water heater, you’ll have to wait for the water stored in the tank to cool down. It can be hours before the water reaches a safe temperature, so it may be best to leave the remaining steps for the following day.
Tank water heaters possess a drain valve you can use to empty the storage tank. Once you’re sure the water supply is disconnected and the water heater itself is off, locate the drain valve. Some models will have it covered up. Make sure the hose is firmly attached to prevent spilling hot water near you and the water heater.
Your home’s plumbing uses pressure inside the piping to sustain a consistent flow of water from the main water line to the rest of the house. This pressure will have to be relieved before the hot water can actually exit the tank. By heading to the nearest faucet or spigot, you’ll alleviate the pressure inside the piping. All you have to do is open the hot water tap to relieve the pressure before returning to the water heater.
Keep in mind that this water can still have some residual heat. Open the drain valve and allow all the water to drain from the tank. This should pull sediment buildup out of the tank and away from your home. But some buildup may be stuck to the inside of the tank. Turning the cold water supply back on will help flush stubborn minerals and other substances from the tank.
Repeat this step until the water looks free of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of an obstruction, a trained plumber may be required.
If everything proceeds normally, you should be able to clear out most excess sediment hiding inside your water heater. Close the drain valve, detach the hose and open the water supply to get things working again. As the water heater tank begins to fill, return to the hot water tap you opened. Once cold water starts to flow, you know the pressure is back where it needs to be.
At this point, you can open the gas valve or flip the breaker switch back on. Like we mentioned earlier, don’t forget that certain models might need to be completely full before the water can be safely heated. Make sure you look through your manufacturer’s instructions before starting the process.
Tank water heaters continue to be a great option for supplying your hot water needs. Draining the tank every 1-2 years will help clear out sediment buildup and keep things running at peak efficiency. If you think your water heater is past the point of efficient heating, consider looking for water heater replacement in the U.S. from a technician you trust.
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