Tank water heaters are a reliable way to secure a fast supply of hot water for your home. The addition of a storage tank ensures some hot water is readily available. But over time, other substances may accumulate within the storage tank. This can be sediment or mineral buildup arriving from the main water line or an opening in the pipes. Whatever the source is, this buildup can negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can clog up drainage and could even lead to premature failure.
Thankfully, draining your water heater and removing 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. Either way, draining the tank now can help lower the risk you’ll need premature water heater replacement.
Before you start draining the tank, you should 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 often if you do), the water main provides all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve closed will stop more water from entering the tank, allowing you to completely empty it.
You’ll also want to have 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 all over your garage, utility closet, attic or wherever the water heater is stored. Make sure you put the other end of the hose far away from your home to prevent 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 discover a problem with the water heater or adjacent piping. At that point, it may be best to hire a certified plumber in the U.S..
After you’ve cut off the water supply, you can shut off the water heater itself. This will be on the thermostat for natural gas water heaters or through 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 due to the heating elements electric water heaters have, which remain submerged. In a drained tank, they can quickly overheat. You should also review the model’s manual, as some water heaters have to be completely full before the heating elements are started.
Even after you’ve shut off the water heater, you’ll need 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 is usually best to leave the remaining steps for the following day.
Tank water heaters are designed with a drain valve you can use to empty the storage tank. Once you’re certain the water supply is disconnected and the water heater itself is off, go ahead and find the drain valve. Some models might have it covered up. Make sure the hose is secure to prevent spilling hot water near you and the water heater.
Your home’s plumbing takes advantage of pressure within 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 closest 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.
Remember that this water might 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 wash away stubborn minerals and other substances from the tank.
Repeat this step until the water appears clear of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of a clog, 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. Seal up the drain valve, disconnect the hose and open the water supply to get things working again. As the water heater tank begins to fill, head back 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 before, don’t forget that some models may need to be completely full before the water can be safely heated. Make sure you review 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 remove 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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