Water Heater Maintenance: How to Keep Your Water Heater In Top Shape

water heater maintenance

Performing water heater maintenance is often an overlooked task. Like many household appliances, your water heater sits in a corner quietly doing it's job. In fact, once it's installed and set to the desired temperature, it's about as close to maintenance-free as you can get.

The average service life of a traditional water heater is 8 to 12 years. Performing several basic maintenance tasks will help your heater maintain it's efficiency and reach old age. You should always check your owners manual for specific details on your unit as manufacturer guidelines may vary.​

Water Heater Maintenance Schedule

Every 2 Months

It's a good practice to inspect your water heater every couple of months. Although, this may not seem like a water heater maintenance task, you'll be familiar with changes that take place and be able to quickly respond to issues before they develop into a problem.

What to check:​

  • Check for Leaks - Check the pipes leading to and from the unit, specifically the pipe joints. Don't forget to check the tank itself for traditional water heaters. 
  • Check Plumbing Joints - Look for corrosion that forms at the plumbing joints. Sometimes you will see excessive amounts and other times it may just look unusual, but if you see corrosion, there's a good chance that you have, at bare minimum, the beginning of a leak. 
  • Check Gas Hoses and Couplings - On gas fueled water heaters there will be a gas line attached to the unit. The gas line is usually yellow and made from flexible hose. Check the condition of the hose as well as the couplings. If you smell rotten eggs, you likely have a natural gas leak.
  • Surrounding Area - Gas fueled water heaters should never have flammable materials stored near the area of combustion. It's a best practice to keep the area surrounding your water heater free from junk and storage. We recommend 3 feet. 
  • Test the T&P Valve - A Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve is a required safety valve for traditional water heaters. Follow the guidelines on how to check the valve to ensure that it opens and closes properly. Use caution, the water discharged will be very hot.
  • Listen for Unusual Sounds - Open a faucet nearby and listen for anything unusual. You may hear a hammer sound when you turn off the water, or a crackling or popping. Some sounds are harmless, but others may be an indication that your water heater needs attention.

Every 6 to 12 Months

  • Flush Your Tank - Flushing your water heater will remove the sediment that builds up inside the tank. Drain several gallons of water thru the drain valve to remove sediment. We'll cover this in detail below.

Some areas are prone to more sediment than others. Installing a pre-filter can help trap the sediment before it enters the tank. Click HERE to read our post on sediment filters.

Once a Year

  • Inspect the Anode Rod - If your water heater is over 3 years old, you should begin checking the anode rod. It should be removed and checked every 12 months for the rest of the heaters service life. Don't be alarmed if you see some surface corrosion and pitting, but if you see large parts of the metal coating missing from the surface of the rod, it's time to purchase a new one. 

How to Flush Your Water Heater

An important part of water heater maintenance is flushing your water heater tank. Most manufacturers recommend performing this task every 6 to 12 months, and if you live in an area with hard water, you'll want to do it sooner rather than later. 

Flushing your water heater simply involves draining several gallons of water from the bottom of the tank. This will draw off sediment that accumulates over time. Sediment build-up reduces the water heater's efficiency as well as shortens it's service life. Depending on how much sediment your tank has accumulated, and if you have any repairs that need to take place, you may need to drain the entire tank.

​WARNING: Water heaters are frequently set to 125° F as a factory pre-set. 125° F can cause first degree burns on contact.

If set to maximum temperature (160ºF to 190º F) serious injuries can occur with even indirect water contact.

Use care when working with heated water and take the necessary precautions.

​Step One
  • Turn OFF the power to the water heater. A gas fueled water heater can be shut down by turning the on/off control knob on the unit; Electric water heaters must be shut down at the circuit breaker. 
  • Allow the water inside the tank to cool. You can open a few faucets inside the house to speed things up, or simply wait a few hours. ​
  • After the water has cooled, turn OFF the incoming water supply at the cold water shut off valve.
​Step Two
  • Open a nearby hot water tap. Leave the tap open to allow air to enter the tank as the water drains.
  • Connect a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and run the other end of the hose outside, to a sump pit, or a floor drain. 
​Step Three
  • With the hose securely in place, open the drain valve by turning it counter-clockwise. The tank should begin draining, but if it doesn't you may have a clogged drain valve. Click HERE to read how to unclog your drain valve.  
  • Inspect the water that is draining from the tank after a few gallons has been drawn. Use a bucket or a screen and pay attention to the  amount of sediment.
  • If there is only a small amount of sediment flowing from the tank, you can likely draw a few more gallons and then close the drain valve and return the water heater back to normal operation.
  • However, if you are drawing heavy sediment from your tank, you'll want to continue the the process. 
  • If you notice heavy white sediment, it may be an indication that the anode rod needs to be replaced. ​The anode rod is designed to sacrifice itself in order to save your tank. Remove the anode rod and check/replace it depending on it's condition.  See below for details on how to perform this water heater maintenance task.
​Step Four
  • ​As you continue to draw water thru the drain valve, turn ON the cold water supply periodically. This will help flush any debris from the inside of the tank.
  • Continue this process until the water draining from the tank is free of all sediment.
  • This nifty rinsing wand can be attached to a hose and inserted into the drain valve hole (the drain valve will need to be removed) and the inside of the tank can be flushed. 
​Step Five
  • This is a good time to complete any necessary repairs, especially if the tank has been completely drained. 
  • Remove the hose and close the drain valve. Turn ON the water supply and fill the tank with fresh water.
  • Do NOT turn the power ON until the tank has completely filled with water. When water is flowing full stream from the tap you left open in your house, your tank is full.
  • Close the tap, and turn ON the power. It may take a few hours for your water heater to fully recover.

How to Replace an Anode Rod

Making sure that you have a healthy anode rod is a critical part of water heater maintenance. Corrosion is a major problem with water heaters, and the anode rod is designed to protect your tank from its harmful effects. 

​An anode rod is also called a sacrificial rod. It is a solid pipe that is long and narrow. The rod is installed on the top of the tank and suspended within, and it is commonly made from aluminum, magnesium, or zinc. Sometimes, the rod is made from a combination of these metals.

​Aluminum, magnesium and zinc are all very susceptible to corrosion. In fact, they are more susceptible than steel. The anode rod's purpose is to allow the corrosion to eat it away, leaving the steel tank alone. Thus, extending the life expectancy of your water heater.

Overtime corrosion will destroy the anode rod to a point where it has been completely "eaten" away. When this happens the rod is no longer able to protect your water heater,  leaving your tank defenseless to the harmful effects of corrosion.

The life expectancy of an anode rod varies depending on the hardness and temperature of the water, but as a general rule, you can expect 4 to 6 years of useful life. 

We recommend checking your anode rod when your water heater is 3 years old and then every year after. This task is an often overlooked component of regular water heater maintenance, however, it plays a huge role in the health and life of your tank.

​Step One
  • Turn OFF your water heater: Gas, use the on/off knob on the gas regulator; Electric, turn off at the circuit breaker.
  • Turn OFF the Cold Water Shut Off Valve to prevent water from entering the tank.
  • Open a nearby hot water tap. This will equalize the water pressure.
  • Carefully draw a few gallons of water from the drain valve (water will be HOT). This will drain water that may still be in the hot water pipes that are above the top of the tank.
  • You do NOT need to drain the entire tank.
​Step Two
  • The anode rod is located on the top of the water heater, possibly under a cap. Look for threads on the top of the tank.
  • Using a wrench or socket (usually 1-1/16") turn counter-clockwise until you can pull the rod from the tank.
  • Don't be surprised if a small amount of water comes up thru the hole.
  • Carefully pull the anode rod upward until you have it fully removed. Try not to touch the sides of the hole with the rod as it may break apart and fall into your tank.
​Step Three
  • Carefully inspect the anode rod. You'll likely see some pitting and surface corrosion. However, if the metal coating is missing large chunks or the end of it is missing entirely, the rod should be replaced.
  • Purchase a new anode rod. Check your owners manual for the proper replacement specs. 
​Step Four
  • Wrap the threads with Teflon tape.
  • Carefully slide the anode rod back into the hole and tighten it securely using the threads on the top of the tank. 
​Step Five
  • Turn ON the Cold Water Supply Valve and allow the water heater to fill.
  • When there is a full stream of water from the nearby open hot water tap, turn OFF the tap.
  • Turn the power ON to the water heater.
  • Check for leaks over the next 24 hours.
Watch the Video: