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You might assume your water heater doesn’t need maintenance, but if you check the instruction manual, you’ll see it recommends a simple checkup once a year. Here’s how to maintain a water heater so it performs efficiently and lasts years longer.

Make Preparations

The night before your project, turn off the natural gas or shut off the circuit breaker powering the water heater. Then, close the water inlet valve. The tank will be cool and ready to go by morning. Make sure you have all the supplies you need to maintain a water heater, including a garden hose, gloves, flat blade screwdriver, socket wrench, and Teflon tape.

Test the Pressure Release Valve

This valve is located on the upper half of the tank. Its purpose is to release pressure if the tank malfunctions. To test this valve, lift the lever with gloved hands, and then let go. It should rapidly snap back into place and make a gurgling sound. If that’s not what happens, have the valve replaced.

Once you’re sure the valve is working properly, open it to release pressure while the tank drains in the next step.

Flush the Tank

Attach a hose to the drain valve near the bottom of the tank and lead the other end outside. Turn the drain valve with a gloved hand – or, in the case of a handle-less stem valve, insert a flat blade screwdriver, and then turn the valve.

If you watch the water drain out of the hose, you might notice it’s dirty at first. This is why you’re flushing the water heater – to remove sediment buildup from the bottom of the tank! Let the water drain for 10 to 30 minutes while you work on other tasks.

Inspect the Anode Rod

Once the tank is partially empty, you can check the anode rod. This sacrificial component attracts corrosion to prevent the steel tank from rusting. The life expectancy of an anode rod is four to six years, so start checking it annually once the water heater reaches three years old.

To complete this task, remove the cap on top of the water heater to expose the anode rod’s connection point. Unscrew the rod with a socket wrench until it clears the threads.

Lift the rod straight out and examine it. Surface corrosion and pitting are acceptable, but you should replace the rod if large chunks are missing. Wrap the thread of the new or existing anode rod with Teflon tape and carefully reinstall it.

Refill & Restart the Tank

Tightly close the drain valve and remove the hose. Then, close the pressure release valve. Next, open the water inlet valve so the tank can refill. Once it’s completely full, turn the gas or circuit breaker back on and relight the pilot if necessary. To maximize your energy savings, set the water heater to 120 degrees instead of the usual 140 degrees.

For help maintaining the water heater in your San Jose-area home, please contact Mike Counsil Plumbing at 408-618-8002.

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