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Water Heaters - Ownership Do's and Don'ts

Hot water is essential to daily life. While we mostly use it for cleaning, it’s such an essential part of life that when the hot water runs out, our plans for the day screech to a halt. When your hot water tank is on the fritz showers are uncomfortable and it takes more energy for appliances to heat up water to temperatures necessary for cleaning. At the same time, keeping hot water in your home is expensive. The amount of energy it takes to keep a hot water tank full and heated is a large part of your energy bill. So what can you, as a savvy and frugal homeowner, do to keep inexpensive hot water in your home year round?

Start with Preventative Measures

  • Use an insulating jacket for your water heater and the hot water pipes leaving the tank. This will help to preserve heat inside the tank so you aren’t running the heat constantly.
  • Set the water’s thermostat to 120 degrees. Just as with home heating and cooling, adjusting the thermostat a little will help you to save energy. Never reduce the thermostat on your hot water tank below 120 degrees as colder temperatures leave your water at risk for microbial life to grow in your tank.
  • Test your water for contaminants and hard water. Hard water is difficult to warm up. It requires more energy and can coat heating elements over time, reducing efficiency. If you notice hard water stains or soaps that won’t lather, get your water tested and install a whole home filter or water softener as needed.

Consider Upgrades

If your water heater breaks down regularly it is likely time for a change. Any heater that is over 10 years old should be inspected to see if it’s time to upgrade. While installing a new water heater is affordable and is a great way to increase efficiency, it’s likely not the best path to take if your water heater is still good. That being said, if energy efficiency is your main concern, consider a tankless water heater. While it will take a short time to warm up the water at the faucet, tankless heaters don’t have to store heated water, decreasing energy costs dramatically. If you’re already considering a replacement, ask about how well a tankless system may work for your home.

Regular Maintenance

Many people think that, so long as the water is running and hot water is still available, their water heater is fine. But a maintained water heater will run for longer and with increased efficiency when compared to a tank or tankless heater that’s just been allowed to sit and run for five years without maintenance. A professional tune-up Is essential for testing connections and looking for leaks but at the very least you should take the time to drain the sediment from your tank (roughly twice a year). To do so:

  • Turn off power or gas to the heater and shut off the cold-water inlet.
  • Connect a garden hose to the water tank’s drain valve and place the other end in an area that can handle scalding-hot water.
  • Open the pressure relief valve, followed by the drain valve and allow the tank to drain completely. This draining is what allows the sediment to flow out of the tank so make sure the tank is completely empty before you stop.
  • Close the drain valve, disconnect the hose, and close the relief valve.
  • Open all hot-water spigots in your home.
  • Turn on the cold-water inlet for your water heater (do not turn power or gas back on).
  • Close each hot-water spigot in your home as water begins to flow from it. Do not turn on power to your tank until after you have shut off all of the hot-water spigots.
  • Turn on your water heater.

Be sure you wait to turn on your water heater until all spigots have been turned off. This is to ensure that your water tank has filled before you engage the heating elements inside. It’s especially important for electric water heaters which have an upper heating element that can burn out if water has not filled the tank yet.

And with that, you’re on your way to many years of quality hot water!