Tank water heaters are a reliable way to provide a fast supply of hot water for your home. The inclusion of a storage tank ensures some hot water is readily available. But over time, foreign substances may accumulate within the storage tank. This could be sediment or mineral buildup arriving from the main water line or an opening in the pipes. Whatever the culprit is, this buildup can lower the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can clog up drainage and may even result in premature failure.
Fortunately, draining your water heater and clearing out sediment buildup is a relatively simple task. An experienced plumber in the U.S. can handle the process, but you can also drain the tank yourself 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 want 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 might need to drain the tank more regularly if you do), the water main supplies all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve sealed will prevent more water from entering the tank, allowing you to completely drain it.
You’ll also want to get 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 kept. Make sure you put the other end of the hose far away from your home to stop the water from seeping back inside.
Finally, a screwdriver will help you loosen stubborn screws or valves. You shouldn’t need any more tools than this unless you stumble upon 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 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 must be completely off. This is because of the heating elements electric water heaters use, which remain submerged. In an empty tank, they can quickly overheat. You should also check the model’s manual, as some water heaters must be completely full before the heating elements are turned on.
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 is often best to leave the remaining steps for the following day.
Tank water heaters have a drain valve you can use to empty the storage tank. Once you’re confident 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 firmly attached to prevent spilling hot water near you and the water heater.
Your home’s plumbing takes advantage of pressure inside the piping to sustain a consistent flow of water from the main water line to the rest of the house. This pressure needs to be relieved before the hot water can actually flow from the tank. By heading to the closest faucet or spigot, you’ll release 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.
Don’t forget 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.
Keep repeating this step until the water looks clear of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of a clog, a trained plumber is likely required.
If everything proceeds normally, you should be able to remove most excess sediment stuck 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, return to the hot water tap you opened. Once cold water starts to flow, you know the pressure is back at appropriate levels.
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 might need to be entirely 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 flush sediment buildup and keep things running at maximum 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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