Tank water heaters are a reliable way to provide 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, foreign substances may build up inside the storage tank. This could be sediment or mineral buildup coming from the main water line or an opening in the pipes. Whatever the culprit is, this buildup can negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can clog up drainage and may even lead to premature failure.
Fortunately, draining your water heater and removing sediment buildup is a relatively straightforward 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 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 supplies all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve closed will prevent 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 in your garage, utility closet, attic or wherever the water heater is stored. Make sure you place the other end of the hose far away from your home to prevent the water from seeping back inside.
Finally, a screwdriver will 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 nearby piping. At that point, it might be best to call a certified plumber in the U.S..
After you’ve shut off the water supply, you can shut off the water heater itself. This will be on the thermostat for natural gas water heaters or via a breaker switch for electric models. The pilot setting on gas water heaters can remain 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 an empty tank, they could 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 may be hours before the water reaches a safe temperature, so it is usually best to leave the rest of the process 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 may have it covered up. Make sure the hose is securely fastened to prevent spilling hot water near you and the water heater.
Your home’s plumbing uses pressure inside the piping to maintain 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.
Keep in mind that this water can still have some residual heat. Open the drain valve and allow all the water to drain from the tank. This should carry sediment buildup out of the tank and away from your home. But some buildup might be stuck to the inside of the tank. Turning the cold water supply back on will help flush stubborn minerals and other substances from the tank.
Repeat this step until the water appears free of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of an obstruction, a trained plumber is likely required.
If everything proceeds like it’s supposed to, you should be able to remove most excess sediment hiding inside your water heater. Retighten 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 at appropriate levels.
At this point, you can open the gas valve or flip the breaker switch back on. Like we mentioned earlier, don’t forget that some models may need to be completely 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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