Common tank water heaters last, on average, about 10 to 15 years. Some last longer and, of course, some don’t last as long; but there’s one thing homeowners can do to help extend the life of their water heater, and that’s draining the tank to remove built up sediment.
Water heaters have an anode rod, typically made of magnesium or aluminum, which attracts hard water deposits. The rod exists to “take the hit” so that the water heater itself won’t. The rod should ideally be replaced about once every five years, but that is another maintenance tip altogether and not the focus of this article.
While the rod does a good job at attracting sediment, it doesn’t collect all the sediment. Some settles at the bottom of the tank where it forms what looks like a coral reef pattern, and this sediment needs to be drained out of the tank periodically to help the water heater function up to par.
How often you should drain your water heater depends on how hard your water is and how prone it is to sediment buildup. If you have city water or a water softener, draining the tank at least annually is a good idea. If not, you may want to drain your tank more like every six months.
To drain your water heater, first shut off the power at the breaker or the gas at the gas supply line. Once the fuel source is turned off, you can close the valve to the cold water line that feeds into the water heater and attach a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. You will want to run the hose outside or into a nearby floor drain if you have one. Next, open the pressure relief valve near the top of the tank and open the drain valve to allow the water in the tank to drain out through the hose. Once all the water is drained and the tank is empty, you can open the valve to the cold water supply line to allow water into the tank that will help flush out any remaining sediment. Finally, remove the hose, close the drain and pressure valves, and restore power to the water heater. If your water heater is gas, you’ll need to relight the pilot after reopening the gas valve.
The process may sound a bit complicated, but it’s really very simple. After draining your water heater a time or two, you’ll likely be very comfortable with the process and perfectly capable of doing it as often as needed. If you don’t feel comfortable tackling this job on your own, you always have the option of calling in a qualified plumber who will be able to properly drain your water heater and help extend its useful life.
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