How to Maintain a Water Heater in 3 Easy Steps

  • 01 of 04

    Servicing a Water Heater

    Construction: Fixing a hot water heater
    Jodi Jacobson / Getty Images

    A water heater typically lasts between 8 and 12 years, but only if it's maintained properly. A simple three-step annual maintenance plan will extend the life of the water heater.

    If you're just going through routine servicing, there's no need to call a professional to complete the job for you. With a screwdriver and a bucket, a homeowner can usually complete servicing the water heater on their own. Before you start, turn off the electricity or the gas switch to the pilot for safety. 

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  • 02 of 04

    Do a Mini-Flush

    water heater drain valve

    Prevent rust and corrosion by removing sediment from the bottom of the tank, a task that also improved the efficiency of the unit. Although a complete flush of the water heater tank is best, it requires shutting down the water heater. A mini-flush works well takes a fraction of the time and can be done while the water heater is running:

    1. Place a bucket under the drain valve found near the bottom of the water heater tank.
    2. Turn the valve counterclockwise to release 1 to 2 gallons of water into the bucket. Some drain valves have a handle, while others have a short stem with a slot for a flathead screwdriver. The water will be incredibly hot, so take care to avoid burning yourself. 
    3. Close the valve by turning it clockwise.

    If the valve won't open, contact a plumber to perform maintenance. 

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  • 03 of 04

    Test the T&P Valve

    water heater t and p valve
    The temperature and pressure valve is essential for safe operation of your water heater. 2009

    The temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve is a critical safety feature of your water heater. It senses dangerous pressure buildup or excessively high temperature inside the water heater tank and automatically opens to relieve the pressure. Without an operational T&P valve, a water heater is at risk of explosion. Therefore, water heater manufacturers recommend testing the T&P valve once per year.

    The T&P valve might be located at the top of the heater tank or in the side wall, and it has a discharge tube that extends down toward the base of the tank. To test the valve:

    1. Place a bucket at the end of the discharge tube connected to the T&P valve.
    2. Lift up on the lever of the valve to open the valve manually. This will release hot water through the discharge tube and into the bucket.
    3. Let the water flow for a few seconds, then let go of the lever and allow it to snap back into place, shutting off the water. 

    If the T&P valve does not open and release water​ or if it leaks after the test, the valve must be replaced.

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  • 04 of 04

    Dial Down the Temperature

    water heater thermostat
    Reducing the temperature setting of your water heater saves money and wear and tear. 2009

    Water heaters are typically installed at a preset temperature of 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends a setting of 120 degrees F for most households, estimating that this can reduce energy costs for water heating by more than 5 percent. Lower temperatures also reduce the risk of scalding.

    To lower the water temperature on a gas water heater, turn the temperature dial on the heater's gas valve to 120 degrees F. 

    To lower the water temperature on an electric water heater, you might need to remove a small metal panel covering the thermostat:

    1. Turn off the power to the water heater by switching off the appropriate breaker in your home's breaker box.
    2. Remove the thermostat access panel and adjust the temperature to the desired setting. This might require a flathead screwdriver.
    3. Replace the thermostat cover and turn the power back on at the breaker box.

    Many electric water heaters have both an upper and lower thermostat. If yours has two, adjust the lower thermostat to the same temperature setting as the upper.