How to Maintain a Water Heater in 3 Easy Steps

  • 01 of 04


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

    Water heaters are among the most reliable appliances in the house. They usually run quietly and dependable and can last for a decade or more, and with the simple 3-step annual maintenance plan outlined here, you can extend the life of your water heater even further and save money in the process. These steps apply only to tank-style water heaters rather than on-demand, or tankless, water heaters.

    Supplies Needed: 

    • Screwdrivers (as needed)
    • Bucket
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  • 02 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 commonly installed at a pre-set temperature of 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 over $400 per year. Lower temperatures also reduce the risk of scalding.

    To lower the water temperature on a gas water heater, simply turn the temperature dial on the heater's gas valve. Many heaters have an arrow or raised mark indicating 120 degrees. 

    To lower the water temperature on an electric water heater, you may 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 may require a flathead screwdriver). 
    3. Replace the thermostat cover and turn the power back on at the breaker box. Note: 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. 
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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. That's why water heater manufacturers recommend testing the T&P valve once per year. The T&P valve may be located at the top of the heater tank or in the side wall and 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. 

    Note: If the T&P valve does not open and release water, or if it leaks at all after the test, the valve is bad and must be replaced.

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  • 04 of 04

    Do a Mini-Flush

    water heater drain valve
    Performing a mini-flush on your water heater is easy. © 2009

    Removal of sediment from the bottom of the tank is important to prevent rust and corrosion and to maintain energy-efficiency. Although a complete flush of the water heater tank is best, performing a full flush is a bit of work and requires shutting down the water heater. This 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 a few 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.
    3. Close the valve by turning it clockwise.
    4. Empty the bucket.