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Flushing Your Hot Water Heater is a Must!

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by Jim Neidner

Jim Neidner is a national award-winning
builder/remodeler and radio home host.


Seems like it is most noticed late at night when you're just about to fall asleep. Suddenly you hear something making cracking, popping or bubbling sounds. At first it startles you and you want to investigate so you try to wake up your spouse to have him (or her) investigate the noise, but no one will get out of bed to find out where the loud noise is coming from.

The noise is probably coming from your old hot water heater and I'll bet you have never flushed your water heater. Well, don't feel bad. Neither have thousand of others. We don't seem to give it much thought. If the heater goes out, we'll just buy another one. However, when the old hot water heater-holding tank rusts out it can do a huge amount of home damage. I have always been baffled at the hot water heater manufacturers. They don't encourage home owners to perform annual maintenance on their hot water heaters by a simple flushing. Maybe they like us spending our money buying a replacement water heater much sooner then is necessary?

Here are several reasons why you should flush your hot water heater! Flushing will save you money on energy cost. Additionally, the sediment in the bottom of the tank displaces your hot water volume, so you have less available hot water, not to mention the calcium, scale, rust, dirt, and iron in the tank bottom. Bacteria can also grow in the older tanks and you sometimes smell sulfur or rotten egg odor.

Once you perform the first flushing you might reconsider making hot tea or hot chocolate directly from the hot water tap. This dirt coming out of the bottom of the water tank is pretty ugly.

I've seen as much as eight inches of sediment in the bottom of a 15-year-old hot water heater and the family always complained of not having enough hot water! Flushing your tank can also help the unit last longer and by cleaning the unit on a yearly basis you will notice any future rusting on the outside which could tell you it's time to replace the unit and prevent flooding your home.

There are several ways to flush a hot water heater, however, here's what works for me.

Electric water heaters: be sure to turn the power off at the main service entrance box (circuit breaker or fuse box). If it's gas: turn the red temperature dial to vacation. At the top of the water heater tank is the cold water inlet valve. Turn it off. At the bottom of the tank is a hose bib or (drain cock). Hook up your garden hose and take the other end outside and away from your flower beds. If you have a floor drain, place the end of the hose in the floor drain. Keep in mind the water coming out of the tank is real hot, so caution others in the area.

At the top of the water heater and coming from the cold water inlet line is normally a flex hose that's connected to the top of the hot water heater, allowing the water into the tank. Using pliers, unscrew the flex-hose connection at the top of the water tank and just flop it over out of the way. This relieves the water pressure in the water supply line and tank, allowing air to enter the tank for easy drainage.

After the tank is drained once, re-fill it about half full and drain it one more time. Now you have cleaned your unit and you are ready to close it back up. Make sure you have the flex-hose on tight again and no drips at the top of the tank. Have some pipe-dope on hand just in case any drips appear. Also while the tank is empty, it is a good time to make sure it's level and if not, shim and make the tank level before you refill with water.

If you have noticed bad odors coming from your water; smells like sulfur or rotten eggs, it could be bacteria inside the hot water holding tank. First re-hook the inlet connection line and allow the tank to re-fill at least half-full. Add one gallon of bleach using a funnel, pouring it in at the top of the water heater at the inlet opening. Then completely fill the tank allowing it to set for about 30 minutes. This should kill any bacteria in the tank. 30 minutes later go to each plumbing fixture (bathtubs, sinks, etc.) and turn on the hot water side and let it run for about 15 minutes. This should remove most of the bleach in the tank and you're good to go for another year.

If you have to replace your water heater don't buy the cheapest hot water heater. You might be saving money going in but it will cost you more in energy consumption later. Also read the 'Energy Factor' on the tank labels. The higher the numbers the better the fuel efficiency. If you have really hard water you might want to flush your system twice a year or consider a water softener. Water softeners can also help with not having to flush the unit as often. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, check your T&P valve (temperature pressure relief valve) and make sure it's working. Pull the level and it should allow hot water to escape. If T& P valve is not working, replace it immediately. Also it's recommended that the T&P valve should be replaced about every 3 to 4 years for your safety.

Last comment: water heaters in garages should be placed on a platform at least 18" off the garage floor in case gasoline or other flammable products should spill. Be safe and take care of your hot water heater. It will last much longer than you think.

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