Maintaining Your Tank-Type Water Heater

Tips for Maintaining Your Water Heater

In recent years, new, upgraded, and modified plumbing code requirements and the rising cost of manufacturing intricate plumbing equipment have driven the expense of replacing a water heater noticeably. Plumbing Plus is dedicated to doing our part to help our clients and community get the most out of their water heaters to delay a big replacement expense as long as possible. The best way to both increase a water heater’s life expectancy and increase efficiency – which reduces operating costs and increasing operational safety – is usually performing routine maintenance.

Annual Flushing & Inspection

Most people wouldn’t drive their car for a year without changing the oil and rotating the tires. So why do so many people choose to just “set it and forget it” when it comes to water heaters? It is an expensive investment that needs routine maintenance, just like a vehicle, even if it is not as obvious.

Water heater manufacturers usually recommend an inspection and flushing of the water heater, which removes sediment that collects within the tank, be performed once a year by a professional. Water heater flushing may need to be performed even more frequently, though, based on the water hardness rating in your region. “Hard water” is water that is high in mineral content, like calcium and magnesium. In San Diego County, the water hardness rating is consistently 14 or 15 gpg. To put this into context, “very hard water” has a rating of 11 gpg.

Very hard water heated in a water heater will create mineral bonds that form limescale, which sinks to the bottom of the tank. As time goes on, the limescale will build up into thick deposits that adversely affect the efficiency and longevity of the water heater. Annual flushing helps reduce and minimize limescale build up. Plumbing Plus provides a comprehensive annual flush and tune-up, in which we will flush your water heater to remove sediment build up as well as inspect and test the water heater controls to ensure that your water heater is performing optimally.

Sacrificial Anode Rods & Routine Replacement

Probably the most important part of your water heater when it comes to preventing tank failure also has the most dramatic name: the sacrificial anode rod. If you do not know what this is or where it is located, you are not alone. Most people have never heard of a sacrificial anode rod and, therefore, fail to ever replace it.

A sacrificial anode rod is a magnesium or aluminum rod that is screwed into the top of a water heater. The elemental composition of the anode rod attracts corrosive properties of the tank’s water, drawing the corrosion away from the glass-lined steel tank and protecting it from harm. When a sacrificial anode rod is entirely consumed by corrosion, it can no longer protect the tank, and a premature water heater tank failure will not be far behind due to rapid corrosion. For this reason, it is crucial to know when your sacrificial anode rod needs to be replaced and to take care of it.

Furthermore, homes with water softener equipment that utilizes salt or potassium connected to a tank-type water heater tend to see faster corrosion of sacrificial anode rods. The salt and potassium that softens water is more corrosive than untreated water and eats away at the rod, and eventually the tank if maintenance is not performed, all the quicker. Our plumbing specialists at Plumbing Plus estimate that a tank-type water heater connected to a water softener will fail within 3 to 7 years if its sacrificial anode rod is not replaced. In nearly all inspection cases for such water heaters, the anode is completely consumed.

Recommended replacement intervals for the sacrificial anode rod:

  • 6 to 10 years: Un-softened or hard water
  • 2 years: Softened water

Since water softeners remove hard water minerals like calcium and magnesium, the annual flushing of the water heater might not be necessary. Instead, you likely can have your tank-type water heater flushed, inspected, and tuned-up once every two years due to the reduced amount of hard minerals. This is the trade-off for needing to replace the sacrificial anode rod more often