Draining Water Heater the Great Debate: Do You Need to and When Should You

WATER HEATERS
When to drain water heater

There are few things worse than being in a suddenly-cold shower. Unfortunately, water heater tanks are appliances we often take for granted until they stop working.

These heaters can run efficiently for years if they’re installed well and maintained properly, but they do require a little bit of upkeep at times. This includes things like checking the pressure valve or inspecting the area for leaks.

But one thing homeowners may be a little less clear on is the draining water heater issue. Is it really necessary to drain a water heater? And if so, when do you do it?

If you’re ready to take this preventative maintenance into your own hands, here are a few tips.

Reasons for Draining a Water Heater

As sediment accumulates at the bottom of your tank, no matter the quantity, it can gradually make your tank work harder to heat the water. This in turn means you’re throwing more money at your utility bills each month.

An additional risk is that the buildup of sediment can damage your water heater over time. This sediment, usually composed of various minerals or scattered debris, can eventually cause your tank to malfunction.

The idea behind draining a water heater regularly is that removing this sediment can lengthen its lifespan, earning you hot showers for longer. After all, a clean and unclogged water heater doesn’t have to work as hard to keep your water warm!

Signs You May Need to Drain Your Water Heater

It can be hard to diagnose what’s going inside the metal walls of your water heater. Without a way to see inside, it’s hard to say with 100% certainty that your tank needs draining until you’re doing it. As you try to decide the best course of action, here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • No or little hot water. If your water heater tank isn’t actually heating your water, it’s likely a sign of either a faulty burner or a buildup of sediment inside. In this case, you should drain your tank. Depending on the type of buildup, you might also need to add cleaning chemicals such as vinegar or a lime descaler—but if you aren’t sure what minerals are at play, call an expert for help.
  • Strange smells. These odors may mean there are bacteria at work in the sediment buildup. If so, you may need a plumber to sanitize the tank and drain it for you.
  • Unusual noises. Loose sediment within the tank can scrape against the metal as the water enters and leaves the tank.

So Do You Need to Drain Your Heater?

The answer is, it depends.

Every hot water tank is different. Your needs will depend on a spectrum of factors, including:

  • Whether you’ve noticed any of the signs above.
  • Where you live in West Columbia or the surrounding region. The water flowing to each area will see a different number of water filters on its way to the homes there.
  • The mineral content and softness of the water running to your home. Harder water is in turn harder on your water heater tank. Fortunately, West Columbia has moderately soft water.
  • The age of your water heater tank.
  • Your manufacturer’s recommendations.

As for when to perform this type of maintenance, it also depends on the factors above, as well as your manufacturer’s recommendations. Some companies advise that you drain off a gallon of water once a month. Others recommend a full drain once a year. However, as a general rule of thumb, once to twice a year is ideal.

How to Drain Your Water Heater

Ready to take the plunge? Below, we’ve gathered some general tips on how to drain your tank.

  1. Shut off the water supply. You can do this via the shutoff valve at the top of the water heater.
  2. Turn off the power. To protect the heating elements, make sure to check your fuse box to disconnect the heater from your home’s power. For gas water heaters, you’ll need to shut off the gas supply.
  3. Let the water cool. Wait at least a few hours to minimize the risk of injury from the hot water.
  4. Attach a hose to the water heater drain valve. You can use your garden hose for this. Attach it to the valve at the bottom of the water heater drain pipe below the tank. Put the other end of the hose somewhere you’re comfortable allowing the runoff to go. We recommend not using a water heater drain pan for this, as you’ll be draining a great deal of water.
  5. Turn on a hot water tap near the water heater, to help the water from your draining water heater flow more quickly.
  6. Open the drain valve to let the water flow out of the tank until it’s empty.
  7. Turn the water to the tank back on. This will flush out any remaining sediment. When the water from the other end of the hose runs you know the draining is done.
  8. Shut off the hot water tap.
  9. Turn the water heater on again.

Also, note that this is a good opportunity to check the valve as well. If your drain valve is worn and leaky from prior draining, it may be time for a water heater drain valve replacement or upgrade, especially if your heater still has the cheap plastic valve it came with.

Long-Term Preventative Maintenance

Draining a water heater may not seem all that important in the grand scheme of things, but this critical chore can lengthen the lifespan of your investment with just a few hours’ work. For best results, add it to your yearly maintenance checklist to keep it top of mind.

As always, if you’re unsure of your ability to do this kind of maintenance on your own, call a professional. We’re happy to help!

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