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Your water heater might be one of the most important components of your home. When your water heater isn’t working —or when you don’t have one at all — you can’t keep your home or your body properly clean without devoting absurd amounts of time to the effort. Yet, it’s safe to say that you know close to nothing about how to keep your water heater in good working order.

Fortunately, water heater maintenance isn’t particularly difficult or time-consuming. Read the following tips and tricks to keep your water heater working well into the future.


Watch for Leaks

Most water heater maintenance is once-per-year at most — except keeping an eye out for leaks. Water is sneaky and sinister in how it silently and thoroughly damages your home, and because your water heater holds so much water — and has so many pipes coming in and out — the chances are high for a disastrous water leak near your water heater. At least once per month, but more realistically every time you pass by your water heater, you should look for signs of leaks, which might include: 

  • Puddles of water
  • The sound of water dropping
  • Rust around the tank or pipes
  • Warped flooring or drywall
  • Mold or mildew
  • A musty odor

Check the Anode Rod

Water corrodes metal; that’s a fact. Over time, the inside of your water heater will rust due to the corrosive nature of water, and those rusted areas will become weak and likely to leak. Fortunately, there is a solution: the anode rod. Made of a metal that corrodes at a faster rate, the anode rod is a sacrificial piece of your water heater that is supposed to rust, keeping the other metal components safe. However, the anode rod only works if you replace it every couple years, so you should put this bit of maintenance on your calendar.

Flush the Tank

The water in your water heater isn’t perfectly filtered; in fact, it could be packed with all sorts of minerals, depending on where your water comes from. Unfortunately, those minerals aren’t always good for you, and they definitely aren’t good for your plumbing. Sediment from your water can clog the pipes and valves of your water heater, preventing them from functioning properly and reducing the lifespan of your appliance. 

That’s why, once per year, you need to flush your water heater’s tank. First, you need to turn off the water supply to the heater, and then, using the drain valve at the base of the tank, you should empty out all the water into a bucket. Once the water has finished draining, you can shut off the valve and turn the water heater back on.

Check the TPR

The temperature-pressure relief (TPR) valve is a safety feature that allows your water heater to release some water if the temperature or pressure inside the tank gets too high. Both temperature and pressure can cause your water heater to explode, which, as you might expect, is really, really bad. Over time, the TPR can get clogged with minerals or corrosion, which prevents the flow of water in the case of emergency. You can test the TPR by raising and lowering the lever on the valve several times. If hot water gushes out, you’re golden; if you only see a trickle or no water at all, you need to replace the TPR, stat. You can check the TPR whenever you flush the tank, about once per year.

Know When to Upgrade

Finally, a functional water heater isn’t necessarily an efficient one. Even if you are diligent about maintenance, your water heater could be drawing more resources than necessary, costing you untold thousands of dollars every year. It might be worthwhile to start saving for tankless water heaters, which meet the demand for hot water directly without wasting space or energy keeping a tank of water warm. 

Here are some telltale signs that you’ll need to replace your water heater soon:

  • Your water heater is older than eight years. Most manufacturers state that water heater lifespan is between eight and 12 years; after this, you are more likely to encounter serious problems with your appliance.
  • Your water heater doesn’t heat water. Erratic or poor functionality isn’t acceptable in any appliance, especially such a crucial one. If small repairs don’t fix the problem for long, you’ll need a replacement.
  • Your water heater is rusted through. There is no cure for a water heater with rust spots. Instead of replacing with a water heater that has similar faults, you might as well upgrade.

You keep the other major appliances in your home well-maintained — why shouldn’t you do the same for the most important, your water heater? Small tasks make a big difference in how your water heater operates, so the sooner you start taking care of it, the better.