Jon Eakes

Weekly Maintenance for your Home

March – Week 11

Just like preventative maintenance on your car, if you take care of a few small items around the house every week, you can avoid many emergency breakdowns and expensive repairs.

Hot Water Tank

At least once a year, you should flush out any sediment that has collected in the bottom of the hot water tank.  I know that nobody does this, but it is in that manufacturer's fine print that no-one reads -- and it does help your heater to heat better and last longer.

Depending on your water and your water pipes, you may have no sediment, or your tank could be choking. As sediment builds up in the tank, it reduces the amount of space available for hot water. This explains the problem of some homeowners who find that the water is hot, but there seems to be less and less of it. It also makes the tank much less efficient as sediment acts as insulation between the heat source and the water.

There are two basic ways to accomplish this cleaning. The best is to turn off the electricity, gas or oil, whatever powers your hot water tank. Then turn off the valve that feeds water into the tank. Then open a hot water faucet anywhere in the house. Now you are ready to completely drain the tank — much like you are used to doing if you have a hot water tank in an unheated cottage. You can either let it flow onto the basement floor if the drain is nearby, or attach a garden hose to the outlet at the bottom of the tank. Then open the valve and let the water run until either it is totally empty, or it is flowing clean.

For those of you who have that white plastic valve that looks like no more than a round handle with the pipe coming through the centre, don't worry about opening the valve too much and having it fall off. For a photo and details of this valve and why is won't fall off, check the SEARCH tab above for Hot Water Tanks and you will find instructions on how to actually go about "Removing the Valve".

If no water wants to flow by gravity, that usually means that you have enough sediment to block up the valve, or you didn't open that hot water faucet higher up in the house to let the air in.  In this case you may succeed in unblocking it by closing the faucet upstairs, and then turning on the valve that feeds water into the tank under pressure. This will force water out of the drain valve. Be careful, the water is hot and it may begin to come out rapidly. Sometimes this solves the problem, sometimes this only cuts a small channel through a large accumulation of sediment and doesn't really fix what is now a dead tank. I have seen sediment accumulate up to over half the volume of the tank, but usually it is just an inch or so deposited on the bottom.

That's right, drain it to clear flowing water once a year. While you are making a mess down there, you should also test the Pressure Relief Valve. With the water system under full pressure, lift the handle on the pressure relief valve for just a second to see if in fact water comes out. Be very careful again, this is hot water and it should be directed toward the ground by an overflow pipe, often just a plastic pipe aiming down the side of the tank. This is to protect you from having hot water hit you in the face. If this valve leaks, or fails to let water out, replace the vlave immediately. This is the safety valve that keeps your hot tank from bursting if too much pressure builds up inside.