Hot Water Heater Maintenance

Check how proper water heater maintenance of gas and electric-powered tank-type units increases performance, efficiency and longevity.

Maintaining a water heater is very simple DIY project that doesn't require any special skills or tools. Maintenance is very useful operation so your hot water heater will perform like new, keep the efficiency up and provide years of safe, worry-free and reliable work.

This article explains how to keep it in good shape the main component parts and what kind of problems can occur if you don't:

We recommend using the manufacturer's manual as it contains all the necessary instructions for the installation, operation and maintenance of gas and electric water heaters with the essential information and warnings you should know; also schedule, checklist...

Why periodic maintenance is important

Periodic gas or electric water heater maintenance is necessity as the not-maintained heating unit might put you or heater in danger, like when the flue gases are escaping due to an obstructed or deteriorated vent system or when consumed anode rod decreases tank's ability to fight corrosion.

In some installations you can do the frequent maintenance depending on the amount of use and the operating conditions of the water heater.

When removing some parts for the inspection precaution measures has to be taken; like with the manifold and burner assembly. Before performing any maintenance here, turn the temperature dial on the gas valve to its lowest setting and/or turn the gas off.

Why and how to maintain the vent system

You should inspect the venting system annually, at least once, to prevent potential Carbon Monoxide gas leaking and breathing hazard. During this regular gas heater maintenance you should look for and check the following:

rusty vent

  • Are venting pipes properly connected to prevent escape of gases?

  • Obstructions that might affect the proper venting of the flue gases and air draw for gas combustion.

  • Check are the proper clearances maintained from combustible materials and for proper venting.

  • Damaged, sooted or deteriorated flue pipe as it can cause the leakage of products of combustion and improper venting.

  • Rusted flakes in the area at the top of the heater.

  • Remove any corrosive chemicals like waxes, bleach, spray can propellants, cleaning solvents, swimming pool chemical, located in the same room as water heater. Chemical corrosion of the venting system can be very dangerous.

Note: Do necessary operation like cleaning, repairing or replacing the venting system before resuming operation of the gas water heater.

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How to maintain the gas pilot burner

Preventive water heater maintenance like visual inspection of the main burner and pilot burner should be done at least once a year.

Gas burner

  • Check for any obstruction at the bottom of the water heater in area where the opening for air is located.

  • Inspect the air intake screen (some models) and clean the accumulated lint, dust or oil.

  • Clean the orifices and related parts of any dirt and other foreign material.

  • Use wire brush and clean the combustion chamber to remove scale deposits and debris.

  • Check are there any products like gasoline, adhesives or solvents with potential flammable vapor present in the same room... remove it.

  • Check for sooting as it might impair normal combustion (The fine black particles as a result of the incomplete combustion).

If the gas burner needs cleaning, always put the gas control knob to the "OFF" position and remove it from the combustion chamber.

How to maintain the anode rod

Keep in mind that the anode rod or usually called sacrificial anode is consumed during the time. If your water heater has more than one, you should inspect every single anode. Anodes are installed on the top of the heater and submerged into the water.

removing anode rod

Some manufacturers recommend often inspection, annual checking is the most common, but it depends on water quality, like hardness, and usage of softener.

If during regular water heater maintenance you notice that the steel core is exposed more than 6" either from the bottom or the top, middle of the rod is exposed or if diameter is less than half the original size, it is time to replace the anode rod.

TPR valve maintenance

Schedule the maintenance of the temperature and pressure relief valve (TPR) at least once a year. Recommendation is to check that the valve operates freely and has not become encrusted with the lime. If it is leaking water you must replace it.

tpr valveLift the valve gently and then release it, the lever should return to its normal closed position. If it doesn't returns back, lift the TPR valve lever several times until the valve seats properly without leaking. Keep in mind that any released water is very hot.

If you have a closed water supply system and see periodical discharges on TPR valve, this may be due to thermal expansion and proper action has to be taken.

Check the dip tube

Most of the standard, economy-value water heaters have the low quality dip tubes. The purpose of this element is to run the cold water into the storage tank, and also to reduce the sediment build-up, if the more advanced type is installed.

The recommendation is to replace the straight dip tube with the curved type or one with the jet ports, so the turbulent water flow swirls the sediments around and out when flushing. The cross-linked polyethylene dip tube is a good choice.

Low quality tubes, depending on the local water quality, can break and crumble into small pieces, clogging the water filters and other elements. This can further affect the normal heating operation, its efficiency and performance.

Regular maintenance to prevent the sediment build-up

Maintenance is also a way to save energy and reduce the energy bills. Since the fuel cost and hot water consumption are constantly increasing, deliming for example has become a necessity of the modern maintenance. The more you heat more lime comes out. Since it is preventing normal heat transfer and decreasing the efficiency and performance, recommendation is to remove it by adding the chemicals.

The water heater tank should be drained and flushed out once a year also. By flushing the water heater, sediments that are decreasing the performance and efficiency are removed. Drain a few quarts off the bottom of the tank, or suggested by the manufacturer and you may prolong life of the water heater. The drain valve is located at the bottom of the unit.


A regular and correctly performed maintenance on a heating system is a must, not only because the water heaters are expensive when broken, but because hot water is a necessity and it should not be taken for granted. The above article was focused only on gas-type heaters, while the tips on how to take care of the electric units is found here.

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