Maintenance Tip #1 - Preparing the water heater. Turn off the power if its an electric water heater. Turn off the water to the water heater by closing the valve on the cold water line. Its located on top of the water heater. The cold line is always to the right. Open a hot water tap inside the house. Air pressure will come out of the tap. Open the drain valve located at the bottom of the water heater. It looks like a hose bibb. Let a gallon or more out of the water heater. Do not allow anyone to use hot water for the time you are working on the water heater.
Maintenance Tip #2 - Overhead clearance. Anode rods are almost as tall as the water heater itself. More often than not the ceiling is too close to the top of the water heater to be able to pull the entire anode rod out. No matter, lift the anode rod up as far as you can. Check to see if their is any flaking on the surface or any of its core wire is exposed. If not, then you can reinstall the anode as is. Most of the anode rods problems occur at its top because that's where most of the hot water is. If you need to remove an anode rod. Bend it in the middle against the water heater's opening and pull it out. To put a new one in, simply bend it in the middle again and straighten it out at the opening. If the anode top is wobbly when you try to screw it in, pull it half way again and attempt to straighten it as much as possible. If the overhead clearance is less than 2 feet, buy a link-type anode rod. It has “sausage" links of metal attached together. Its very easy to install.
Maintenance Tip #3 - Choosing anodes and replacing anodes. There are three types of metals used to make anode rods. They are magnesium, aluminum, and zinc. If you have naturally soft water, you should install a magnesium anode. Aluminum is used when you have very hard water or water that is softened heavily with salts. Installing an aluminum anode after you discover your previous anode has deteriorated heavily is recommended. If you install a magnesium anode after finding a heavily deteriorated anode could cause a negative reaction in the water and cause pressure to release out of the households faucets. If you have to install an aluminum anode rod, avoid using the hot water to cook with. Modern science believes that aluminum in the water can cause Alzheimer's disease. Don't consume any hot water. Zinc anodes are rare to find already installed in a water heater. Zinc anodes are used to counteract the effects of sulfur smells in the water. Zinc anodes are only 10% actual zinc. The rest is aluminum. Do not consume or cook with a zinc anode any more than an aluminum one. If the rod bends easily in your hands, it is aluminum, if not it is magnesium. Anodes have a protective current of about two feet. Buy anode rods that are too tall for your water heater. Cut them down if you have to. Try to buy anodes that are more than 3 feet and 8 inches.
Maintenance Tip #4 - Add a second anode rod. If your water heater has an exposed hexagonal-shaped head on top of it, you can install another anode rod for more protection for the water heater. Provided the hex-head exists, unscrew the hot water outlet. It's the pipe on top of the water heater on the left. This is where you can install a combination anode rod. Make sure the anode rod has a brass nipple that is 2 to 6 inches long. Hire a plumber to do this or look for the information in my article on anode rods. Warning: Adding a second anode can be quite a task.
Maintenance Tip #5 - Removing sediment. There are three signs you have sediment buildup in your tank: A lower element burnout if you have an electric water heater, A lot of noise if you have a gas water heater, or a foul odor coming from both types of water heaters. If the sediment piles up high enough, the lower heating element in an electric water heater will be covered and unable to heat water. If your hot water suddenly starts to run out long before it used to and you have an electric water heater, then its probably sediment build-up. Gas water heaters get covered up by sediment down at the bottom where the flame heats the burner plate. Water gets covered by sediment and becomes superheated steam. This expansive steam releases pressure that sounds like a loud row happening inside. If you smell a sulfur odor coming from the water heater, that's due to sediment build-up which breeds foul smell bacteria inside of it. To rid yourself of these problems, install a curved dip tube. You can also have a plumber use a special expensive Muck-vac tool. Dissolving the sediment is another option. Also, if you have an electric water heater, you can use a shopvac to suck the sediment out through the lower heating element. The how-to of these approaches is just below this sentence.
Maintenance Tip #6 - Install a curved dip tube and flush the water heater. When you buy a water heater, it usually comes with a straight dip tube. The dip tube is the piece of plastic pipe inside your water heater that extends from the top of the water heater's cold water inlet to the bottom of the water heater. It's job is to get the coldest water near the bottom where it can be readily heated. Sediment forms at the bottom of the water heater and does not move at all except at the small portion of the water heater where the dip tube extends to at the bottom. The water coming out of the tube pushes the sediment away. Trying to wash the sediment out of the drain valve on the outside of the water heater is also impossible. Installing a curved dip tube where the bottom of the tube curves to a ninety degree angle, causes the bottom of the water heater to be swept by the incoming cold water.
Sediment is picked up and kept in suspension in the water. Opening the drain valve and letting cold water enter the water heater for 5 minutes can clear up a lot of sediment. Installing a curved dip tube starts by unscrewing the cold water nipple. It's the pipe on top of the water heater on the right hand side. Stick a curved handled set of pliers in the hole of the cold water inlet and twist the dip tube up and out of the water heater. Get the dip tube high enough and you can pull it out by hand. If this doesn't work and the hole is rusty, scrape the rust away first. Take the new curved dip tube and mark it at the top on the side that the curve points. Wrap the top of the curved dip tube where you will be screwing it in at the top with teflon tape about eight times. Insert the curved dip tube and point it so that water will swirl along the side of the water heater. Also point it the direction going away from the drain valve. The drain valve is located on the outside of the water heater at the bottom. Make sure it is fully open when draining the water heater. If you use another method to clean the sediment out of your water heater, you should still install a curved dip tube. Optimum flushing should be done every six months or even more often.
Maintenance Tip # 7 - Removing sediment with a muck vac. Hire a plumber to use this tool to remove the sediment from your water heater. The tool is expensive and takes some knowledge on how to use. This is the most hands off method to remove sediment there is.
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