The EAMA Guide to Water Heater Maintenance and Servicing
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Water and gas heaters are some of the most overlooked appliances for most property managers. Compared to electrical and mechanical systems, whose effects can be felt immediately, hot water seems almost like a given for most properties. Even with regards to plumbing, it’s easier to focus on the condition of a property’s pipes as opposed to the quality of what flows through them.
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As such, few people pay attention to maintaining their water heating systems until a breakdown occurs, and you don’t truly appreciate being able to take a hot shower until you’re forced to take a cold one. That said, we understand that most people are in the dark when it comes to proper water heater maintenance, so we’ve compiled a guide outlining a few key steps to take to ensure that your water heating system is doing its job effectively, as well as several red flags to look out for when considering whether to call a technician for servicing.
Release the Pressure
Most standard water heaters should have a Pressure Release Valve on their storage tank. This valve is a vital part of your water heater, as it allows water to drain in the event the pressure levels become a safety hazard. When performing a maintenance check on your heater, your first step should be to test this valve by lifting and letting go of the tab on it – after shutting off the power and cold-water supply valve, water should flow when the tab is up but stop when the tab is down. If the water doesn’t stop flowing, drain the tank partway and replace the valve.
Check the Thermostat
One of the easiest ways to save money on your heating bills and ensure the longevity of your boiler is to adjust its temperature. You can find the temperature dial on the side of the tank – simply unscrew the cover and use a flathead screwdriver to adjust the dial to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). Every 10 degrees that the temperature is lowered can save you up to 5% on energy costs. In addition, if you’re planning to go on vacation, or simply to be away from home for a few days, remember that most water heaters have a “vacation mode”, whereby the pilot light will stay on, but the water won’t be heated (otherwise, you can simply turn the thermostat down to its lowest setting). With just a couple minutes’ worth of effort, you can save considerably on your next energy bill!
Remember to Flush
Regardless of whether the water running through your pipes is hard or soft, at some point, sediment is going to start building up in your tank and getting into your water. If left unchecked, this buildup can increase the risk of tank damage, reduce its capacity, and clog up the lines. That’s why it’s important to drain or flush your tank at least once or twice a year (more if you have hard water). Luckily, the process is fairly simple, requiring only a bucket and some patience. Make sure the power is turned off and drain the water into the bucket until it’s no longer cloudy. Remember to turn on the cold-water supply valve momentarily to swish around any sediment that has settled at the bottom!
While you’re down there, be sure to have a look at the anode rod, a steel core wire that helps prevent leaks. Now checking the anode rod isn’t as simple as draining the tank, and requires loosening the hex head, inspecting the thickness and coating of the rod to check for calcium buildup, and replacing it as necessary. Don’t worry if all of that sounded like a foreign language, our team at EAMA is fluent in plumbing jargon and is on-hand to help with any maintenance and inspection issues.
Proper Insulation Even though your water tank is likely already insulated to lessen heat loss, adding more insulation is a good way to cut a few more dollars off your utility bill. One of the most common ways of doing this is by wrapping an insulation blanket around your heater. Admittedly, this can be the most tedious part of the water heater maintenance process, as insulating your tank isn’t as simple as wrapping a blanket over it like a mattress; you’ll have to cut around the array of pipes, temperature controls, pressure release valves, and all the other components that will inevitably get referred to as “that part there” when your plumber comes around. And why stop there? You can also insulate your water pipes as well, which is a much easier process since pipe insulation comes in sizes that can fit most water lines. Make sure to cover both the hot and cold-water lines though – insulating the hot water pipe will reduce the amount of heat lost as water passes through it and insulating the cold pipe will prevent condensation from forming in the summer (thus avoiding mold and potential water damage to your walls).
Now, assuming you’ve done all the necessary checks to maintain your boiler, what happens if it still doesn’t work? Regardless of how well you take care of the boiler on your own, sooner or later it’s time to call a professional. Boilers need to be serviced annually, and whether it’s a gas or a water boiler, only someone with the requisite training will be able to fix serious issues that can arise. Below is a checklist of these serious issues – if you’ve inspected your boiler and found any of these, make sure to call EAMA as soon as possible. Our team of plumbing experts will have all the tools needed to solve your dilemma and give you peace of mind.
Does your heater have an irregular/yellow flame?
Does the heater overheat or refill regularly?
Does the water pressure drop unexpectedly?
Has it been a year or more since the heater was last serviced?
“But why do I need to service my water heater anyway?”
Well Mr. Strawman Argument, servicing water and gas boilers regularly will ultimately reduce your expenses in the long run. The cost of regular service and maintenance far outweighs the costs of dealing with a boiler malfunction and its ripples throughout the rest of your homes systems and infrastructure, especially considering the cost of boiler replacements and excess energy usage by faulty boilers. A plumbing professional will also be able to give you a proper diagnosis of your boiler unit based on its condition and age, providing a full overview of its efficiency and whether it is time for a replacement or not.
Don’t feel too bad if you’ve found a few issues you can’t solve on your own – that’s why they invented experts, and that’s why we founded EAMA. Whether the water is running through an office, warehouse, condo, or school, our team of certified experts has a wealth of experience in making sure that the pressure stays in the pipes, and not on you. Scheduling annual maintenance from one of our experienced technicians during the heating season - from June to September - will allow them to conduct several key maintenance procedures, including:
Inspecting and cleaning all fireside surfaces
Inspecting all burner refractory materials
Inspecting all manhole gaskets for leaks
Inspecting and testing all system and safety valves
Cleaning and rebuilding low water cut-offs
Recalibrating all operating controls
Overhauling feed water pumps
Cleaning condensate receivers
Inspecting electrical terminals
Switching boiler automation to summer mode
Checking fuel oil levels
Cleaning and inspecting chimneys
Cleaning and tuning boilers and components
Overall, scheduling routine servicing and repair on your water heating system will significantly reduce costs for future repairs. When an appliance like a water heater is left unchecked for long enough, even the most minor of problems can grow into a serious, costly issue. Maintenance and servicing by a certified professional will not only lengthen the lifespan of your water heating unit, but also revitalize its efficacy, thus improving the overall value of your property.
And just like that,
You’ve successfully maintained your water heater! Don’t feel too bad if you’ve found a few issues you can’t solve on your own – that’s why they invented experts, and that’s why we founded EAMA. Whether the water is running through an office, warehouse, condo, or school, our team of certified experts has a wealth of experience in making sure that the pressure stays in the pipes, and not on you.