How to flush a wa­ter heater

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - By Paul F. P. Pogue

Much like chang­ing your car’s oil, a wa­ter heater needs reg­u­lar main­te­nance for top per­for­mance. A wa­ter heater flush clears out sed­i­ment and min­er­als such as cal­cium and lime, which could im­pede your heater’s per­for­mance.

Whether you have a gas or elec­tric heater, sed­i­ment buildup rep­re­sents a se­ri­ous prob­lem. Ex­perts rec­om­mend that you drain and flush the tank once a year to keep it in good con­di­tion and ex­tend its life. Fall is a good time to flush the tank if you haven’t done so al­ready.

You can ex­pect to pay be­tween $100 and $200 if you hire a pro­fes­sional.

Tan­k­less wa­ter heaters also ben­e­fit from clean­ing and flush­ing. Although they don’t carry the same large amount of wa­ter as tra­di­tional tanks, scal­ing and sed­i­ment can build up in the pipes. This does take a bit longer than on a tra­di­tional tank, so you’ll be pay­ing closer to the $200 end of the scale. What hap­pens if I don’t flush my wa­ter heater?

The sed­i­ment buildup in­su­lates the wa­ter from the heat source on the bot­tom of the tank, which forces the heater to work harder. As a re­sult, the heater re­quires more time and en­ergy to heat the same amount of wa­ter.

If you leave sed­i­ment buildup un­touched, it can cre­ate worse prob­lems in the long term. Wa­ter pres­sure will drop, and pipes can burst. If sed­i­ment builds up high enough, it can shut down the tank en­tirely.

A noisy wa­ter heater is a sure sign of sed­i­ment buildup. How can I flush my wa­ter heater?

You can drain your wa­ter heater your­self with no more tools than a gar­den hose, screw­driver and pro­tec­tive gloves. Take great care when com­ing in con­tact with the heater, pipes, and wa­ter — it will all be very hot!

Turn off the gas or elec­tric­ity. The man­u­fac­turer’s in­struc­tions should ex­plain this. Turn the gas con­trol knob to the “pilot” po­si­tion on a gas heater. For an elec­tric heater, turn off the cir­cuit breaker and dis­con­nect the power sup­ply.

Turn off the wa­ter sup­ply valve.

Turn on the hot wa­ter faucet on a nearby sink, and keep it run­ning while you work. This will pre­vent a vac­uum from form­ing in the lines.

At­tach your hose to the drain valve. Run it to a drain, drive­way or empty bucket. You might need a man­ual pump if the wa­ter heater is in the base­ment.

Open the drain valve with a screw­driver. Al­low the wa­ter to flow un­til it stops. If you’re us­ing a bucket, be pre­pared to empty it fre­quently.

Open and close the wa­ter sup­ply valve sev­eral times to stir up and flush the lin­ger­ing sed­i­ment. The wa­ter will flow quickly, so be ready!

Dis­con­nect the hose and close the drain valve tightly.

Open the wa­ter sup­ply valve. Turn on hot wa­ter faucets on all your fix­tures to re­move air bub­bles.

Fol­low man­u­fac­turer’s in­struc­tions to restart your heater. Make sure the tank is full, or else you may dam­age the heat­ing el­e­ment.

If you run into trou­ble, con­tact a li­censed plumber.


Reg­u­lar flush­ing is an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of wa­ter heater main­te­nance.

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