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As a homeowner, one of the most important appliances that demand your attention for maintenance is the water heater. Whether you rely on a traditional tank-based system or a sleek tankless unit, regular maintenance is the key to ensuring a long lifespan and optimal performance. Here’s an essential guide to help you understand and undertake water heater maintenance.

Understanding Your Water Heater

Before you dive into maintenance, it’s essential to understand what type of water heater you have. Gas and electric heaters will have different maintenance requirements. Additionally, the size and capacity of your unit will determine how much water you can use before running out.

Safety First

Safety should be your primary concern when performing any water heater maintenance. Always turn off the power to an electric water heater or the gas to a gas water heater before starting. This will prevent any accidents related to electricity or gas, which can be hazardous.

Regular Inspections

Conducting regular visual inspections can help catch issues before they become serious problems. Look for signs of wear, leaks, or corrosion. Pay special attention to any wet spots on the floor around the heater, as these could indicate a slow leak.

Temperature-Pressure Relief Valve Check

The temperature-pressure relief valve (TPR valve) is a critical safety feature on your water heater. It prevents the tank from building up too much pressure by releasing water when it gets too high. To test it, simply lift the valve partway and then let it snap back into place. You should hear a gurgling sound as some water is released into the drain tube. If it doesn’t, the valve may need to be replaced.

Anode Rod Inspection

The anode rod is what protects your tank from rusting. It should be checked annually and typically replaced every three to five years. You can access it by unscrewing it from the top of the heater. If it’s significantly corroded, it’s time for a new one.

Tank Flushing

Sediment buildup can reduce the efficiency of your heater and clog your water lines. Once a year, you should flush the tank to remove this sediment. This involves turning off the water and power supply, attaching a hose to the drain valve, and letting the tank empty out. Then, turn the water supply on with the drain valve still open to flush the tank until the water runs clear.

Heating Element Maintenance

For electric water heaters, the heating elements can become covered in sediment or burn out. After shutting off the power and draining the heater, you can remove the elements and either clean or replace them.

Checking the Thermostat

Ensuring that the thermostat is set correctly can not only save you money but also prevent overheating. The recommended temperature setting is around 120°F. This reduces the risk of scalding and minimizes mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes.


Properly insulating your water heater and the first few feet of hot and cold water pipes can help reduce heat loss, saving energy and money. An insulation blanket for the tank and foam tubing for the pipes are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.

Expansion Tank Checks

If your system includes an expansion tank, make sure it’s functioning correctly. The internal pressure of the expansion tank should match the main water line’s pressure to function effectively.

Professional Servicing

Even if you’re a hands-on homeowner, it’s wise to have your water heater inspected by a professional periodically. They can handle tasks that are more complex, like checking the unit’s control board and gas connections.

Proactive Replacements

Don’t wait for a complete failure to consider replacing your water heater. If it’s over a decade old, or you’re noticing decreased performance, start looking into newer, more efficient models.


Water heater maintenance is a series of simple steps that can lead to substantial benefits. It prolongs the life of your water heater, ensures it operates efficiently and provides peace of mind. By following this homeowner’s guide to essential water heater maintenance, you can ensure that your showers stay warm and your costs stay low. Remember, if you’re ever in doubt or find a problem that seems beyond your skill level, don’t hesitate to call in a professional. Proper maintenance is about knowing when to DIY and when to call for backup.