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Make Your Water Heater More Efficient & Durable

By Brett Freeman
Make Your Water Heater More Efficient & Durable

A typical water heater's life goes something like this--it's installed, it operates continuously for years, and it's largely ignored. Then it fails, it is cursed, and it is replaced. Water heaters generally require very little maintenance, but they--and you--can benefit from periodic maintenance. Here are a few tips that can save you money now by keeping your water heater running at peak efficiency, and save you money later by almost doubling your water heater's life span.

Drain Your Water Heater Several Times a Year By this we don't mean that you need to completely drain your water heater. But you should drain approximately a quart of water every three months or so. Doing so removes the sediment that collects over time at the bottom of the heater's tank. Left alone, this sediment acts like a layer of insulation that creates two problems. The obvious one is that your water heater's heating element has to work harder to warm up the water in the tank. It also means that the metal at the bottom of the tank--the part exposed to the heating element--ends up getting heated hotter and longer, which stresses the metal and causes it to fail sooner. Your water heater has a spigot or valve near the base to allow you to drain it. You probably need to attach a hose to avoid spilling water on the floor. And remember, the water coming out is hot!

Change the Anode Rod
Anode rods are put in water heaters to corrode. More particularly, they are put in the water heater to corrode first--that is, before the steel walls of the tank. As strange as it sounds, the water in the tank does not begin corroding the steel as long as there is something more susceptible to corrosion--like the magnesium anode rod--available. Once the anode rod is fully corroded, though, the steel becomes fair game. Replacing your heater's anode rod every few years effectively protects the water heater's walls from corrosion.

Doing so is simple, but loosening the old rod takes some brawn. Turn off the water intake, cut the gas or electricity to the water heater, and drain five or so gallons of water from the tank. The top of the anode rod should be visible above the top of the tank--it is topped with a 1 1/16 hex nut--or in some models, you might have to remove the top of the tank to find it. Using a ratchet wrench, muscle, and a couple of helpers to hold the water heater steady, unscrew the old anode rod and pull it out. Insert the new anode rod (they are available at plumbing supply stores), wrap teflon tape around its threads, and tighten it into place.

The Power of Magnetism
This last trick is simple, but effective. Place a magnet on your water heater's intake pipe a foot or so from where it enters the tank. The magnet attracts metallic calcium particles and keeps them from entering the tank and causing damage.

Following these simple tips takes only an hour or two, but can add a decade or more to the life of your water heater.

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