Of all the things that civilization has brought us, including sliced bread, hot water may be the very best. It’s certainly up there, without a doubt. So, it would follow that if you really value that hot water, you’d want to care for and protect the equipment that makes it possible.
Whether you’re doing it as a bit of regular maintenance or because you’re leaving a vacation or rental home unoccupied, draining said water heater is one of the easiest things you can do to keep that particular appliance in tip-top shape.
Why You Should Drain Your Hot Water Heater
Most water supplies contain lots of random minerals in various quantities. Get enough of them together and you get “hard” water, which really just means it has a lot of minerals in suspension. Over time, these minerals settle out and land in the bottom of your hot water heater. Given enough time, a layer thick enough to interfere with the function of the appliance will develop.
Before you reach that point, a maintenance flush is in order. How often you flush depends on a lot of factors, including the size of the hot water heater and how often it’s used. A good rule of thumb is to flush your water heater every six to 12 months, whether you think it needs it or not. It’s better to wash those particles out before they become a problem.
Of course, draining your water heater isn’t just about flushing particles. If you’re going to leave a house sitting empty for a significant period of time, you should empty the hot water tank. Draining the hot water heater is an important part of winterizing vacant homes, it helps to protect the heater itself from damage due to low temperatures. When the water lines are also drained, emptying them completely keeps them from freezing and bursting.
How to Drain a Water Heater
Draining a hot water heater is a really simple process. In fact, the hardest part is working with water hot enough to scald you. Before you even get started, snagging some thick dishwashing gloves or other heavy, insulated and very importantly, non-absorbent, form of hand protection.If you’re wearing thick cotton gloves, for example, they’ll just hold that extremely hot water against your skin.
With your skin adequately protected, draining or flushing your hot water heater is a piece of cake. Just follow these steps:
- Turn off the water heater. If it’s electric, flip the breaker; for gas units, turn the gas off or set the unit to “pilot.”
- Wait patiently for the water to cool a bit. The longer you give it, the safer you’ll be. (You can skip this step, but do so with caution)
- Turn the cold water off. You can’t drain a water heater that’s constantly filling up!
- Open some faucets. Pick a faucet or two close to the water heater and turn the hot side on and leave it on until you’re totally done with the draining portion of the show. This helps speed up the draining and prevents vacuums from forming in the pipes.
- Attach a water hose. It’ll screw onto the brass drain valve near the bottom of the unit.
- Pick a spot to dump the water. There’s a lot of water about to come out of that hose, so choose your disposal option carefully. Outdoors is a good place to run the hose (just not too close to the house), but if you can’t reach that far, a sump pit, floor drain or big bucket will do.
- Open the valve! This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Open the value (you may need a screwdriver). If you’re flushing the hot water heater, then let it run a few gallons at a time into a bucket so you can tell when the sediment has finished coming out of the unit.
If you’re draining your hot water heater because you’re leaving the house empty for a while, you’re essentially done with the water heater now (winterizing a home is a whole different blog). If you’re flushing sediment, keep going until you see the water run clear, then do all those steps in reverse for a hot water heater with shiny clean insides and hot water.
Hot Water is Pretty Cool, But Flushing the Heater Safely Can Be Tricky…
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