Maintaining a water heater is not for the faint-of-heart. Water heaters can literally explode if improperly installed or maintenance is ignored. For those who are brave enough to try to tame the beast, it is important to keep a few safety measures in mind when maintaining or repairing a water heater. Please remember that there is no shame in calling a professional when needed. Getting the job done safely and effectively trumps pride every time.
Here is what you need to know when working with a water heater:
• Before you do anything, turn it off! Electric water heaters can be turned off and unplugged. Gas systems need to be turned onto pilot and the gas to the unit should be completely shut off. If you cannot complete this step, call a plumber.
• Turn off the cold water line. Communicate with everyone who uses plumbing that is hooked up to the water heater to let them know what you are doing. Tell them to only use cold water when absolutely necessary, and not to use the hot water until you let them know that it is okay. Then turn off the cold water line that is on the top, right-hand side of the heater. To relieve the pressure in the lines, let hot water flow in one of the sinks in the house. If you cannot complete this step, call a plumber.
• Open the drain valve. On the bottom of the unit, you should see a faucet-like valve. Open it like you would an outside water faucet, and let it pour about a gallon of water in a bucket. Be careful! The water is extremely hot. If you cannot complete this step, call a plumber.
In addition to the above steps, here are some things that you should know about your water heater:
• If you suspect that your gas water heater is leaking, spray some glass cleaner on the connection between the gas line and water heater. If there is a leak, the cleaner will bubble and foam and it is time to call a plumber.
• Draft diverts have the very important job of sending gas fumes outside of your home through a vent, but if the draft diverter is in a bad location or is improperly installed, it can send the fumes back into your home. If you smell gas fumes at any time, call a plumber.
• It is very important that pipe insulation does not cover the dielectric unions, fittings, or copper flex lines. Generally located on the cold and hot water lines, insulating these will increase the damage caused by a leak. It is also important that you keep the insulation away from the draft diverter because insulation is flammable and can ignite if too close to gas fumes.
• If you have gate valves on your water heater, you may want to consider replacing them with ball valve. This type of valve is more reliable than a gate valve, and holds up better to years of use, especially in hard water conditions.
It is great to do a job yourself, as long as you do not put yourself, your family, or your tenants in danger. If the job takes a turn for the worst, call a plumber. It’s much cheaper to pay for a professional to do the job right than to pay a professional to fix a job that was done poorly.