TURN UP the heat
MAINTENANCE IS KEY TO STAYING IN HOT WATER BY PETE ALFANO
As you lie in bed at night counting sheep, have you ever thought about the 100 gallons of water that may be sitting above your head? Because various reasons make it nearly impossible for Texas houses to have a basement, many two-story homes have water heaters in an accessible walk-in attic on the second floor.
That’s great news for helping keep that water hot during a typical Texas summer, but a leak from a faulty valve or pipe or other major malfunction that goes unnoticed can result in water spilling over a drain pan and flooding the floor. That will result in water dripping from the ceiling on the floor below, and, well, you can imagine the cost of the cleanup and repairs and what happens to your homeowner’s insurance premium.
Sure, it makes more sense to have the water heaters in the garage if you have one, although they should be placed on a platform at least 18 inches above the garage floor if the water heater is gas-powered. This protects the heater from potentially combustible gasoline fumes emitted by your car. In any case, a homeowner should not ignore their water heaters. The easiest solution is to get an annual inspection from a plumbing company to ensure the water heaters are functioning properly and efficiently.
However, there are 364 days between inspections, so homeowners should diligently check their water heaters once a week. It is easy to forget about them when they are out of sight and out of mind. Inspect the heaters to determine whether there are any leaking pipes or valves and that no moisture has accumulated in the drain pan, not even a few drops. That could spell trouble is on the way. If there is water around the pipes, valve, or in the drain pan, turn off the water to the heater at the source and call a professional. If you are not getting any hot water, check the pilot light on the water heater. A flame ignites a gas heater, while an electric heater uses a heating element to start the heater. Double-check that the circuit breaker dedicated to the water heaters hasn’t tripped.
Make your water heaters more efficient by insulating the hot water heater pipes. You can also insulate the water heater tank with a relatively inexpensive insulation blanket or even use bubble wrap. Check the thermostat to see the temperature of the water. Most experts recommend keeping water heaters at 140° to prevent bacteria from forming, but others suggest 120° is hot enough and will cut down on scalding. It also will lower your heating costs.
If you are adventurous and want to maintain the water heaters yourself, flush the heater at least once a year. Unplug an electric heater or turn down the thermostat on a gas heater so it isn’t going to start making more hot water. Then turn off the cold-water supply valve and attach a garden hose to the drain valve. Using the pressure relief valve or turning on a hot water faucet in the house allows air into the tank. At this point, you turn on the drain valve, and the tank should begin emptying. Water heaters collect sediment, which affects their performance and life expectancy. You can drain the tank into a floor drain, outside your house, or into buckets. Remember, the water will be extremely hot.
With regular maintenance, a water heater will last for 10 years and probably longer. But neglect will shorten its lifespan and may leave you in financial hot water.