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There’s no pain if you drain

Drain sediment out of your water heater for reliable operation and use

Posted: June 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Scale, rust and sediment collect in the strainer.

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Every homeowner has that little, nagging voice in the back of his or her head. You know, the one that gets loudest when you walk through your garage and past your water heater.

"Drain me. Drain me," the voice insists. And while you pretend you don't hear this nagging, your eyes are sometimes magnetically drawn to the impossibly small drain valve on the water heater - and you can swear the valve forms a mouth with lips speaking the words you are already hearing.

"Drain me."

But you subconsciously decide, yet again, that the whole concept of water heater drainage is a mad and impetuous thing ... and walk on by.

 

Dare to drain

Most homeowners know they should drain their water heaters regularly to remove the sand, gravel, grit and the calcium and other mineral deposits that build up inside them.

This might need to be done once a year or so, depending on conditions, such as the mineral content of the water.

Draining this sediment out early and often will greatly increase the lifespan of a water heater.

Unfortunately, most homeowners, somehow, never get around to it, either because they are just too busy or because they fear attempting the process, or both.

The key to the whole thing, according to local plumber Kirk Stinson, is to drain the water heater when the accumulating particles are small. And should you begin to hear noises coming from your water heater that make you think Sir Lancelot is being boiled alive in there in his armor, well, you've probably waited far too long to attempt to drain it.

"If you haven't done regular maintenance from the beginning," said Stinson, "after about three to four years you'll get golf ball-sized calcium deposits that won't fit through the spout."

And while he noted that there are chemicals available that are supposed to break up such deposits, he doesn't recommend them.

This past Tuesday, I got to see how easy draining your water heater really is, when Stinson drained an 18-month-old, 50-gallon water heater in a Saugus home.

The home was that of David Herzer and Lynn Holmgren, and Stinson had installed this then-new water heater some 18 months before, when Herzer and Holmgren's 7.5-year-old water heater had to be replaced.

While I watched Stinson got to work, and I waited in rapt attention to see what alien beings might flow out of the drain hose, he discussed water heater drainage and water heaters in general, with me.

 

Water heater lifespan

According to Stinson, the average lifespan of a water heater (in its efficiency stage) is eight to 10 years. "But if you don't maintain it, you'll be lucky to see that lifespan," he said. Maintaining your water heater is as important as maintaining your car, he added.

But he warned that, if your heater has not been maintained, and is older than six years, you might be better off leaving it alone. "Just let it live," he said.

 

Rust and leaks

"If you see signs of rust on your water heater, that means it has leaked," Stinson said.

And if you don't currently have a drain pan under the water heater, he said you should change your water heater as soon as possible (and get a pan installed) to prevent leaks from damaging your home.

"Get to the leak before the leak gets to you," he said. "It can cause from $2,000 to $10,000 damage to your home if you don't."

Stinson also recommends you always keep the phone number of a good restoration company handy, in case your water heater does leak.

"First, stop the leak, then make the call to the restoration company," he said.

 

Proper installation

Should you need to replace your water heater, Stinson said it is important that you purchase a model from a top quality company that offers good service. In this regard he recommends American or Bradford White water heaters.

He said the average cost for installation of a 50-gallon water heater ranges from $1,200 to $1,500.

Stinson said your water heater must be installed to code, and he pointed out vital components you should have, including two earthquake straps, and making sure the relief valve at the top is piped to the outside of your home.

Stinson said you must have a drain pan under the water heater that will drain off the side of the water heater stand.

That way, if your water heater does leak, the water will drain harmlessly to the garage floor, where the slight slope of the floor will move it toward the garage door opening and away from the house.

If you don't have a drain pan set up this way, leaking water could damage the stand and flow into nearby walls before you ever notice it.

 

How to drain

Stinson said draining instructions are most likely right on the front of your water heater, and they can also be found in your owner's manual. He also said you can call him with questions about this process (or other plumbing questions) at his cell phone. He said he is happy to help people in this way - and Lynn Holmgren said she knows that firsthand.

But here are some points to note:

First of all, you must remember that the water you drain from your water heater will most likely be very hot. Be careful. You will need a drain hose that can handle that heat and one long enough to reach out to the gutter in the street.

Stinson first turned off the water heater and turned off the water supply. Then he attached his drain hose to the drain spout on the water heater. But before he opened the drain valve, he opened the relief valve at the top of the water heater.

"You need to let air in so it will drain properly," he said. But he noted that if your water heater has a lot of sediment inside, like the kind that has been making noise when the heater is in operation, it could take as long as 24 hours to drain.

Then he opened the drain valve and the hot water began flowing out the hose. When the water heater was empty, he flushed the water heater to remove any last bits of sediment.

Before you refill and reheat your water, Stinson said you should open the largest hot water orifice in your home, which is usually the hot side of the bathtub. "Only then refill and reheat," he said.

When water begins to flow out into the tub, the water heater is full and you can close the tap.

 

Draining green

Stinson pointed out that you are draining an awful lot of water (50 gallons here) when you empty your water heater this way. If you merely run the hose out to the gutter in the street and let the water flow down the gutter, that water is wasted.

In these water-wise times it, might be better to collect that water for use on plants in your yard. Of course, to do this, you need to have the water cool when you drain it.

To accomplish this, merely turn off the water heater when you go to bed the night before you drain it.

 

And the results are ...

For the purposes of this story, we had set up a strainer under the far end of the drain hose to capture what grit and scale might be drained out of our water heater.

Well, I'll have to admit that I was a bit disappointed in the tiny amount of rust and grunge that had collected in our strainer by the time the draining was complete.

It really wasn't more than a couple teaspoonfuls - though there was one piece of rust that was almost large enough to clog the drain valve or hose.

Stinson said that the amount we gathered was typical of a water heater as new as this one, and that if the heater was 3 or 4 years old, the amount collected would be about three times as much.

And all of this went to the point that your drainage is effective when the particles are new and small.

So drain your water heater regularly.

You can reach Plumbing by Kirk at 661-263-6519. For plumbing advice you can call Kirk Stinson's cell phone at 661-212-9249. Visit www.plumbingbykirk.com.

jwalker@the-signal.com

661-287-5524

 

 

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