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How to drain/flush a water heater

Most people will often neglect their water heaters until they stop working. It is however important to drain your water heater regularly, which will essentially remove the sediment that may have built inside it. This will necessarily extend its usable life while improving its efficiency. Below is a step by step guide on how to drain a water heater.

1. Learn about sediment

You can easily tell that your water heater system has sediment build-up from the rumbling or popping sounds that will often emanate from it. If your gas water heater has sediment, it will feature such hot spots that can potentially damage your tank, causing premature failure. On the flip side, sediments on an electric water heater will often lead to malfunctioning of the lower heating element.

2. Turn off the water supply

If your water heater uses electricity, you will want to turn off the power at the breaker box. On the other hand, if your have a gas heater, ensure to turn the thermostat to the pilot setting. This should be followed by connecting the hose to the drain valve that is located near the thermostat; do not open the valve just yet. Subsequently, turn off the cold-water supply feeding the water heater.

3. Drain out the hot water

This can be done from the inside of your house, by opening up one of the hot water faucets in a sink or tub. This will help you in preventing a vacuum from forming in the lines. Return to the water heater and open the drain valve, which will serve to drain the hot water out of your tank. You will want to make sure that the far end of the horse drains to a place that won’t suffer damage due to the hot water. For instance, you may drain the hot water into an outside driveway.

You can effectively speed the water tank draining process by allowing air into your hot water tank. This can be achieved by opening the water heater’s pressure relief valve; however, you will be risking being unable to the valve shut off again fully, which would allow debris to clog the valve seat. You can however prevent your relief valve from dripping by tapping on the valve lift rod protruding through the valve lift lever.

Alternatively, you can simply remove the relief valve entirely, which will make it easy for you to clean and replace the safety valve. You will want to use an approved pipe sealant or a Teflon tape when replacing the relief valve. At this point, ensure to work neatly while exercising care not to cause leaks.

4. Flush out the sediment

When the water stops flowing out from the far end of the hose, you may turn the water supply back on. This will help you in flushing out the sediment remaining in the heater.  You can drain the water heater by opening the ball valve and flushing the sediment into a bucket. Allow the water to flow until it gets clear. The presence of lime or scale in your water heater may cause annoying noises or even insufficient hot water.

Flushing the tank will see most of the sediment getting out through the full-port valve. You can ensure that the sediment is fully removed by opening the cold water valve located at the top of the tank in short bursts towards the drain. If you cannot get the last bit out, you may attempt vacuuming it using vinyl tubing, coupled with a barbed fitting.

 After the water has run clear from the end of the hose, you may close the drain valve. You should however remember to turn the hot water faucet that is located inside your house back off. If there is no water in the tank, your heating element could blow off. It is therefore imperative to find out if your tank requires being completely full to prevent potential damage. Ensure to read the instructions and warning signs on the tank label before you drain water heater, as each tank may vary.

5. Testing the pressure/temperature-relief valve

Begin by turning the power supply to the water heater back on at the thermostat or the breaker box. This should be done after checking to ensure that the tank is filled with water. After the temperature of the water has been sufficiently brought back up, you may test the pressure relief valve in accordance with your manufacturer’s instructions. This is a safety precaution that is intended to prevent excessive pressure build-up or even overheating of the inside of the tank. In the event that you find the system faulty, you will want to have it replaced by a certified plumber.

You will also want to inspect the valve for cleanliness, while ensuring that the test lever is smoothly opening and closing the valve. Also check to make sure that the temperature probe is not damaged. In the event that you have the slightest doubt pertaining to the condition of the valve or you discover corrosion, which essentially indicates that the valve was previously leaking, you will want to have the valve and its extension tube replaced with one that is of appropriate rating for your water heater.

6. Open the cold water supply

After you effectively drain your water heater, Refill the water tank slowly and carefully. This will help you in avoiding stirring up any debris remaining at the bottom of the tank. If you accidentally stir the debris in the water tank, you will risk clogging a faucet or shutoff valve in the building.

7. Avoid turning on the water heater just yet

Before turning on the water heater, you will want to be sure that the water tank is sufficiently full and there is no trapped air in the system. This can be achieved by allowing hot water to run from a nearby plumbing fixture for a couple of minutes after draining water heater and observing to see whether there is any air coming out of the piping. You may also remove the faucet strainer to ensure that no debris is coming through your piping at this point, and replace the strainer upon turning the water off.

8. Turn on the water heater

You may now turn your water heater on, allowing it to re-heat the water in your hot water tank.

9. Re-check for leaks

You will want to check once more to ensure that there are no leaks in your system. This includes examining the relief valve, the drain of your water tank, the water tank and the cold line shutoff valve of your water heater. If you discover any leaks, it is imperative that you shut down the system and allow it to cool. This should be followed by removing the water pressure and water, and repairing the leak.

If you haven’t flushed your water heater lately, you are risking accumulation of sediments at the bottom of your water tank, which will necessarily shorten its lifespan. You should therefore ensure that your water tank is drained at least once a year; this is especially necessary if you reside in a hard-water area. Besides, sediments affect the efficiency of your water heater.

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