How to Properly Perform Maintenance on Gas Water Heaters

How to Properly Perform Maintenance on Gas Water Heaters
October 4, 2012 Lorelie

Despite what other water heater owners think, gas water heater maintenance is actually a very simple DYI project that does not require any special tools or skills.  Just like in any other appliance, conducting maintenance on your water heater unit can help you keep your water heater performing at its best, maintain its efficiency in heating water, provide you years of service and it also saves you the trouble of having to buy a new water heater unit.

Gas Water Heater Maintenance – The Vent System

You must inspect the venting system of  gas water heaters at least once a year in order to prevent carbon monoxide gas from leaking because it is a health hazard once it does.  When conducting this regular gas water heater maintenance, you should look out for:

  • Are the venting pipes connected properly in order to prevent the escape of gases?
  • Obstructions that might potentially affect the proper venting of the flue gases and air draw for gas combustion.
  • Check if the proper clearances are maintained from combustible objects and for proper venting.
  • Damaged, deteriorated or sooted flue pipes because it can cause the leakage of products of combustion and improper venting.
  • Rusted flakes in the area located at the top of the heater.

Take Note:  Get rid of any corrosive chemicals such as bleach, waxes, spray can propellants, swimming pool chemical and other cleaning solvents and do not let it stay in the same room with the water heater unit.  This is to prevent chemical corrosion of the venting system, which could be very dangerous if it happens.

Gas Water Heater Maintenance – Gas Pilot Burner

In order to ensure that your gas water heater runs smoothly each time, perform simple preventive maintenance such as visual inspection of the main burner and the pilot burner at least once every year.

  • Check if there is any obstruction at the bottom of the water heater unit, specifically the area where the opening for air is located.
  • Inspect the air intake screen (present in some models) and clean the accumulated dust, lint or oil.
  • Use a wire brush and clean the combustion chamber by removing scale deposits and debris.
  • Check if there are any products such as adhesives, gasoline or solvents with potential flammable vapor present in the same room with the water heater unit. Remove them from the room.
  • Check if there is sooting occurring because it might potentially impair normal combustion processes.  Soot is what you call those fine black particles that are the end result of an incomplete combustion.

If in case the gas pilot burner requires cleaning, make it a point to always put the gas control knob to the “OFF” position and then remove it from the combustion chamber.

Gas Water Heater Maintenance – Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve (TPR Valve)

Schedule the maintenance of the temperature and pressure relief valve (TPR valve) at least once a year.  It is recommended that you check if the TPR valve operates smoothly and has not become encrusted with lime and other debris.  If in case you find that it is leaking water, you have to replace the valve.

Gently lift the valve and then release it.  The lever must return to its normal closed position.  If it does not return back, simply lift the TPR valve lever a few more times until the valve seats properly without any leaking.  Remember that any water that is released will be very hot.

If in case you have a closed water supply system and you tend to see periodical discharges on the TPR valve, this might be because of the thermal expansion, and proper measures have to be taken.

Gas Water Heater Maintenance – Anode Rod

Remember that the anode rod or generally known as the sacrificial anode is consumed each time, in order to protect the lining of your water heater unit from damage.  If your water heater has more than one anode rod, you need to inspect every single one of them.  Anode rods are installed on the top of the water heater and submerged into the water.

Some manufacturers recommend that the owner must conduct inspection often, the most common being an annual checkup; however, the condition of the anode rod depends on the water quality, such as hardness and the usage of softeners.  Keep in mind that if you completely soften your water, the anode rod will tend to corrode at a faster rate.  Corrosion actually results not only from the salt that is present in the water, but also from water softeners themselves, and it can also result in a bad water smell.  Therefore, completely softening the water over a duration of 6 months or less can typically cause an anode rod to corrode.  If in case you really would want to soften your water, consider replacing the sacrificial anode rod with an electrical anode one as the electric type will not corrode when in contact with softeners.

If during performing regular maintenance you notice that the steel core is exposed more than 6” either from the top or the bottom, or the middle of the anode rod is exposed, or if the diameter is less than half of its original size, then it is time to replace the anode rod.

There are some anode rods that are nonfunctional.  If in case you notice that your anode rod looks untouched after a few weeks of using your water heater, it might not be doing its job as it does not appear to be corroding to save your tank.   You can replace it either with another rod of the same kind or with a non-sacrificial, electrical-type anode rod.

If in case your anode rod is made of aluminum, they will most likely need replacement.  Unlike common anode rods, aluminum anode rods are most likely to split off into little pieces, or they are likely to produce waste as a byproduct of corrosion.  Watch out for little pieces of the aluminum anode rod in your water heater, or for a foamy byproduct that floats at the top of the water in your heater and appears in the filters.  These signs indicate that your anode rod needs to be replaced.

Gas Water Heater Maintenance – Sediments

Performing regular maintenance on your water heater unit is actually one simple way to save energy and reduce your bills.  Due to the fact that fuel cost and hot water consumption nowadays are constantly increasing, de-liming (for instance) has become a necessity of modern maintenance procedures.  This is because the more you use your water heater for years, more lime deposits come out.  Since it is preventing normal heat transfer and decreasing the performance and efficiency, it is recommended to remove lime deposits by adding chemicals.

Once a year, it is crucial to drain and flush out the water heater tank as well.  By means of flushing out the water heater, sediments that are the cause of decreasing the efficiency and performance of the water heater are removed.  Simply drain a few quarts off the bottom of the tank, or read instructions from the manual, and you may actually prolong the life of your water heater.  The drain valve is normally located at the bottom of the water heater unit.

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