Some older houses still heat water by running it through coils in an oil furnace. Some very modern homes use solar energy to heat the water. The most common water heaters are gas or electric.
Regardless of the type, all water heaters require some maintenance. A leaky water heater should be replaced by a new one. But other problems can be avoided or cured. They include:
• Build up of sediment in the heater
• Top fittings that leak
• Leaky pressure relief valves
Rust or other sediments can build up in the tank. You should drain the tank about once a year to remove them. Turn off the heat, and shut water entering the heater. Open any hot water faucet in the house to let in air so the tank will drain. Attach a water hose to the drain spout of the water heater. Wear gloves because the hose will be too hot to handle. Drain the water into a floor drain or a pail that is lower than the tank spout. When the heater is empty, run more water into it. Keep draining it until the water runs clear.
If the fittings at the top of the tank are made of different metals, electrolysis may cause them to start corroding. An insulated fitting should have been used. Sometimes the fittings can be replaced in time.
Pressure relief valves keep the tank from bursting. A leaking pressure valve may mean that the water pressure is too high. This happens when the water is too hot or when there is no regulator between the meter and the house. A leaking pressure relief valve may also be worn out and need replacing.
Gas and oil heaters have some particular problems. If the flame is not a blue color, call the gas or oil company to come and adjust it.
When the pilot light in a gas heater goes out, turn off the gas. Clean around the pilot light and burner with a stiff brush. Vacuum the exhaust vent and underside of the heater. To light the pilot again , set the dial to PILOT. Hold the dial or button down, and light the pilot. Keep holding it down until the pilot stays lit. Then turn the dial to ON and set the thermostat.
Water heaters can be made more efficient by wrapping them in a special thermal insulating blanket. You can also save hot water by making sure none of your faucets are leaking.
Open a hot water faucet to let air into the water heater. Drain and refill the tank. Continue until the water runs clear.
Pressure relief valves are spring valves that leak when there is too much pressure in the water heater. This usually happens when there is too much heat or the local water pressure is too high. The cure is to lower the water temperature or install a water pressure regulator between the meter and the house.
Occasionally the pilot light on the water heater goes out. Turn the control to OFF and wait five minutes for any free gas to escape. Then turn the dial to PILOT. Hold the red button down (or the dial if there is no button) and light the pilot. After about a minute the pilot will continue to burn when the button is released. Turn the dial to ON, and the heater should operate normally.