Much of the maintenance work on a water heater will have to be performed by an electrician or plumber. But some maintenance and improvements can be done by a homeowner. However, if you are not comfortable with performing such tasks, always call a professional. Here are some safety tips to follow before working on your water heater:
- Turn off the water heater. The first step before doing any kind of work on your water heater is to first turn off or unplug the water heater if it is an electric heater, or set the gas control knob to PILOT on a gas water heater. BE SURE the gas or the water heater itself is turned completely off.
- Turn off the cold water line. Inform everyone in the household or building to use only cold water while you are working on the water heater, or better yet, refrain from running the water altogether. Then, turn off the cold water line. You will find the cold water line on top of the water heater on the right-hand side as you stand facing the heater. Next, turn on the hot water from a sink in the house for a few minutes; this relieves any pressure in the lines.
- Open the drain valve on your water heater. Lastly, open the drain valve on your water heater. You will find the drain valve near the bottom of the tank; it will look like a hose bib similar to those on the outside of any house. Open the drain valve and let out a gallon of water from the tank so that it is not completely full.
- Additional safety tips for gas water heaters. If you suspect that there is a gas leak, an easy way to check is to spray the pipes where the gas is connected to the water heater with glass cleaner. If there is a gas leak, the glass cleaner will spit and foam slightly. Call a plumber immediately.
A gas water heater may also send gas back into your house if the draft diverter is not installed properly or if it is in a bad location. The draft diverter is located above the water heater and vents the gas fumes from the heater to the outside of your house through a vent. Sometimes the fumes can reenter the house through the chimney flue, an open window or through the air conditioner. If you smell gas fumes inside the house, call a plumber immediately.
- Pipe Insulation. If you have or wish to install insulation around your pipes, make sure you do NOT cover the dielectric unions, fittings, or copper flex lines. These can be located on the hot and cold lines on many water heaters. Sometimes rigid copper or steel piping is used, but often nowadays, flexible copper connectors are used. They are moderately easy to bend by hand. Any leaks in the pipes and the damage will be greater if these areas are covered by insulation. Also do NOT insulate the tin draft diverter on top of a gas water heater because the insulation is flammable and may ignite.
If you have a re-circulating loop installed, consider installing ball valves where the re-circulating loop connects with the water heater. You should also consider installing ball valves in front of the pump if you have one on the line. Re-circulating systems are not found on every water heater. If you do not have one, do not be alarmed.
Always hire a professional service technician if you are not comfortable performing any maintenance or installations on your water heater yourself.