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5 Easy Tips for Hot Water Tank Maintenance

Every Calgary home is built with a hot water tank. Your hot water tank is filled with water, which is heated with natural gas. Every time you turn on the hot water tap in a sink or shower, heated water makes its way through the pipes and out the faucet. Your dishwasher and washing machine also use hot water. The hot water tank continually refills itself and reheats the water to ensure a steady supply.

Replacing a hot water tank will cost you upwards of $1,500 (installed). Fortunately, a small amount of simple preventative maintenance can keep your hot water tank running for years to come.

Here are five simple maintenance items that you can perform yourself, without a lot of skill or expertise required.

1. Checking/adjusting the temperature

Near the base of most hot water tanks, you will find a temperature dial. By adjusting the dial, you can set the water coming out of your taps to be hotter or colder. Health Canada recommends you set your hot water tank temperature to 49°C (120°F).

If the hot water coming from your taps is cooler than normal, the first thing you can try is to increase the temperature on the hot water tank. Be careful! If you set the dial too high, the water can get scalding hot. It’s always a good idea to test it after adjusting. This can be done by leaving the sink tap running for a minute and holding your hand underneath. If you see steam, be cautious – as it may be too hot.

Tip for parents: Young children and seniors tend to have especially sensitive skin. To be safe, you may want to lower the temperature on your hot water tank slightly to prevent accidental burns. To reduce the risk, Health Canada recommends homes be equipped with anti-scald devices – such as automatic mixing valves on faucets, showers, and tubs or an anti-scald mixing valve on your water heater. If your home does not have a modern hot water tank with anti-scald protection, you may wish to consult a plumbing professional.

Did you know? You can save up to 5% in energy costs for every 10 degrees you lower the temperature of your hot water tank.

2. Testing the T&P valve

The temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve is an essential safety feature on your hot water tank. Your hot water tank becomes pressurized when the cool water that refills the tank comes into contact with the heated water. This pressure will push the hot water through the pipes. Yet if the temperature or pressure gets too high, it can pose a danger. The T&P valve prevents this from happening, by letting hot water or steam to safely escape.

A professional can test this for you. If you are intent on testing this on your own, please be careful as scalding hot water can be released from the pressure release valve and burn you. Be aware where the water will be directed if the pressure relief valve is released and make sure you are not in the way of this.

3. Perform a mini hot water tank flush

Sediment from minerals in the water can build up inside of your hot water tank. So can rust deposits. In many parts of Calgary, there can be high levels of calcium in the water, which can affect hot water tank performance by clogging key components. You can help remove some of this sediment yourself, without any fancy equipment. Simply attach a standard garden hose to the drain and direct the water toward your drain in your furnace room. If you have no floor drain place a bucket or pan under the drain faucet at the base of the tank. Turn the handle to the left (counter-clockwise) to open, and drain approximately 15 – 25 litres of water (1/3 of the tank volume). Turn off the tap when you are done. Be aware that this water will be extremely hot so stay clear.

If you notice excessive sediment, and you have reduced water pressure it is worth calling a plumbing professional to conduct a thorough cleaning and maintenance.

4. Insulate your pipes

Like a Thermos, hot water tanks are insulated to keep the contents nice and toasty until you’re ready for that hot shower! Older tanks are often not as well insulated and can be prone to temperature loss. If this is the case, you can buy a ‘fiberglass jacket’ that wraps securely around the water tank to provide an extra layer of insulation. You can also insulate your hot and cold water pipes using foam pipe insulation (3/8” thick).

5. Check your anode rod

Rust happens when metal is exposed to water and loses electrons to oxygen. As you can imagine, this could be a big problem in a hot water tank. To prevent your water tank from rusting inside, most models are manufactured with a clever device called a sacrificial anode rod (or just plain ‘anode rod’). Made of magnesium or aluminum, the rod sits inside the tank. Its purpose is to attract the electrons that can cause the iron tank to rust – causing the rod to rust instead (which is why it’s called a ‘sacrificial’ rod). Checking the condition of the rod is simple, and something you can easily do yourself.

To access the rod, look for the hex bolt on the top of the tank. Loosen it by turning counter-clockwise. Once it’s loose, you should be able to lift it up and pull it out of the tank. You should replace the rod if:

  • The rod diameter is less than 5 cm (1/2”) thick
  • The rod is caked with calcium
  • The metal has been eaten away, leaving over 6” (15 cm) of exposed steel wire

Replacement rods can be purchased at your local hardware store in the plumbing section, and are relatively inexpensive. Be sure to know what size and type of replacement rods are recommended for your unit. Some newer model tanks do not have an anode rod. You can check this online by looking up your Hot Water Tank Model number and checking on the manufacturer’s website.

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