Having your water heater flushed is an important maintenance task. Regular flushing helps to prevent many common water heater issues and can also extend the life of your unit. Depending on how hard the water is in your home, you should generally have your water heater flushed once or twice a year. Flushing a water heater is important as it removes all of the sediment that collects inside the tank. Read on to find out more about how sediment can affect a water heater and why flushing is so essential.
How Sediment Forms in a Water Heater
All water contains some dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium, and this is true even if your home doesn’t have particularly hard water. Unless you have a water softener, the dissolved minerals in your water will lead to sediment forming inside the water heater tank. Whenever water is heated, some of the minerals undergo a chemical reaction and turn into calcium carbonate and other types of sediment particles. Over time, these particles will collect into a thick layer of sediment that completely covers the bottom of the tank.
Common Water Heater Issues Caused by Sediment Build-Up
Sediment build-up is a serious issue as it is one of the main reasons that water heaters stop working properly or develop a leak. The problem is generally worse for gas tank-style water heaters than it is for electric units, due to the difference in the way that they heat.
In a gas water heater, most of the heat is transferred through the metal burner plate that sits at the bottom of the tank. The heat produced by the unit’s gas burner is transferred to the plate, which then releases the heat into the cooler water at the bottom of the tank. When sediment builds up, it essentially creates a blanket that prevents much of the heat from being released into the water. Since less heat is being transferred to the water, the unit will need to run for a much longer time to fully raise the water temperature to what the unit is set at. As a result, the water heater will use more energy and also suffer from elevated wear and tear.
An even bigger issue is that the sediment can absorb a huge amount of heat and become much hotter than what the unit is designed to handle. All water heaters have a glass liner that coats the inside of the tank, and this lining is essential as it prevents the steel tank from corroding. The issue is that the glass liner can’t really handle temperatures above 160 F, which means that the hot sediment can cause the glass liner to quickly start to disintegrate. Once this happens, the water will come into direct contact with the steel tank, initiate corrosion, and cause leakage.
Sediment typically won’t lead to the tank on an electric water heater corroding, as these units don’t heat directly from the bottom as gas units do. However, sediment can damage the unit’s lower electric heating element and cause it to produce much less heat or fail entirely. This is generally a less serious issue as the heating element can be replaced, but it will still limit the effectiveness of the water heater and cause it to use much more energy.
Why Tankless Water Heaters Also Need Regular Flushing
Tankless water heaters should still be flushed and cleaned regularly. If not, limescale can begin to build up inside the unit and decrease its effectiveness. Even if your home doesn’t have issues with hard water, some limescale will still slowly build and collect on the unit’s components and inside your pipes. If you don’t have the unit flushed and cleaned every year, the limescale can eventually build up to the point where the unit can’t heat as efficiently or effectively.
In fact, limescale build-up on a tankless water heater’s heat exchanger can easily increase the amount of energy it uses by 30% or more. All that limescale basically insulates the heat exchanger so that much less heat energy is transferred to the water, which can also lead to your water never getting as hot as you need it to be.
Why Having a Plumber Flush Your Water Heater Is Always Best
Flushing a water heater is typically something you can do fairly easily on your own, but we would still recommend having a licensed plumber do it for several reasons. The first is that some regular maintenance tasks can only be done when the unit is drained, and this includes things like inspecting and replacing the anode rod as needed. Since these maintenance tasks aren’t something you can’t really do on your own, it only makes sense to have a plumber drain and flush your water heater at the same time as they perform whatever other maintenance, repairs, and inspections are needed.
Another reason is that draining and flushing a water heater can be a time-consuming process, as you will often run into issues that will prevent the unit from draining properly. When the tank first starts to drain, it is quite common for the drain valve to become clogged with sediment to the point where no more water will flow out. More minor clogs can often be fixed by sticking a screwdriver inside the valve to break up the sediment into smaller chunks so that the sediment and water will again start flowing out. However, if you haven’t had your water heater flushed for a few years, the sediment layer can become so thick that it is basically impossible to break up.
When this happens, the tank will often need to be continually backflushed to loosen the sediment so it will again drain. This is done by running a hose between the drain valve and some other water source. If not done correctly, backflushing can lead to various other issues so it is always best to leave this to the professionals.
There are also times when even backflushing won’t loosen the sediment or clear a clogged drain valve. In this case, the only solution is to completely remove the drain valve and install a new one. This is definitely not something you want to attempt on your own. If the new valve isn’t installed correctly, the tank could start to leak. There is also a chance that all of the water will come rushing out and flood the surrounding area if certain precautions aren’t taken before removing the valve. For these reasons and more, we would always recommend leaving flushing and draining to the professionals.
At Wyman Plumbing & Mechanical, our team of licensed plumbers specializes in all types of water heater services including flushing, preventative maintenance, and repairs. We service both tank-style and tankless units, and our team can also assist if you need your water heater replaced or a new unit installed. We also install and service water softeners and water treatment systems, and we offer a full range of other residential and commercial plumbing and gas line services for customers throughout the Phoenix area. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment to have your water heater flushed or if you need any other service.