I’m the second oldest of six children.  Growing up my favorite time of day was the early morning hours of quiet before everyone else was awake.  I’d get myself some Trix or Captain Crunch, read the comics from the newspaper, and then I’d take a nice long hot shower.  My other siblings did not appreciate this.  By the time it got to be their turn to shower they were often squealing from the cold water.  Sound familiar?

While cold showers are reported to have some excellent health benefits, when one has the desire to relieve tension or sore muscles, increase oxytocin levels (oxytocin is the same hormone produced with hugs), ease anxiety, or take advantage of a natural decongestant for cold symptoms a nice warm shower is just the thing.  So how do we get hot water in our homes?  For most homes the source of hot water is a water heater.  It’s an often overlooked piece of home equipment that we don’t think about until there is suddenly no hot water.  A properly maintained water heater will save money, last longer, and provide comfort and peace of mind.

Maintaining your water heater is easy but should be approached with caution.  Wear close toed shoes, and step back from the water heater when any draining is being completed as the water will be hot.  If any task makes you uncomfortable please don’t hesitate to contact a licensed plumber.  Check out the following tips to properly maintain your water heater.


Flushing the water heater tank every 4-6 months reduces the amount of sediment and debris built up in the tank, increasing the life of the unit.


An anode rod is a rod made of either magnesium, aluminum, or an aluminum/zinc alloy. It usually has a hex head screw at one end that screws into your water heater (this varies depending on what type of water heater you have).  The anode attracts the corrosive elements in your water to decrease the amount of corrosion to the inner lining of a water heater tank.  Check the anode rod regularly, generally once a year after the first three years.  Checking the anode rod regularly and replacing it every three years increases the life of the unit.

Magnesium rods are more effective but don’t last as long as aluminum or aluminum/zinc alloy anode rods.  Unfortunately this will vary depending on the amount and types of corrosive elements and minerals in your water so there’s no real way to say how much longer one will last over another.  Aluminum or aluminum/zinc rods are recommended if you have smelly water.  All types are effective at reducing the amount of corrosion and mineral build up inside your water heater so it doesn’t really matter which you use, just be aware you may need to replace the magnesium anode rod more often.


Annually check around all of the connections and valves on your water heater for small leaks and drips.  The temperature-relief valve is what releases pressure and heat and keeps your water heater from bursting.  Testing it annually to ensure it is working properly will ensure there are no ruptures on your watch.  To test the temperature-pressure relief valve:


Insulating older units with a fiberglass water heater jacket, or R-4.5 foil-covered bubble wrap can improve efficiency, reducing heat loss and saving on water heating costs.


Insulating your pipes helps in several ways.  Insulating the cold water pipe will prevent condensation and dripping in warmer temperature like during the summer.  Insulating the hot water pipe will reduce heat loss.


Water heaters generally have a factory setting to heat water to 125◦ F. This is hot enough to cause first degree burns to skin on contact.  When turned all the way up to maximum temperatures it can cause extremely serious injuries from even indirect contact with the water.  We highly recommend that temperature of your water heater not exceed 120◦ F. On the other hand adjusting the temperature of your water heater can save up to 5 percent on energy costs for every 10 degrees the temperature is lowered.  To change the temperature of your water heater find the dial located on the side of the water heater tank.

You may have noticed that the first few steps for tips 1 and 2 are the same. I recommend completing these tasks at the same time to save on water usage.  Insulation to the pipes and unit will only need to be completed once.  Again, if any of these tasks is too overwhelming or you just don’t have time, please don’t hesitate to contact a licensed plumber.  Preventative maintenance will increase the life of the unit and save on energy and it’s much cheaper than replacing your hot water heater.