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Keeping Water Heater Perking

August 23, 1992|GARY ABRAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Abrams is a West Los Angeles general contractor who writes on home-improvement topics for The Times. and

Perhaps the most neglected of all household appliances is the typical gas or electric water heater. Usually it is located in a closet, basement or the garage, and sometimes years can go by before anyone even looks at the heater.

But when that hot water stops flowing, suddenly this lowly servant takes on monumental importance.

And for some strange reason, this always seems to occur after hours or on a weekend when plumbers' rates are the highest.

What very few homeowners realize, however, is that a water heater's life can be greatly extended by following a simple procedure two or three times a year:

At the bottom of every water heater tank is a drain tap threaded so that a garden hose can be attached. Attach a hose and run it through a door or window outside and then slowly open the tap. If this has never been done before, brown rusty water will flow. Keep the tap open until the water runs clear, then shut the drain valve and detach the hose.

That's it. What you have done is flush sediment and debris from the bottom of the tank that would otherwise accumulate to the point that the tank's capacity is substantially diminished.

The sediment and debris is from both rust and scale that breaks off on the inside of your house pipes and the city water pipes, and from suspended minerals in the water that settle out to the tank bottom. You may not notice discoloration when using hot water at the tap because the outlet pipe inside the tank does not draw from the very bottom.

Do it again after four months. If the water is relatively clear at the outset of draining, do it again in six months. If rusty, repeat in three or four months.

Keeping the inside of the tank clean this way helps assure that you will not run out of hot water prematurely and keeps that unit from having to overwork to keep the "displaced" water at the desired temperature. It also helps prevent "percolation" noise typical of older units.

By the way, it is a good idea to check all the plumbing connections for leaks every time you drain the sediment. Sometimes a small problem can be easily solved before it becomes a big problem.

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