As any homeowner who has had to take a cold shower on a chilly winter morning can attest, you should never take your home’s water heater for granted. Yet, many homeowners neglect to maintain their water heater for several consecutive years, which can lead to a number of problems down the road. Here’s your guide to water heater maintenance this winter, and what you need to know to keep your water heater in its best possible shape heading into the spring.

Flush your water heater

Your water heater needs to have sediment and corrosion flushed from the tank at least once every year. As time passes, sediment and other material carried in the water supply becomes trapped at the bottom of the tank. As it builds up, it begins to act as a barrier between the water heater’s heating element and the water inside the tank, reducing its overall energy efficiency.

The best way to clear out this sediment is by flushing the tank. To do this, turn the water heater’s power or gas supply off, and close the cold water supply. Elsewhere in your home, turn on a faucet so that hot water is coming out. Then, position a large bucket or attach a hose to the drainage spigot. The goal is to empty out the water heater—which may take several cycles of emptying and then refilling the bucket—before then turning the cold water supply back on and flushing out any remaining sediment.

Test the pressure-relief valve

While you’re flushing out your water heater, you should also take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the system’s emergency pressure-relief valve. All water heaters store hot water under pressure. Too low of pressure, and the water heater will have difficulty pushing hot water to the taps and faucets in your home. However, if the pressure is too high, the tank runs the risk of bursting at the seams—literally. Since a tank burst can lead to a flooded home or basement, the pressure-relief valve exists to ensure that excess pressure is released.

When it opens, hot water and air should come out and spill onto the floor. You can test this by manually opening the valve. Be careful, as hot water may spill out below. This is a sign that the valve is working normally. If the valve does not open, it may indicate that it has been damaged and needs to be replaced. Go ahead and give us a call so that we can come out and diagnose the issue. Make sure that you put the valve back into the closed position when you’re done with this test, so that it can be reset and ready to go in the event that pressure builds.

Check the anode rod

The sacrificial anode rod plays a critical role in your water heater, absorbing all the corrosion and attracting it away from the heating element and the tank walls. However, this corrosion will eventually eat through the anode rod. As the years go by, the anode rod will rust and corrode to the point where it is nothing but a rusted stick. This is a good sign that the rod has served its purpose and that it either needs to be replaced with a new rod or—if the corrosion has already attacked the tank—the water heater as a whole may need to be replaced.

When you perform the rest of your winter water heater maintenance, take a look at the anode rod. If it looks like it’s been eaten through, that might be a good sign that you should call our team and have us inspect the water heater for further issues.

Proactively deal with potential issues

In general, if you notice anything is off with your water heater, call in a professional. Water heater repair or replacement are both far better options than a tank failure and subsequent flooding event. By being a proactive homeowner, you can protect your home and get better efficiency and heating from your water heater.