By Anita Ginsburg
As the weather cools, many of us are grateful for the break in the hot weather. Depending on where you live, you might even get to enjoy some snow. However, colder weather should also remind you that you need to protect your home against common winter problems that could leave you without hot water. Here are some standard preparations you should make to ensure your water heater is prepared for the cold winter weather:
One of the best methods of preserving your hot water heater is to insulate both the hot water tank and the pipes. As you may already know, there is always stand-by hot water in the pipes; however, when it gets frigid, the heat from those pipes dissipates, making your ready access to hot water not so ready. Also, the continued demand for the tank to offset the cold helps to drive up utility costs. You can get a fitted tank cover; newer models are designed with built-in insulation.
Check the Sacrificial Anode Rod
Much the same way the hulls of boats are fitted with the “least noble” metal called the anode to prevent galvanic corrosion, your tank is fitted with a sacrificial anode rod. An essential part of your water tank, it is there to be the metal that rusts away to help preserve the life of your tank. Located at the top of the tank, it should be checked annually. Although it should give you at least five years of service, if you notice that the rod is coated with calcium or has worn down to less than a quarter inch thickness, it must be replaced.
Check the Temperature Pressure Relief Valve
Another handy valve to keep an eye on is the temperature pressure relief valve, which is located either on the side or the top of your tank water heater. It's designed to automatically release water when either temperature or pressure in the tank gets too high. You can check this valve by simply lifting the lever and releasing it. If the valve is functioning properly, you should hear the sound of pressure escaping, as well as visible signs of water. If the valve does not seem to be operating properly, you should call a professional to check it.
Clean the Tank Out
Even when the anode rod is doing its job, there is still the inevitability of calcification occurring inside the tank. Sediment and calcium can coat both the inside of the tank and the element. To prolong the life of your hot water tank, drain it once or twice a year to clear this buildup.
This is a simple process that involves shutting off both the power and water supplies and then connecting a hose to the drain valve to allow everything inside the tank to flow out to an in-ground drain. You will need to open the drain valve, as well as the temperature-pressure regulator valve, to drain the tank. Then, you can flush that tank with water to make sure all the sediment comes out. If you are on a regular maintenance contract with your plumber, this could be one of those chores that are included. Check with your plumber to see if this is offered.
Adjust the Temperature Setting
While there is a handy temperature setting on your tank heating unit, it isn't always the best idea to simply crank it up when the weather gets cold. Yes, it's true that you are working against the cold air conditions that affect the tank, and it makes sense to turn the heat dial to a hotter setting. However, this brings hotter water directly to your taps, which can be scalding if you're not aware of the difference. Simply turn it up by five or 10 degrees; you shouldn’t need to raise it higher than 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
With the effort to clean and insulate your tank, as described above, you can maintain a setting that will neither drastically increase your energy consumption nor scald the home’s occupants. These are some of the routine measures you can take to prepare your tank heater for the winter weather. Your plumber can inspect and advise on other ways you can maintain your much-needed hot water year-round, as well as provide suggestions for any other steps you can take to keep expenses down and prolong the life of your water heater.
Anita Ginsburg is a freelance writer from Denver, Colorado. She studied at Colorado State University and now enjoys writing about health, business and family. A mother of two wonderful children, she loves traveling with her family whenever she isn’t writing. She recommends talking to a company like Mr. Waterheater about how to maintain your water heater in the winter. You can find her on Twitter @anitaginsburg.