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Why Frequently Unoccupied Homes Need Hot Water Heater Flushes & How You Can Perform One

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If you own a second home that is frequently unoccupied, then you probably know all too well how things can go wrong when you're away. Performing preventative maintenance can help keep things running smoothly, but one specific maintenance task you may not have considered is the need to flush the hot water heaters on a regular basis.

Below is more information on why hot water heaters need regular flushing, particularly in homes that aren't occupied, as well as how you can easily flush hot water heaters using a few common tools and materials:

Why hot water heaters need to be flushed

Hot water heaters accumulate foreign debris that enters via the incoming water supply or precipitates during the heating process. These sediments can build to a level where they insulate the water from the heat source. This increases energy costs as the hot water heater is forced to adjust its heat output in order to adequately warm the water. In addition, collecting sediment may also cause blockages within the hot water heater and pipes, and these blockages can reduce the life of the heater and create dangerous overheating within the device.

The problem of accumulating sediment becomes particularly acute when property sits vacant for long periods of time without use of the hot water. Even a hot water heater that is turned off can still accumulate sediment if the cold water supply is still active.

Flushing hot water heaters is a simple, straightforward solution to the problem of accumulating sediment. It removes sediments and any other debris that might accumulate in the hot water heater and both prolongs the life of the tank and cuts energy costs. Here is how you can safely flush hot water heaters:

Tools and materials needed

  • Garden hose with ¾-inch female hose connector
  • Eye protection
  • Gloves
  • Flat-bladed screwdriver
  • Five-gallon bucket

Step-by-step procedure

1. Work safely—Hot water heaters are pressurized vessels that can kill or injure careless persons. That's why you must disconnect the energy supply to the heater before performing any work, including flushing the tank, and be sure that no one can accidentally turn it back on during maintenance. Always turn off gas supply valves and switch off the appropriate breaker circuit at the main panel.

In addition, you should protect your body when working on a hot water heater; sudden water releases can severely scald you. Wear eye protection as well as leather work gloves when performing work on a hot water heater. Allow the hot water inside the tank to cool after turning off the gas or electrical power before conducting maintenance.

2. Connect the garden hose to the water heater drain—Locate the drain on the hot water heater, which will probably be located at the lower end of the tank. Screw a ¾-inch garden hose to the drain outlet and route the other end of the hose to an outdoor location that is lower than the bottom of the water heater. If you aren't able to route the hose outside, direct the discharge into a bathtub, shower or large bucket. Just keep in mind the need to periodically pause the flushing process so you can empty the bucket.

3. Open the drain valve—After routing the other end of the hose to a safe location and permitting the water inside the tank to cool, slowly open the drain valve to permit the water to start draining. Some drain valves open with a hand-operated spigot handle or you may need to use a screwdriver blade for the same purpose. The water inside the hose will exit at force from the tank since you left the incoming cold water supply in the 'on' position.

Permit the water to drain from the hot water heater for at least 15 minutes. Periodically check the discharge to see if debris is still exiting the water heater; if it is, continue to allow the water to flow for an additional 15 minutes or for as long as it takes to run clear.

4. Close the drain valve and remove the hose—After draining the water and flushing the tank, turn off the drain valve. Disconnect the garden hose from the hot water heater and reconnect the gas or electrical supply. Next, follow the procedures for turning the water heater back on again; these instructions will be available in the product manual for the water heater.

For more information or assistance, you can always contact local drain cleaning services.


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