Ask the Contractor: Hot water heaters — to flush or not?

Here is the email we received this week: Hi, wondering what your recommendation is for maintenance of a water heater. I have a gas water heater and wonder if it should be drained and flushed and how often. Is this the same for electric units? Additionally what is your opinion of a tankless water heater? Would love to see your response in The Daily Courier or Prescott Valley Tribune. Best regards, Wally

Hi, Wally. Happy New Year to you and thanks for your question. The answer to your question is going to be read not only in The Daily Courier and Prescott Valley Tribune but also the Chino Valley Review and the Verde Independent.

There are two times when you think about your water heater.  The day it’s installed and the day it breaks down. And who wants to start their day with a cold shower? We have all been there.

A good rule of thumb is, if your water heater is more than 10 years old you can expect problems starting anytime. You might get lucky and just have it stop heating.  Or, you may discover that the tank leaked all over the floors causing hundreds of dollars in damage and days of cleanup.  

On my week returning to the office after New Year’s Day, three calls came through on water heaters. One the heating element was corroded and needed to be replaced and, for the other two, the heaters were 13 years old and blew a gasket — water all over the garage and luckily no damage to the homes. These heaters had never been flushed!

At least every six months to a year max, the water heater should be drained. This can be a DIY project or for ease and peace of mind I call a local plumber. Keith Riggs, owner of RED Plumbing, says water heaters should be flushed every six months, recommended for gas and electric especially if the heater is on a well. Gad zooks, according to Keith, I am behind schedule, like a year and half. I better get a service call in, pronto!

One of the major problems with tank type electric heaters is the lime sediments, dirt and minerals sitting at the bottom of your heater. Most of the complaints are from the hard water and if not flushed regularly this can affect the efficiency, hot water output and durability of the heating unit. Draining keeps the heating system running smoothly.

Arizona All Service Plumbing agreed and said that maintenance on a water heater is essential and important due to the calcium build-up on the electrodes.

Electric water heater maintenance is one of the must-to-do operations to protect and increase your water heater performance and have dependable worry-free service.

The need for flushing depends on water quality and region and our region has HARD water. The harder the water, the more likely you’ll need a more frequent flush.

What can happen if you do not flush your water heater?

In addition to decreased energy efficiency, leaving sediment to build up in your heater can lead to serious problems. Once it gets into the tank and piping, you might see sediment come out of your faucets. Over the long term, sediment buildup causes even more harm. Over the course of two to five years, you can lose water pressure or have a pipe burst, and with enough sediment buildup, your tank can just stop working.

Do you need to flush a tankless water heater?

Yes is the answer from our plumbing resources. Though tankless water heaters don’t hold the large amount of water typically found in traditional tanks, the pipes and interior parts still require cleaning and maintenance.

Keith Riggs said that “tankless water heaters are great and save a lot of money. They can be expensive to install, especially in a retrofit if gas needs to be upsized and how challenging the intake and exhaust is going to be.” A tankless water heating system is the energy-efficient way to meet all your hot water needs. When a hot water faucet is turned on, cold water enters the tankless system. This triggers the system to automatically start operation and ignite the heat exchanger. Cold water is heated in the heat exchanger and then flows to the fixtures. When the hot water faucet is shut off, the tankless system goes into stand-by-mode. You save energy by heating water only when you need it.

Arizona All Service Plumbing says “a tankless water heater is more efficient in that it heats up on demand, thereby reducing energy costs. If properly maintained a tankless system can last 25 years. Tankless water heaters can produce and supply endless hot water at a constant temperature to every fixture in your home.”

For 2018 and forward — RESOLVE to flush your water heater on a regular basis.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday at 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130AM, 99.9FM, 95.5FM or on the web at kqna.com. Listen to Sandy to Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and so much more. What a great way to start your weekend.