Your water heater may remain unseen, hidden in a utility closet or sitting alone in a basement, but keep in mind that it needs regular maintenance for safety reasons. It’s important to ensure water heater safety by keeping an eye open for signs of disrepair.
Before we get into water heater safety, you need to understand the basic mechanics of how it works. There are two types of tanked water heaters—gas and electric. Gas heaters use a combustion burner within the tank to heat the water, while electric heaters use coils to heat the water. Once the desired temperature is reached, the burner will be automatically turned off.
Most residential tanks range in capacity from 40 to 60 US gallons. Steel tanks are tested to handle 300 psi and have a bonded glass liner to keep rust out of the water, as well as insulation surrounding the tank. Other water heater parts include:
- A dip tube to let cold water into the tank
- A pipe to let hot water out of the tank
- A thermostat to control the temperature of the water inside the tank
- Electric tanks feature heating elements similar to those inside an electric oven
- A drain valve that allows you to drain the tank to replace the elements, or to move the tank
- A temperature or pressure relief valve that keeps the tank from exploding
Temperature or Pressure Relief Valve
Each unit contains a pressure relief valve, located near the top of the water tank, that’s meant to relieve pressure if there’s too much for the unit to handle. If there’s something wrong with the valve and the water’s temperature is set too high, the pressure will not be able to escape. As the water continues to heat up, it will turn to gas and fill the tank until there’s no more room.
Temperature or pressure relief valves help prevent tanks from exploding if temperature or pressure exceeds safe limits. Unfortunately, residential valves can be prone to failure, so doing a periodic inspection to ensure no water is leaking out is advised. If the valve is stuck open or water is dripping, then the valve should be replaced.
Opening up the drain valve yearly to remove sediment buildup. Ensure you have a hose hooked up to it or a bucket nearby when you do to prevent being scalded if the valve opens while you’re next to it. Draining a bucket or two from the bottom of the tank will ensure any build up near the base of the tank is removed and will lengthen the life the tank.
On residential tanks, the settings can range from low, warm, hot, or very hot. Consulting your manual will explain the water temp at each level. It is important to keep the temperature close to 140 degrees to kill germs and bacteria. If you have a mixing valve installed it will add cold water to the hot water leaving the tank to drop the temperature to prevent children or seniors from being scaled. Compared to adults, babies and children have thinner skin that burns faster and at lower temperatures.
When leaving for vacation, set the hot water heater temperature to its lowest setting. This saves money and reduces the risk of problems while you are away.
A poor draft can cause fumes and carbon monoxide to reenter the room instead of going outside. To maintain good ventilation, make sure that:
- The vent is the same diameter as the tank’s draft diverter
- If the vent uses a chimney it is properly lined and sized for the appliance
- The vent goes straight up and out, is properly supported without any dips
- If the vent terminates outside there is no blockage (i.e. snow)
- If the water heater is enclosed in a room, there is enough combustion air in the location to ensure the unit is operating properly
Do not use pipe wrap or any other insulation within six inches of the draft hood or flue exhaust vent at the top of the natural gas water heater.
The damage to a home from a water heater cannot be understated. It can easily ruin your home’s plumbing, cause damage to your flooring, personal belongings and even your roof. Thankfully, water heaters don’t leak or explode often, but it’s important to follow proper water heater safety.
The best way to keep an eye on your water heater is by regularly checking for any leaking water at the base of the tank or near the tank’s pressure relief valve, and ensuring you never set your water temperature higher than the manufacturer’s suggestion. Periodic flushing or descaling is also recommended. Keep your home safe from disaster by following water heater maintenance and safety tips, if something doesn’t seem quite right you can call for professional help.
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HAMCO Heating & Cooling Ltd. has been proudly serving Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville and surrounding areas for over 70 years. We’ve built strong and lasting relationships with our customers by providing them with the highest quality service and equipment to fit their needs.