The topic of maintaining your water heater can be very controversial. For the record I have always felt very strongly about properly maintaining your water heater, whether it is a tankless or a tank type heater. I will try to cover here both sides of the debate. A lot of people, including some plumbers believe that it is not necessary to maintain a water heater. The reasoning is simple. On older heaters the only real maintenance to do was to drain and flush the tank and to test the relief valve. When you drain and flush the heater you are trying to get any debris out of the heater so that it will not accumulate on the bottom. The argument against this is that if there is a layer at the bottom of the heater it will only slightly affect the efficiency of the heater and it would hardly offset the cost to actually perform that service. The argument against testing the relief valve is that if you test it, it will likely start to leak. That is true, and that is also precisely why it SHOULD be tested. If you ever read the label on a temperature and pressure relief valve it states very clearly that the valve should be tested twice a year and be replaced every 3 years as needed. The temperature and pressure relief valve is the most important part of the water heater. It keeps the heater from exploding, so I do not believe the importance of testing it can be understated. The argument about draining the heater is somewhat valid when it comes to the increased efficiency but what really matters is that since it takes longer to heat the water the flame is in contact with the steel at the bottom of the heater for a longer period of time and eventually this extra wear will accelerate the possible failure of the tank.

So all of the arguments above are related to the old style of tanks. The importance of maintenance is now non negotiable. Since about 2003, water heaters began to be designed very differently. All water heaters now have a more sealed combustion chamber and all of the air that is used for combustion must now pass through what’s called a flame arrestor plate. A flame arrestor plate is simply a flat piece of metal with hundreds or even thousands of very small openings that is designed in a manner to allow air in but not allow any combusted gas out. The theory is that if there is gas or any other type of flammable fumes that can be drafted into the combustion chamber, once they are ignited, the openings in the flame arrestor plate are so small that the flame cannot exit and spread a fire into the home. It is a very ingenious design but if you can imagine, those very small holes can become obstructed very easily. This area of the heater must be kept very clean and it must be maintained every year or people will experience many nuisance heater outages.

For almost 20 years John Baethke and Son Plumbing has be performing maintenance on water heaters and all of the homes plumbing in literally tens of thousands of homes. Although our first recommendation is to have a professional licensed plumber perform this kind of maintenance we have had many clients that have observed the procedure and feel handy enough to do their own maintenance on water heater and home plumbing. If you decide to do this on your own please consult a profession al first to insure you are performing the service properly and safely.