Why – and How – to Flush Your Hot Water Heater

Cleaning your gutters; removing debris from your refrigerator coils; maintaining your lawn. When it comes to household cleaning and chores, most homeowners are aware of the seasonal projects they need to complete to keep their home well maintained. But a surprising amount of homeowners are unaware that cleaning the gunk out of your hot water heater should be on that biannual home maintenance to-do list. 

By taking a few hours twice a year to clean and drain your hot water heater, you can help extend your hot water heater’s lifespan, while saving a significant amount of cash on a replacement model. Read on to learn why you need to be flushing your hot water heater at least twice per year, and just how to do it to extend its life and keep it running like new.

Why You Need to Flush Your Hot Water Heater

While flushing and draining your hot water heater isn’t the most glamorous of tasks, putting it off can lead to built-up mineral sediments that settle inside your water heater, forming a thick coating at the base of the heater that ends up diminishing the transfer of heat to the water in the tank. Over time, those minerals can break free, clogging the valve used to flush or drain your tank while slowing the flow of hot water through your pipes and faucets. This results in poor heating efficiency, which ends up costing you more money in energy use and water. 

While the price of a hot water heater can vary depending on its size and the number of people in your home, the average four person household pays anywhere from $320 to $2,200 for a hot water heater installation or replacement model. So while the average hot water heater will last about 8 – 10 years, proper cleaning and maintenance can help you get a few additional years out of it. 

How to Flush Your Hot Water Heater

Thankfully, flushing out your hot water heater is a relatively simple process, requires very few tools and supplies, and can be done in a little under an hour. Just keep in mind that hot water won’t be available while you’re completing this task, so be sure everyone in the home is aware and uses the hot water they need in advance! 

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

What You’ll Need:

  • Garden Hose
  • 3 – 5 Gallon Bucket

Step 2: Turn Off the Hot Water Heater and Cold Water Supply

Depending on whether your hot water heater is gas or electric, you’ll need to either turn the heater to “pilot” and switch it off for gas, or, if you have an electric hot water heater, find your home’s breaker box and turn off the switch that supplies power to the heater.

Next, find the cold water valve (usually located at the top of your hot water heater) and turn it to “off.” 

Step 3: Turn On a Hot Water Faucet

Head to your kitchen or bathroom sink and turn one of the hot water faucets to “on.” This lets air into the heater and prevents a vacuum-like suction from forming so the water can drain properly from the sink.  

Step 4: Attach a Garden Hose to the Tank’s Drainage Valve

Photo Credit: HGTV

Locate the tank drain valve (found on the bottom of the hot water heater) and attach a hose from the drain to your bucket. Keep in mind that upwards of 5 gallons could be draining, so you’ll want to be sure your bucket is big enough for the job. 

Step 5: Open the Drainage Valve

Photo Credit: Family Handy Man

Once the garden hose is connected to the valve and your bucket, open the water heater’s drainage valve to begin flushing out the water and sediment and keep it draining until the water runs clear, or until the tank is empty.

Step 6: Flush the Tank

Photo Credit: This Old House

Once you’ve drained the water and sediment, it’s time to flush any remaining build up. To do this, simply turn the cold water supply back on and let it run until the water draining into your bucket from the hose runs clear.  

Step 7: Close the Drain Valve

Disconnect the hose and close up the hot water heater’s drain valve. 

Step 8: Refill the Hot Water Heater

Turn off the faucet you originally turned on before draining the tank, then turn the water supply valve back on to refill your tank (depending on the size of your tank, this can take up to twenty minutes). 

Step 9: Turn the Hot Water Heater Back On

Reconnect your hot water heater back to its power supply, and give your hot water tank about twenty minutes to reheat the water and begin functioning properly again. 

Final Note:

Keep in mind that, if your hot water heater hasn’t been flushed for years, some experts advise to call in the help of the pros to complete the task, since removing the caked on sediment could lead to leaks in your hot water heater. 

The average cost to have a plumber flush and drain your hot water heater is about $80 – $100 – well under the cost of a replacement model, so, if you can’t remember the last time you completed this chore, you may be better off asking for the help of your local plumber. 

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