‘Spring’ Into Maintenance: Part 2A


Last month, I compared regular maintenance of the mechanical systems in our homes & businesses to that of our automobiles. In either case, if we wait until we ‘see smoke’, like I did with the engine in my Ford Galaxy, the damage has already been done. Both spring and fall are excellent times to do the Annual or Bi-Annual Maintenance our Systems need.

Below, you’ll find specific inspection and maintenance procedures for Electric Hot Water Heater Systems. Having been a technician, author, and teacher for more than 30-years, I have this information committed to memory. As soon as I began writing I realized I’ll need more space to do the subject justice. So for the sake of thoroughness, this literary real-estate has been sub-divided into two articles.

In “Spring into Maintenance Part 2A” I’ll cover inspecting for leaks, and testing Temperature and Pressure Relief Valves. Next month, I’ll tell you how to flush the hot water tank, check the Expansion Tank, and replace the anode rod.

Spring Maintenance; Electric Hot Water Tanks – Annual

Every manufacturer recommends annual maintenance on their HWT (Hot Water Tanks), and they can choose to void their warranty if it is not done. Warranties vary, but generally the 1st year both Labor & Materials are covered. After that usually only the Tank is Warranted against leaking.

These are the things generally recommended and done on the Annual Maintenance for Electric Water Heaters, Storage Tank style.

1. First of all, a visual inspection.

  •  Take a thermometer , go to the nearest hot faucet, let the water run until hot, take the temperature of the hot water. Write it down. Using a good quality Water Pressure Gauge, take the water pressure of the System on a hose bib. Write it down. (Make sure the hose bib and the HWT are not separated by a Pressure Relief Valve, & therefore under different pressures.)

Use a thermometer to check the temperature of your hot water.

Use a pressure gauge to test your water pressure.

  •   Finally, take a careful, thorough look at the HWT and everything connected to it. Repair/replace any electrical connections that show signs of stress, heat or damage of any kind. Repair/replace any drips, leaks or signs of rust and/or corrosion… as needed. Note the Pic below of the ‘rust trail’ where the T&P Valve (Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve) connects to the HWT. This has been leaking for some time & needs to be properly replaced.

This rust trail next to the T&P level indicates a leak.

2. Test the T&P Relief Valve, (Temperature & Pressure Relief Valve). These valves keep the HWT from blowing up if the Temperature and/or the Pressure get too high. The Plumbing Code, Manufacturers, & Common Sense says these should be tested at least Annually. Code requires that these be Plumbed properly & legally to an approved Drain; not into a HWT Pan or a crawl-space. While the HWT is still under water pressure, lift up the little metal lever on the T&P Relief Valve for the count of 10 sec. , then release.

When the lever is released, this spring-loaded Valve should snap shut, seat firmly, and stop draining right away. If it keeps dripping and/or continues to leak or drain & won’t flush clean & shut-off tight; it must be replaced. The Pic below shows a HWT that has several things wrong with it (no Expansion Tank, no Pan under it, etc.), including the T&P Drain plumbed wrongly and against Code. It’s a potential bomb waiting to explode.

Electric Hot Water Tank that has been incorrectly plumbed.

There are 2 things wrong with the T&P on this tank. Flex-pipe is okay to use for the incoming Cold & outgoing Hot only, it is not legal for a T&P Drain as shown in this picture because it restricts the pipe too much should the unit flash to steam. Also, the Drain pipe is sloped uphill to the side-wall, (it should be sloped down-hill) where it then goes down & out to the outside, draining by gravity all the way with no ‘traps’. This up-hill portion will trap water, should the T&P drip a little, and that ‘trapped, standing water’ will lay in the pipe and against the outside of the T&P Valve, and will corrode the outside of the T&P Valve. That is very dangerous and can cause the valve to fail by being stuck closed; creating the potential for a bomb if this HWT should have a ‘run away Thermostat’, (a Thermostat that gets stuck & won’t shut the power off) .

The last T&P that was plumbed like this that caused an explosion in WA. State that I know of, was in the basement of a church. When it exploded it flattened all the partition walls in the basement, & sent the HWT rocketing up thru the main floor, thru the roof & it landed almost 100ft from the building outside.)

Uncontrolled, overheated, pressurized water that flashes to steam is deadly; it is exactly the technology & power that is used to launch Jet Fighters off the decks of Aircraft Carriers. If you are interested in seeing just how much damage flashing steam can do on a HWT & it’s property, check out the video clip from the Mythbusters show when they tested this very issue ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bU-I2ZiML0 ) .

Next month, in “Spring into Maintenance Part 2B”, we’ll finish our discussion of Electric Hot Water Heater System Maintenance. In the meantime, if you need any help with any of your plumbing, heating or cooling…from free advice to worry free service; give me a call!

Bruce Davis Sr.


5 Responses to “‘Spring’ Into Maintenance: Part 2A”

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