Are you hearing knocking, ticking, popping, clicking, or clunking noises coming from your basement? It could be that you’ve got one hell of a mouse problem or, more likely, it’s your water heater. Actually to be more accurate it’s the sediment sitting in the tank of your water heater causing the noises.
Let’s take a quick break and review how water heaters work…
Water heaters are fairly simple, actually. On top of every tank you'll find the water supply (going in) and delivery pipes (going out). The supply pipe routes cold water to the bottom of the tank through the dip tube. The hot-water delivery pipe takes water from the top. For safety, all water heaters are equipped with a T&P valve (temperature-and-pressure relief valve). This valve opens if either the temperature or pressure of the water exceeds a safe limit. The valve is connected to a pipe that runs down the outside of the tank, ending about 6 in. from the floor. The T&P valve should not be connected to a drain.
Don’t freak out…sediment is normal and it doesn’t mean your water is dirty or contaminated. Our water is full of minerals, lime, etc that settle to the bottom of the tank once the water is introduced to heat. As these things build-up, not only is less water able to be stored (meaning you’ll run out of hot water faster), but the bigger issue is the water heater has to use more energy heating things up that aren’t water. Also if that extra stuff in your water heater builds up enough the sediment can find it’s way out and cause problems with circulating pumps, check valves, and faucets. Keep in mind that even if your water heater is quietly doing it's job there is likely sediment hanging out in the bottom of the tank and it still needs flushed out.
So what’s the answer? It’s pretty simple…flush out your water heater.
- Turn off the power source (either electricity or turn the pilot control to “away” or “vacation”). This makes it so the water will begin to cool before you flush it out, minimizing burns. Obviously make sure you do this when no one will be showering, washing dishes, or washing clothes. If you want your wife to flip out…turn off the water heater while she’s taking a shower!
- Turn off the cold-water inlet (located on the cold water pipe coming into the water heater). Without turning the cold-water inlet valve off, water will continually pump into the tank and you’ll never get it drained.
- Connect a garden hose to the drain valve and run the other end of the hose to a floor drain in your basement. Make sure the rubber gasket is on the hose when you attach it to the water heater otherwise water will spray all over your basement.
- Let the water cool. You don’t want to be draining boiling hot water through a cheap garden hose while likely wearing your house slippers.
- Turn on a faucet or two. Yes this seems weird but here’s why…opening a faucet or two stops any vacuum from forming in your pipes which will actually keep water from draining. You hopefully won’t see much water (if any) coming out but do it anyway.
- Drain the tank. Open the drain valve (located in the vicinity of where you have the garden hose connected). Make sure you keep the water flow regulated so the floor drain or whatever you’re using doesn’t overflow thereby getting your house slippers wet.
- Open the cold-water valve. Do this with the drain valve still open so fresh water will flood the tank and wash any remaining sediment out.
- Close the drain valve and leave the cold-water valve on. This will allow the tank to refill.
- Turn off the one or two faucets you turned on in step 5.
- Turn your water heater on. This might mean simply turning the control on your gas water heater back to your desired temperature setting or, if you’re water heater is electric, flipping a switch, a breaker, or whatever.
- Make sure your pilot light is lit if you have a gas water heater. It should’ve stayed lit if you just turned it to “away” or “vacation” but make sure before you walk away and call the job “done”.
Obviously this is just a vague and quick guide on how to flush your hot water heater. The actual conditions at your house may vary, your level of handiness may vary, or you just may not want to fool with this. In any of those cases call a licensed plumber and they’ll be happy to take care of this for you.