Is Your Water Heater Ready for Winter?

October 6, 2020

Massachusetts homes in winter

With winter coming quickly, now is the time to start preparing your home for the moths of cold temperatures and heavy use that lie ahead for your home. One such part of your home that needs preparation is your water heater—it will see a lot of additional use with the colder weather, and the difficult conditions make preparation vital to your system’s efficiency and survival. But how do you prepare your water heater for winter? The process is not nearly as complex as you might think it is. This blog has some valuable tips you can follow to ensure your water heater is ready to handle your winter workload.

Step 1: Inspect Plumbing Insulation

Plumbing insulation is usually a form of closed-cell foam that is wrapped around the water line that feeds into and out of your water heater. This foam has the important job of keeping the cold temperatures away from your heater and the heat in your water safely inside. You can lose a lot of energy by your water losing heat before it reaches your various appliances, so we recommend limiting that heat loss as much as possible. If your plumbing lines leading into and out of your water heater are not insulated, insulate them (you can purchase the material from any home improvement store). If your insulation is crumbling or damaged, replace it.

Step 2: Check Your Water Heater Thermostat

Your water heater’s thermostat is perhaps its single most important controller, and it needs to be set properly. The average home actually typically sets their thermostat far too high—this is not only a huge waste of energy, but could be dangerous. Water that’s too hot can cause scalding burns with as little as a few seconds of exposure to bare skin. The CPSC recommends setting your water heater at no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scalding. However, with colder temperatures, you might want to consider bumping the temperature to 125 or 130 to ensure the water reaching your faucets is still at a good temperature. Be extremely careful not to expose skin to water at these temperatures, however, as it can cause injury.

Step 3: Check Your Utility Connections

Is your water connection tight and leak-free? Is your gas connection secure? Do you smell that distinct scent of natural gas coming from your water heater? Are your electrical connections seemingly loose or about to fall apart? These are all things that need to be repaired. While new connection hoses are generally a simple installation that anyone can do, we recommend having any gas or electrical issues attended to by a professional plumber. A mistake there could permanently break your water heater, and that’s a much more expensive job.

Step 4: Check Your Drain Pan & Surrounding Area for Signs of Water Damage

Water heaters can spring a leak. After years of changing temperatures and exposure to water that slowly eats away at the metal in the tank, it’s easy to understand how a small drip could eventually form. A small drip could eventually give way to a faster drip, which then turns into a steady stream. Before long, your water heater is losing a ton of water and energy and your home is dealing with a tremendous case of water damage. Look for signs of a leak frequently, and we recommend doing so as a part of your winterization process.

Step 5: Flush Your Water Heater

Finally, you’ll want to take this opportunity to flush your water heater. Flushing your heater means completely draining the tank, and removing much of the chalky residue, dirt, and other debris that may have built up in the bottom of the tank as the months and years have gone by. These not only limit your tank’s capacity, but ruin its energy efficiency as well, as they tend to block some of the much-needed heat from entering your tank.

To flush your tank, simply attach a durable garden hose to the valve on the front, and then place the other end either in a gutter or somewhere the water can be safely disposed of. After shutting off the heater and closing your utility connections, open the valve and let the water in the tank drain out. Use a bucket to periodically check the water coming out to see if it includes any small crystals of limescale or other debris. If the water is clean, your tank is clear and you can shut off the drain valve and then restart the heater and let it refill again.

Is your home ready for winter? If you experience a plumbing problem or if you need any repairs before the weather turns sour, make the call to Winters® Home Services! Dial 617-221-5899 today.