My friend John was complaining to me that every time his wife would take a bath, there was never enough hot water. I asked him if this was something that just started, or had been going on for awhile. He said that he had never had a problem with it before.

I asked him if he turned up the water temperature on the side of the heater…

He said he had, but that didn’t change anything. Then I asked him if how long it had been since he drained the tank to remove the sediment. He looked confused.

I explained to him…

Since you have a conventional tank water heater (40 gallons to be precise), you need to flush it regularly to remove the sediment, I told him. Sediment built up can decrease the energy efficiency of the hot water heater, and if it isn’t removed can damage the unit. Over time, sediment forms a layer on the bottom, blocking your gas burner from the water. This insulates the bottom and causes a slow transfer of heat to the water making it hard for a gas-powered water heater to maintain the proper temperature.

I saw the light bulb go on over his head.

Water tanks should be flushed at least once a year, I further explained. And if you have really hard water (especially well water) it should be flushed more often, perhaps twice a year. This removes the sediment and fills the tank with clean water, while also extending the service life of the heater. Cleanliness is next to Godliness (or so I was told by my grandmother…)

This is how I did it.

First, I checked the pressure relief valve (it’s on the side of the tank up high, with a pipe leading down to the floor) like this:

  • I turned the gas dial to PILOT, and let the tank cool (I didn’t want to get burned).
  • Then I turned off the water coming into the water heater (the cold water inlet).
  • I put a bucket under the valve to catch any water coming out.
  • When I tripped the switch, I listened to the sound it made. It should make noise like a slight rush of air and perhaps see some water vapor exit.

If I didn’t hear that sound, then I would know the valve is bad and needs to be changed. But on this water heater, I heard the sound! Yay!

Flip the switch up and listen…

Next, I started draining the tank…

  • I connected a hose to the drain valve (on the bottom of the tank – looks just like an exterior hose bib).
  • I positioned the hose near the floor drain.
  • With the pressure relief valve open, I drained the tank completely.
  • After waiting awhile (40 gallons is a lot of water!), I closed the drain valve, disconnected the hose, and closed the pressure relief valve.
  • Next I opened all the hot water faucets in the house. Then I turned on the cold water inlet on the heater.
  • After water started flowing from the faucets, I closed them, then turned the gas switch to RUN.

After cleaning up I left, then called later that evening to make sure the water was hot. It was! His wife told me she could fill up the tub, and had plenty of hot water to keep it hot for a long time (she takes long baths).

There you have it. An easy fix to a common problem. But… if you don’t feel comfortable going through the steps as I have outlined them, then by all means, call a professional. But, make sure you do this at least once a year, you will be rewarded with a water heater that lasts a lot longer, and performs much better. All the wile using less energy.