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Easy-flush water heater valve. (Ask Handyman).

Q I have hard water and have been told that I should periodically drain my water heater to flush out the minerals. Is this true?

P. Hunter, via e-mail

A It's a good idea. Manufacturers recommend it to prevent mineral buildup that reduces heater performance and efficiency. In fact, research shows that for every 1/2 in. of sediment on the bottom of a gas-fired water heater, 70 percent more fuel is required to heat the water.

How often it should be drained depends on the mineral load in your water, the amount of hot water used and whether a water softener is part of your system. To judge this, drain the water heater, then wait six months and do it again. If the water seems clear after six months, then extend the time between draining. If it's heavy with sediment, drain your water heater more often.

To drain, first turn off the power. If your water heater is gas powered, twist the dial on the thermostat from the "on" position to "off." If it's electric, flip the circuit breaker off at the service panel that controls the water heater or flip off the main breaker. Next, shut off the cold water supply by twisting the water valve (located atop the heater) clockwise until it stops. Then attach a garden hose to the drain valve at the base of the heater and run the other end of the hose into a light-colored bucket in order to view the sediment.

Open the drain valve and turn the cold water supply back on to flush out the sediment. Be careful; the water is hot! The first water exiting the heater carries the most sediment. When water runs clear, shut off the drain valve, detach the hose and turn the power back on.

If you have sediment, replace the plastic drain valve with a ball-style valve. It's much less likely to clog with sediment and is easier to close than the factory-equipped valves. This type of valve also allows you to run a stiff wire into the tank bottom to loosen hardened sediment.

To replace, it's simply a matter of draining the tank (use steps listed above), unscrewing the factory-installed plastic valve and threading in the new ball valve. And always use pipe joint compound or Teflon tape for a proper seal.

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Publication:The Family Handyman
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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