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Practical ways to maintain your hot water tank

A problem with your hot water tank could lead to leaks, bursts, flooding and costly water damage. And if it’s installed in a finished basement or located in another finished area of the house, it could lead to a substantial insurance claim.

“Regardless of how good your insurance coverage is, your life will be disrupted if your tank bursts. You’re going to go from playing offense to playing defense living in the aftermath of extensive water damage to your home,” says Travis Cline, Manager of Property Technical Strategy with Wawanesa.

But in many cases, leaks and bursts are preventable or, at the very least, the damage can be mitigated.


Common signs of hot water tank problems

Usually, there are warning signs if your hot water tank is about to malfunction. Keep in mind that hot water tanks last 10 to 15 years, but damage can show up much earlier. If it’s a new tank, you should still check for signs of deterioration or damage. If it’s old, you’ll want to have a professional inspect your tank at least annually.

Even if you don’t notice any obvious warning signs, age alone means your hot water tank may not perform at optimum levels. If you don’t know how old it is, the age of the tank is typically embedded in the serial number, and most tanks have a stamp on them, too.

Problems could be related to hoses or pipes unlatching or bursting, venting leakage, corrosion coming out of the tank, or rusting that can lead to bursting. Some of this happens from wear and tear over time.

Get to know your hot water tank by performing regular visual checks and asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you often running out of hot water?
  • Have you noticed reduced water flow or pressure?
  • Does your water temperature fluctuate from hot to cold?
  • Is your water rust coloured or does it smell funny?
  • Is your tank making odd noises, like cracks, pops, gurgles, whining or banging?
  • Is water pooling at the bottom of your tank?
  • Is your hot water tank past the 10-year mark?

When do you need a pro?

Use a qualified contractor for all hot water tank maintenance. They’ll look at the tank’s valves and rods, including the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve, which releases water if the pressure or temperature in the tank exceeds a safe level.

They might also check water quality, sediment building and ventilation to ensure the space around your tank meets safety codes. Gas heaters should also be tested for carbon monoxide to ensure your tank is venting properly.

Once you’ve had your hot water tank for 10 years, you should book that annual inspection—and start budgeting for a new one (many contractors offer financing options). A contractor can also flush your tank annually, which will prolong its life.

What can homeowners do themselves?

Homeowners should follow a two-part strategy for hot water tank maintenance:

  1. Pay attention to warning signs by doing a visual check annually or semi-annually (depending on the age of your tank).
  2. Have a professional prolong the life of your tank with flushing and maintenance (which can also help to find any hidden leaks that could eventually rupture).

As a homeowner, you can follow these helpful hot water tank tips to prevent issues:

If you have a hot water tank heated by natural gas: Make sure items aren’t accumulating on top of your tank (including the manual or cleaning rags) since it has an open flame exposure and could cause a fire. But regardless of the fuel type, it’s best practice not to store anything—like your hockey equipment, which is quite common—on or around the tank. That way, it’s easier to perform visual inspections.

If the drain isn’t at the lowest point in the room: While the floor drain should be the lowest point in the room, in some homes the floor is sloped upwards toward the drain. And in homes where electric hot water tanks aren’t in the basement, they might not be near a drain. In those cases, install a drain pan under the tank with a pipe running to the floor drain.

“The easiest and cheapest thing you can do when you replace your tank is put a drain pan under it—it’s so simple,” says Dom Mandaliti, Personal Insurance Loss Control Manager with Wawanesa. “This can be combined with a moisture sensor, so if it detects moisture where there shouldn’t be, the device will send an automated alert to the homeowner.”

If you’re going to be out of town for an extended period: When you’re away, you should have a friend or family member checking on your place regularly, including the hot water tank. Once again, those moisture sensors add an extra layer of security because even if you’re out of town, you’ll get an alert on your smartphone that lets you know there’s a potential problem. As an extra precaution, if you’re going to be gone for a long period, you should shut off the main water supply valve to your home.

Looking for more hot water tank tips?

Learn how to spot the warning signs and save the stress, or how to create a water leak response plan. Then reach out to your Wawanesa broker to find out more about water loss coverage.


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