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The Hot Spot
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For most of us, water heaters aren’t something we want to think about on a regular basis. We just know we want to take warm showers on cold days in the dead of winter. But just like anything mechanical, water heaters are apt to break down or stop working from time to time. Sometimes that means purchasing a new unit or paying a hefty price for repairs. Other times, it’s as simple as relighting a pilot light or turning up the temperature on the water heater. This week, we’ll look at some of the most common reasons water heaters cease to function and what you can do to help prolong their lifespan. 

How to Relight a Gas Water Heater

If you’ve got a natural gas water heater and your water has suddenly gone cold, the first scenario to consider is that your pilot light has gone out. In most cases, this is a relatively easy fix. 

Typically, these water heaters will have a tiny window under an easy-to-remove access panel on the front of the tank. If there’s no visible flame, your pilot light has gone out and you’ll need to relight it. Here’s how to check and then relight your natural gas pilot light: 

  1. Turn off the gas supply by rotating your supply line valve handle 90 degrees (a quarter turn) left or right. This valve handle, located on the gas supply line that runs to your tank, is relatively small and is often colored red. The off position should be perpendicular to the gas line. 
  2. Rotate your temperature control dial clockwise until it stops—this is the lowest heat setting and the correct position for relighting your natural gas pilot light if it’s gone out.  
  3. Turn your gas control knob located on the control box of the tank to the off position—the knob should be already clearly labeled with Off, Pilot and On. Then wait a few minutes to make sure no gas has leaked into the area. If you smell the distinct odor of rotten eggs at any time, you may have a leak, and it’s important to get everyone out of the home immediately—see what to do in case of a natural gas leak
  4. Once you’re confident there are no leaks or residual gases floating around, remove the metal access panel located on the front of your tank. You should see a tiny window once you do, which you can then look through to determine whether your pilot light has gone out. If there’s no flame, you’ll have to light it back up. 
  5. To relight your gas water heater, turn your gas supply valve handle back to the open position—the reverse of step 1. 
  6. Turn your gas control knob to the Pilot position and push down your ignitor button—this button should be located close to the control knob and may be colored red or green, depending on your specific model. Hold the button down for about 1 minute. Then turn the gas control knob to the On position. 
  7. Set your temperature control valve to your desired heat setting (see more about this below). 
  8. Check to see that you now have a flame. If so, you’re good to go, and you can replace the tank’s access panel. 

How To Turn Up the Temperature on a Hot Water Heater

No matter which type of water heater you own, you may find you prefer to raise (or lower) the water temperature at different times of the year, and most are relatively easy to adjust. Older water heaters, in particular, may need to be set higher to suit your preferences.  

It’s important to note that most experts recommend a setting between 120 degrees and 140 degrees, with 120 degrees being optimal in most cases. At this 120-degree setting, you’ll be able to save energy and still safely heat your water enough to kill certain bacteria that’s sometimes found in water tanks. If you prefer higher temperatures, care should be taken to prevent scalding, especially if you have young children or elderly people in your home. If your dial doesn’t have specific temperatures listed, be sure to monitor the temperature coming out of the faucet over the course of a day or so. 

Setting Natural Gas Water Heaters: With a natural gas water heater, most units will have a temperature control meter that makes adjustment easy. Simply locate the dial, usually on a control box on your water heater tank, and set it accordingly. 

Setting Electric Water Heaters: With an electric water heater, the process is a little more involved. You’ll want to make sure you turn the power off first, which you can do at your home’s breaker box—look for a circuit breaker labeled “water heater.”  

Next, depending on your model, you’ll either need to remove one or two adjustment panels located on the front of your water tank (held on with screws). Electric water heaters sometimes have two adjustment dials—one for the bottom portion of your tank and one for the upper portion—and these could be located together under one panel or separately under two. With the panels (and any small pieces of insulation) removed, simply use a flat-head screwdriver to slightly rotate your temperature control dials according to your temperature preferences. When you’re done, replace the panels and switch your hot water heater circuit breaker back on. 

Water Heater Maintenance

Whether you own a tankless water heater, a standard natural gas version, an electric unit or some type of hybrid or solar model, all need some form of regular maintenance to keep them running as long as possible—most will last from 8 to 12 years with upkeep. Here are a few maintenance issues to consider: 

  • Flushing Your Tank: All models should be flushed at least every few years to prevent mineral scale buildup and to prevent corrosion—experts say once a year is best. You can hire an HVAC professional to perform this or try giving it a go yourself. Learn more about flushing hot water heaters
  • Testing Your T&P Valve: Water heaters include a valve that accounts for excessive temperatures and pressure to help prevent your tank from exploding. Experts recommend testing this valve yearly. Learn more about testing and replacing your T&P valve
  • Testing Your Anode Rod: Most hot water tanks have an anode rod that’s used to help preserve the life of your tank—the exception being tankless water heaters. These metal devices help collect corrosive particles and need to be replaced from time to time—about every five years on average. Discolored or funny smelling water could be a sign that yours needs to be replaced. Learn more about testing and replacing anode rods.

We hope this blog has helped answer some of your water heater questions. Stay tuned for future blogs on other helpful energy-related topics from Gas South, Georgia’s most-trusted natural gas provider. 

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