You might be using your water heater a little extra to escape from cold temperatures. This appliance is actually a pretty amazing convenience. But have you checked on its health recently? It just so happens that there are four things to check with your four senses. (Yes, there are actually five senses, but there’s no need to taste your water heater!)

  • Sight. A puddle around your water heater could indicate a leak. You should also check for mold.
  • Touch. If the hot water has uneven pressure or spurts, there might be a clog.
  • Sound. Pop! Crack! If you hear this, there might be sediment buildup.
  • Smell. A bad odor could come from a faulty aluminum rod. But if you suspect a gas leak, call a qualified professional.

How to inspect a water heater

Warning: water heaters are HOT. Be careful about what you touch. To inspect your heater, check for signs of leaks and go through the tips above. You should also look around the valves and pipes.

  • Check around for rust or corrosion.
  • Does your heater have a vent? Check that it’s properly functioning. (This step is not necessary for high-efficiency and electric water heaters.)
  • About once a year, flush out your tank to remove buildup.

Where is my water heater?

It’s okay if you’re not sure. The water heater isn’t something you think about until you need it. But now that you know how important the water heater is, add regular inspections to your home maintenance calendar. In a single-family home, the water heater is probably located near your gas and water supply lines. You can also check your garage or utility rooms. If you still can’t find it, ask someone to use hot water and listen for it to turn on and off. For apartments and condos, water heaters might be in utility closets or “hidden” in kitchen cabinetry.

Time it right

This isn’t so much a safety tip as a family survival tip. If several people shower back-to-back, it’s “cold potato” for the last person. It takes about 40-60 minutes for a 50-gallon tank to refill and reheat. By planning ahead, everyone in the house can have a well-timed warm shower. Some people prefer to shower in the morning, and others prefer to do so at night. This a.m./p.m. split will make it easier to use a modestly-sized water heater without leaving anyone in the cold.