It's a good idea to drain a water heater tank once a year. This removes sediment collecting in the tank, which comes in the form of naturally occurring minerals found in the water, along with sand and grit flushed from the municipal water supply. Over time, sediment degrades the heater's energy efficiency and performance and will clog valves and drains. Left uncleared, sediment leads to the appliance's premature failure.

Step 1: Cut Power and Water Supply

If you have an electric-powered water heater, shut off the power at the circuit breaker box. Most electric water heaters have their own breaker. Its important to note that electric heating elements will burn out if left active when the water level has dropped below them.

For a gas-powered water heater, locate the thermostat and turn the setting to "pilot."

Next, find the cold water supply line connected to the top of the tank and close the valve so water is no longer feeding into the tank.

Caution: the water in the tank will stay hot for several hours with the potential to cause injury even after you have shut off the power. Allow time for the water to cool.

Step 2: Connect Drainage Hose

Locate the drain valve near the bottom of the tank. Some models will have a cover over the valve that you need to remove.

Connect a standard garden hose to the valve and tighten.

If your water heater is above ground, like a first-floor utility closet or garage, run the garden hose outdoors to a place where the water can drain safely.

If the heater is in a basement, lead the hose to a floor drain if one exists. Otherwise, you will need to connect to a portable pump. Attach a second hose to the pump and run it outdoors to an ideal drainage area.

Step 3: Open the Hot Water Taps

Now you need to release the water pressure by opening the hot water faucets around your home. This alleviates the suction in the pipes —much like taking your finger off the end of a liquid filled straw.

This is a great time for someone to take a long, hot shower. It will speed up the drainage process.

Step 4: Open the Drain Valve

Return to the water heater to begin the drainage by opening the drain valve. If you have connected a pump, as mentioned above, it's time to activate it.

Allow the tank to empty. Don't forget that the water is still hot.

Step 5: Finishing the Job

Once the tank is empty, turn off the hot water faucets. Now you can go ahead with flushing or other maintenance work.

When you are finished, close the drain valve and remove the hose. Replace the cap if there was one. Open the cold water supply valve you closed earlier to refill the tank. Watch the drain valve to make sure it's not leaking and tighten it as needed.

When the tank is full, you can restore the electricity or gas power. Take caution by not turning on the heater before the tank is full, as this might damage the heating elements. Check the manufacturer's documentation for more information.

If you have any problems during this process, don't hesitate to contact a licensed plumbing and heating professional.

You might not give water heaters any thought when shopping for a new home. They don't carry the same appeal as a spa-inspired master bathroom or an outdoor kitchen that will be the envy of your friends at your next summer barbecue, but water heaters are crucial to your daily comforts. As you look through your next potential home, make sure the water heater is on your checklist. Here are some things to keep in mind to avoid expensive issues in the future.

Is it Rented or Owned?

Find out from the seller if the water heater is a rental or owned outright. If rented, ask for a copy of the contract and read it carefully. Renting a water heater is considerably more expensive than buying. For example, a $25-a-month rental for a ten-year contract would cost $3,000. Compare that to the usual price range of $800 to $1,000 to buy a tank heater.

Rent-to-own scenarios can include an expensive buy-out price that neither you nor the seller wants to take on. A contract buyout would be necessary if you plan for renovations that require replacement of the existing heater.

Is it the Right Size?

Have a licensed plumbing and heating professional inspect the heater as part of the home's inspection. This technician can determine if the tank size is adequate for the home, based on the number of hot water faucets, showers, appliances, and family members in your household. You might find that the heater is too small to support your family needs, which means running out of hot water during morning showers or while using the dishwasher or washing machine. On the other hand, you don't want a tank that is far too large because you will spend a lot on utilities to heat extra water.

How Old Is the Water Heater?

The typical lifespan of a tank water heater is ten years. Once a tank has reached this age, it can malfunction or begin leaking with no warning. A leaking tank is not repairable, and can cause significant damage to the home. Look out for signs of deterioration such as rust spots and water stains. If you're not sure of the age of your water heater, your plumber can look it up, based on the manufacturer's serial number. If the tank is near the end of its life, get ready to replace it.

Does it Pose a Risk?

Look at the area around the heater. It's common to place it in an inconspicuous area, like an adjoining garage or utility closet. But an out of sight and mind location can be a problem, because you won't know if it's leaking until it has already caused significant damage. Then you'll find the spike in your energy bill from heating all that water as it pours out of the tank. Exposed sub-flooring, wood framing, and sheet rock walls can all be at risk of permanent damage. If this is the case, discuss options with your plumber for relocating the water heater to a safer spot.

Including the water heater in home inspections will save you a lot of grief. Remember, this unassuming appliance is the reason you're not boiling water over a fire for your bath.