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A Guide for Understanding and Fixing Scale Buildup in Hot Water Heaters

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Minerals in water can build up in your hot water tank. The heat and steam in a hot water heater causes the hard minerals in the water to separate out from the water, where they clink to the sides of the tank and build up. Over time this can lead to major issues with your hot water heater. The following guide to hot water heater scale can help you avoid problems.

The Problem With Scale

The scale sediments in your water heater tank can build up on the sides of the water heater and eventually coat the heating coils. This can cause the water heater to heat much more slowly and less effectively than before, so you end up with cooler water, longer heating times, and more energy consumption. Scale can also harbor chemicals and minerals that speed up corrosion. This can lead to major damage and leaks on a hot water heater. The scale buildup can even clog valves, so the water heater can't transfer water properly. All of this can necessitate a repair or a replacement.

Signs of Scale Buildup

There are several symptoms that become present if scale is building up in your tank. Some are more obvious than others. These symptoms include the following:

  • Noise. This can be one of the most obvious signs, but it only presents itself when the buildup is starting to become severe. As scale builds up on the sides of the tank, it becomes heavier. It will then eventually fall off. This is the knocking and cracking noise you sometimes hear from your heater.

  • Slow heating. If it seems to take your water heater longer to reheat the water, or even if it is taking longer for the hot water to come out of the tap, scale is likely the culprit. The scale has covered the supply line openings or the heater elements, which is slowing everything down.

  • Valve issues. Trouble opening up the valves, whether it's the emergency drain valve or one of the cleaning valves, can all indicate scale buildup inside. Unfortunately, you may only notice these valves are stuck in the event of an emergency.

Prevention Pointers

The single best way to prevent sediment buildup is to use a whole house water softener. This will remove some of the hard minerals in the water so that there are less to develop into scale inside your tank. You should also drain and clean your tank at least once a year. To do this you will need to cut off the heat to the tank. Hook a hose to the bottom drain valve and run it outside to an area where hot water won't damage the landscaping. Finally, open the valve and let the water run out. It will take a lot of the sand-like sediment and scale with it. You can then close the valves and turn the tank back on. If this seems complicated, contact a water heater service to perform an annual flushing and inspection on your system.