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posted: 5/23/2014 12:01 AM

Don't find yourself in real hot water - maintain your water heater

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The most common type of water heater still is the tank, even though tankless water heaters are becoming more and more common, especially in new homes. The tank-type water heater is fairly inexpensive and easy to replace when it's time. Regular maintenance is easy to do and worth the time and effort, as it will make your water heater run more efficiently and last longer.

Whether your tank is heated with gas or electricity, keep in mind that the water will be hot, so take precautions when doing maintenance.

The most common problem for water heaters is a buildup of mineral deposits. But this is easy to keep under control by just draining the tank a couple of times a year. All you need to do is hook up a garden hose to the spigot on the front of the tank, run it outdoors and turn it on for a few minutes. When the water runs clean, turn the spigot off and remove the water hose. To prevent drips at the spigot, install a hose end cap with a washer installed.

All tanks should have a presser valve near or on the top. Should pressure build up inside the tank, this valve is designed to open to relieve the pressure and drain off any water that comes out. Most water heaters will have a pipe hooked up to this valve to carry the water to a safer location. You can test this valve by tripping the lever. Make sure any water coming out goes into a drain or outdoors. You should hear a rushing air sound when the valve is opened. If it fails to operate, you will need to replace it. Close the valve after testing. If it drips, tighten the connection or replace it.

If your water supply is ever shut off and the tank drains, make sure that you turn the gas or electricity off. You should never have heating sources running when the tank is not full.

Check your heater for leaks on a monthly basis. Even a small leak can develop into a gusher in no time at all. If your water heater is older than 10 years, it could be rusting on the inside, and a small leak would let you know that you are living on borrowed time and that replacement is imminent.

You can wrap your water heater in a blanket made of insulation designed to fit your specific model.

If you have a gas-powered unit, make sure that the vent is properly positioned, never blocked.

Keep your water heater maintained, or you could be in real hot water!

Label your wires

Have you ever unhooked the wires from an appliance and then realized you couldn't remember which wires go where? Well, it happens -- even to us! A smarter way to do this is to grab a piece of masking tape, wrap it around the wire and label it before you disconnect it. Do that to each wire and it will be much easier to hook them up again. You also could take a photo or do a drawing if you want to.

Keep plans handy

A lot of plans for projects are in books, magazines and printed from online sources. We all use them. One way to make using them easier is to mount them in a way that makes them easy to refer to while you are working, but keeps them out of the way at the same time. Our favorite method is to use a clipboard, hung on a pegboard over your workbench. Even a clip of some kind can be used to hold a book or magazine in the same manner. If you are working with flimsy papers, you can back them with a scrap of cardboard. The papers might even stay clean enough to use again.

Super hints

• If you are looking for the perfect gift for a newlywed or a housewarming party, give the gift that keeps on giving -- tools! Buy and stock a toolbox or just get them a gift card.

• One way to remove rust without chemicals is to make your own rust remover. Mix up some salt and lemon juice, and make a paste. Then, spread the paste over the rust and let it sit and do the work for a while. You'll be amazed at how well it works on a lot of really bad rust problems. Try it. You'll save time and money.

• When you need to cut a straight line with a saw, a good way to keep it straight is to clamp a scrap of lumber next to your cutting line. With this in place, you can run the saw right along this edge and your cut will be perfect every time.

Q. My wife uses hair spray on her hair, and I can see a heavy buildup on the flooring in our bathroom. What would be good to clean this off with?

A. Mix some shampoo with water and spread it over the hair spray and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, use a plastic scrubber to remove the loosened mess from the floor. This is a very mild solution that seems to work pretty well in most cases.

Q. I've noticed that some of my rechargeable batteries seem to work better than others. My tools, especially, seem to go bad more quickly, which gets expensive. Any reason why?

A. Rechargeable batteries get better with each generation, so upgrading when you can afford it is a good idea. Trying to get the most life out of your batteries means it's very important to store them in moderate temperatures in a dry area. Most tools are stored in a garage or workshop, and if it's very cold or very hot it can have a bad effect on these batteries, so store them indoors if you can. Put the battery back on the charger as soon as it starts losing power, not when it's completely drained.

Q. We pack up our winter clothes and store them during the summer. We've started using the vacuum-seal bags and wondered if we can quit using the moth balls. What's your opinion?

A. If the bags seal and stay sealed, then you really don't need the moth balls. On the other hand, these bags may develop leaks and, if any moth eggs are present when you pack the clothes away, then they have all summer to eat your clothes. Better to be safe than sorry -- at least use cedar blocks!

Reader tips

• My wife wanted to change out our microwave because it didn't match the oven when we had to buy a new one. Are you kidding me? Do you know how much that would cost, just because of the color? Well, I found a website where you could buy just the front-door panel for less than $90. I bought a new door and put it on. Now she's happy -- for the moment, anyway.

• I had no idea how much it would cost to paint our house, and, when I found out, I decided to try to do some of the prep work myself to save money. I started doing the cleaning and found that the power washer was really great at getting off the loose paint. I had very little sanding to do after that, and the painters said they didn't have much else to do, so I ended up saving about $2,000 on the price of the paint job. I have to say that using the pressure washer actually was fun, too.

• It's been a tough storm season this spring. We have had hail damage and had to have our roof repaired. We were grateful that we could find someone quickly to get the repairs finished before the last storm. The only problem is that this person left a lot of nails and other debris in our yard. But they left before they picked it all up, so we had to do that. I bought some magnets and glued them to the broom. Then I drug the broom around the yard, back and forth, picking up the nails as I went. I'm sure I missed some, but I know I got a lot because I had a big pile of them when I was finished. The magnet worked quite well.

• We have finished with our complete home renovation. It has taken almost a year, but, project after project, we have completed them all. Now it's time for the cleanup. Our garage is full of leftover product, and some of it hasn't been used. I started asking around and found that I could donate it to my local Habitat for Humanity. It won't take everything, but can use quite a bit of it. They also have a couple of Restores in our city and can sell it. It's a good place to donate stuff, and it certainly goes to a good cause.

• You'd be proud of me. I learned how to change the oil in my car when I was much younger, and I've started doing it again. I wanted to teach my kids how to do it, so we all do it together. We use a universal oil filter wrench that works on both cars. I showed them a neat trick. I glued a strip of sandpaper inside the wrench so that when you use it, it grabs the filter tighter so it turns easier. It really helps, and my kids think I'm great. I'll take it!


• Vinegar is one of those everyday household products that we all have in our homes. It has tons of uses there, as well as in the shop and even outdoors. It's really inexpensive and can save you money in many cases. We have put together a list of some of our favorite, tried-and-true uses for the stuff. You also can get this information, as well as a lot of other interesting tips, on our website at We hope to hear from you soon. Have a super day!

• If you have the option, why would you use poison to kill pests in and out of your home? Well, Nature-Cide is a licensed pest-management company that makes a line of 100 percent natural products containing essential oils and other natural ingredients. They are nonstaining, safe for kids and pets and they even smell good. Nature-Cide have several formulas for the home, including indoor, outdoor, flea and tick, and one specifically for bedbugs. They are ready to use, so there's no mixing. Check them out at and take the safer option!

• The next generation of tool batteries is the lithium-ion, and Bosch has it. The new FatPack 18V Li-ion battery is the lightest, most compact of it's kind and has the longest runtime on the market. The patented CoolPack technology offers a 100 percent-longer recharge life, and works with all of the Bosch 18V Li-ion power tools. Check it out at and at your hardware store and home center.

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells' website at

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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