Q. Weekly reader, enjoy your column. We purchased a 40-gallon gas hot water heater with a 12-year warranty in 1999. Should we replace it now? There are only two of us in the house, so does using it less mean it will last longer? If it does go, would it dump just the 40 gallons of water in the tank onto the concrete floor of our unfinished basement, or would more water continue to flow through the system?
A. My gut tells me that less usage might help, but many water heaters have a life span of only 10 to 12 years. This varies, of course, depending on the design of the unit, the installation, maintenance performed, and the water quality. Regular maintenance, such as replacing the pressure-relief valve or heating element, which no one ever does, will extend the life of your water heater. If it “does go,” the water will just keep coming.
Things to look for:
■ A drop in performance. In some cases, a faulty thermostat can affect how long it takes for your water to heat up and how hot the water gets;
■ A leaking drain valve. Look for dripping either out of the drain opening or around the valve itself. It’s near the bottom of the tank. If you see dripping at the valve, make sure the bottom valve is fully closed by turning it clockwise. If this does not solve the problem, the valve might need to be replaced.
■ Pressure valve leaks. When this valve is leaking, water usually appears at the bottom of the tank because the overflow tube discards the expelled water underneath it.
Today’s water heaters are manufactured to require little or no maintenance, but some DIY can prolong their life:
1. Drain the water heater twice a year to rid it of collected sediment that causes corrosion.
2. Test the pressure-relief valve by lifting the valve’s handle and letting it snap back. This should release a burst of water into the overflow drainpipe. Have a bucket handy to collect the water. If the valve does not work, or leaks afterward, have a new valve installed.
3. Lower the thermostat to below 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which will help prevent overheating damage.
Q. I own a home with plastic siding. Over the years, the delivery driver from our heating company has spilled oil onto the siding around the pipe leading to the container in the cellar. We now have a big black spot on the siding facing the street. What can I use to get rid of the stain? If I need to replace the siding, is this something an inexperienced person can do, and, if so, what tools are required?
A. Hmm. This is a tough one. Call your heating oil supplier first and ask for a recommendation. If that’s a dead end, try the following:
■ Fill a bucket with hot water and a strong detergent such as TSP Substitute, siding cleaner, or Spic and Span;
■ Using the detergent, attack the stain with a scrubber pad or brush;
■ If this doesn’t do the job, try a stain remover product like Goof Off. Be sure to test it in an inconspicuous spot first.
Replacing siding can be a tricky proposition for an inexperienced person, particularly when you have to make cuts for a drainpipe.
Q. I live in a three-unit building in Charlestown that was built around the 1880s. The house is primarily constructed of brick and has a fieldstone foundation, but the front sits on brownstone blocks (rising roughly 5 feet from street level). As part of a renovation completed 10 years ago, the prior owner of the house painted the brownstone. Recently, we noticed that several small areas of brownstone have disintegrated into a sandy substance behind where the paint chipped off. Given that the brownstone has been painted, I am unable to see the extent to which other areas might be also be affected. To what extent should I be concerned that the disintegration is something more than cosmetic, and what would be the proper course of action to repair and limit further damage to the brownstone?
ERIC SCOTT THOMPSON
A. You should have a mason evaluate the damage.
AConcordCarpenter.com, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to @globeaddress or @robertrobillard.