I received this question from a reader recently and would like to take the time to answer it.
“How long should my water heater last?” –Tim W.
On average a gas water heater will last about 8-10 years (these are more energy efficient but require more maintenance), an electric will last about 10-15 years, and a tank-less water heater will last 20-30 years and require less maintenance (Although tank-less water heaters haven’t been around as long as ones with tanks so the stats on these are still questionable.) To find the age of your water heater, simply look at the water heater itself. The plumber who installed it should have written the date on the tank somewhere, and if not, it should be located within the actual serial number on the tank.
The age of your water heater will be a sign of its wear and tear, but there are many other factors that play into the longevity of your water heater’s lifespan. Like many other tools and equipment, the name brand is an important indicator of the quality and craftsmanship put into the machine. We recommend A.O. Smith but there are a few other trustworthy brands as well, just do your research and look up reviews. The type of water heater is also important. The smaller it is, the less it works- the less water it has to heat continuously (unless you use a lot of hot water- in which case you should probably get a larger water heater so you aren’t overworking a small one). Tank-less water heaters last longer because they aren’t constantly heating the water (It heats the water as needed, as the water passes through on demand.) and it doesn’t collect sediment like a tank water heater does. (Although they are more expensive, in the long run, it pays off.) The type of water can also age your water heater. Hard water is worse because it has more sediment. The more sediment, the more build up, the more your water heater has to work and the sooner it will wear itself out. Maintenance is a key factor in prolonging your water heaters lifespan, which we will talk about further down, but should be done at least once a year. Sometimes some water heaters just have defects while manufactured which is also a good reason to go with a brand that has a low defect rate, but these things aren’t always predictable and it happens to the best of them. Warranties are great things and should definitely come with your water heater!
Some signs that it may be time to get a new water heater:
1. The age of the water heater- sometimes it’s best just to be safe than sorry. Many people replace their water heaters when it hits a certain age. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of the night without hot water or an available plumber.
2. Water is leaking out of the water heater, more than likely at the base/bottom. You should have an overflow pan under the water heater. Check it for moisture.
3. If you notice your hot water doesn’t last as long as it used to. Do you have to take quicker showers? Not as many showers can be taken at once? Etc.
4. Do you notice it takes longer for the water heater to recover? Do you run out of hot water and an hour later there still isn’t hot water or not enough? Does it take longer and longer to get hot water back?
5. Sometimes water heaters will start to become noisy or louder than normal as they are being worn out and overworked.
6. Probably the most obvious sign would be there is no hot water at all or there is water flooding your garage/attic/closet where the water heater is installed.
If you suspect there is something wrong with your water heater, do not automatically replace it, especially if it’s not at the older age limit of its type. It could be several things that are easily fixed. It could be the anode rod which is inside the tank and reduces/prevents rusting or corrosion. If you start to see rust in your water, this may be the culprit. If you are unsure of how to replace it, call a plumber. (Water heaters are dangerous to work with on your own because of the gas or electricity involved.) The dip tube could also be eroding- you would probably start to see little particles collecting in your aerators on the faucets. The heating element may also be out and can be replaced without replacing the whole machine. There are several other parts that can malfunction but be easily replaced on the water heater. Ask your plumber to check everything before you spend the money to replace the entire system. If you do have to replace your water heater try to upgrade to a more energy efficient one. Water heaters make up about 15 % of your electricity bill, so the upgrade will be worth it!
One of the biggest problems with water heaters is the sediment build up. This is why it’s important to maintain your water heater at least once a year. Sediment from the water once it’s heated collects at the bottom of your water heater, which is where the heating elements are also located. The more sediment that collects there, the harder the heating elements have to work to heat the water. Not only will this eventually cause the elements to burn out, it can also create burn spots or pinholes in your water heater, which then leads to water leaking out. To prevent this, it’s suggested to drain your tank once a year to remove the sediment.
To drain your water heater:
1. Disconnect the power supply to the water heater. If it’s an electric water heater, turn off the breaker or the entire power supply. If it is a gas water heater, turn the thermostat to “pilot.” If you are unsure how to do any of the above, please seek a professional!
2. Attach a hose to the drain valve (at the bottom) and run the hose outside or somewhere where the water can flow.
3. Turn off the cold water supply to the water heater.
4. Turn on the hot water in a nearby sink to prevent a vacuum.
5. Open the drain valve on the water heater and drain all the water to remove the sediment. Since the valve is at the bottom where most of the sediment collects, you can also watch the water come out and once the water turns clear, stop draining it so you don’t have to waste all of the water in the tank.
6. Once drained, close the valve and then remove the hose. Turn the cold water back on to the water heater. Restart the water heater (Once again, if you are unsure how, please seek a professional).
Best wishes to you and your water heater!
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