Water Heater Replacement: 5 Clues Telling You When The Time is Near

water heater replacement

Water heater replacement is rarely something people get excited about. In fact, most people don't realize how critical a water heater is to their day-to-day life until they wake-up one morning and find they only have cold water!

When a water heater isn't properly working the ability to wash clothing, run a dishwasher and take a shower is hindered. Fortunately, our water heaters leave clues when they are reaching the end of their service life, this allows us the chance to purchase a replacement before our current heater fails.

Postponing this decision could create a safety hazard within your home, and lead to expensive property damage. How do you know when to replace your water heater? Here are 5 clues to help you determine when you need a water heater replacement:

Water Heater Replacement: 5 Tell Tale Clues

#1 - The Age of Your Water Heater

If you have a water heater that is over a decade old, yet it's still performing fine without any issues, you may find a nagging question that keeps popping in your head. "How long will my water heater last?"

The truth is, with proper maintenance and reasonable use, it could last up to 20 years. But for every water heater that exceeds it's expected service life, there's another newer model that failed far too early.

The average service life of a water heater is 8 to 12 years. So if your unit is pushing the 10 year mark it's only a matter of time before a water heater replacement is in your future.

Some homeowners choose to purchase a new energy efficient model when their current heater hits the 10 year mark. Others like to wait until their water heater fails.

Regardless, of your preference, if your water heater is 10 to 12 years old you should watch it closely for leaks and other issues. In fact, we highly recommend purchasing a water heater leak detector. They are inexpensive and easy to use, and they can save you a major headache and a huge mess if your tank begins to leak. 

#2 - Signs of Rust

Rust is usually a clear indication that your water heater needs to be replaced. It frequently accumulates along the temperature and pressure relief valve, and it can also be found along the water inlet and outlet connections. Water drawn from the tap can also show signs of rust and be brownish in color. ​

Since the majority of hot water tanks are made from steel, they are prone to rust and corrosion. The anode rod is designed to sacrifice itself and protect the tank, but with time, all tanks will eventually rust and leak.

Although you can flush a water heater periodically to remove buildup, there isn't a way to repair a tank that has started leaking. If you notice brown water coming from your tap, or a puddle of water under your tank, you may want to consider calling a professional plumber to perform a water heater replacement.

The location of your home’s water heater may be the deciding factor for your next step. Water heater leaks can cost thousands of dollars in residential damage. If your water heater is located in a garage, you may choose to wait until the tank completely fails, since the water damage will likely be minimal and the clean-up relatively easy. 

However, if your water heater is in the house, it's probably best to be proactive and replace your unit sooner rather than later. ​There's never a good time for a water heater replacement, but if you're noticing rust, your unit is giving you a red flag that the time is near.

#3 - A Clogged Drain Valve

Drain valves can clog when trying to remove sediment buildup. Sediment comes in with the incoming water, which can be minimized by installing an incoming water filter. Rust within the tank can also cause a drain valve to clog, as it will flake off and settle at the bottom.  

Every year your water heater should be flushed as part of your regular maintenance routine. Overtime, the interior of the tank will begin to breakdown and if not flushed regularly, will not only cause the tank to leak, but may also block the heater's drain valve. 

The drain valve is a spout found along the bottom of the water heater, and it is designed to drain the water from the tank for repairs, as well as flushing sediment and mineral build-up. 

When sediment builds within a gas fueled water heater it can create a popping sound, which can alert you to the problem. However, electric units are also negatively affected by sediment. Both types of water heaters will eventually break down and begin to leak. 

If you begin to flush your water heater and you find your tank won't drain, there are several methods that can help you unclog your drain valve. Sometimes a drain valve can be cleared relatively easy.

Keep in mind, that in severe cases, a leak could develop when the sediment is agitated in the tank from the flushing process. Unfortunately, you probably won't know until it's too late. But if this situation does happen you should draw comfort from the fact that you were able to catch the leak before it became a crisis! 

#4 - The Tank is Leaking

When you notice water around your water heater, you should pay attention . . . you could be on the verge of a 50 gallon mess! 

If you see water leaking around the top of your heater it's probably​ something that can easily be  fixed. But if your internal  tank is leaking, the likelihood of you having a serious problem is very high.

​When the tank leaks, the water heater nearly always needs to be replaced.  If you notice your tank is leaking, you should turn off the power and incoming water supply to your water heater to prevent further damage to your home. You can also begin draining the tank if you feel comfortable, or simply call a professional plumber. 

#5 - Lukewarm or Cold Water

When your hot water just doesn't feel hot anymore there's a good chance the problem is the heating element or the electric thermostat. Overtime, these parts  don't work as well as they used to, or they stop working altogether.

A broken dip tube within the tank could cause lukewarm water. If the dip tube is broken, the hot water leaving the tank will be diluted with the incoming cold water. Resulting in hot water that is cooler than desired.

Sometimes there isn't anything wrong at all. Your family simply out grew your water heater. A household's hot water demand changes over time. When your water heater can't keep up with the demand, you're left with a lukewarm or cold shower! 

This may not be the kind of water heater replacement that motivates you since the heater is still in good working order. You can try to manage your hot water demands to allow your heater a chance to recover, or you may decide to simply purchase a new water heater with a larger tank.

Replacing Your Water Heater

Repair

If you’ve concluded that your water heater requires repairs, you may be able to perform the work yourself. Even so, you may still want to consult with a professional plumber. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • What will be the overall cost of any necessary repairs?
  • What is the life expectancy of the hot water heater after the repairs are completed (in his professional opinion)?
  • What would a new water heater cost? and would purchasing a new water heater make more sense in this situation?​

Read our post on how to hire a plumber for additional information.

Armed with this knowledge, you can make an informed decision about whether repairing the unit is worth your time and money. Even if your current water heater is repairable, purchasing a new unit may be the better decision in the long run, from a cost-effective standpoint. 

Replace

Sometimes the best choice is to replace your water heater, especially if it is reaching the 10 year mark of it's service life. Newer water heaters are far more energy efficient and you'll no longer have the worry of future problems, especially messy ones such as leaking.

Here are a few things to consider:​

  • Will you make changes to your water heater set-up? 
  • Have you been considering a tankless water heater? 
  • Was your water heater meeting your household hot water needs? If not, you should consider purchasing a larger tank.
  • Will you install the water heater yourself or hire a professional?
  • If you install the heater yourself, how will you dispose of your old water heater?
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