Home > Maintenance & Renovation > How Long Does a Water Heater Last?

How Long Does a Water Heater Last?

Updated Jan 9, 2023

Updated Jan 9, 2023

Home > Maintenance & Renovation > How Long Does a Water Heater Last?

The average cost to replace a water heater is $1,200, including the cost of labor and the new unit. For most homeowners, this is no small sum and keeping a water heater running is important for avoiding premature replacement costs.

So, how long do water heaters last? This all depends on the type of water heater and how you’re caring for it. Let’s break down everything you need to know about making your water heater last as long as possible and the average life expectancy of a water heater.

man checking a water heater
Image Source: Canva

How Long Do Water Heaters Last?

Generally speaking, as long as your water heater is still heating water sufficiently without making strange noises or leaking, you can continue using it. The most significant factors in the life of your water heater are the type of water heater you use and adequate water heater maintenance.

Types of Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters typically have a life expectancy of more than 20 years.

Traditional tank-type water heaters have an even shorter life expectancy of eight to 12 years due to the anode rod inside the heater. Over the years, the anode rod starts to corrode until it can no longer do its job, and particles from the corrosion settle at the bottom of the tank, often destroying the lining. Once corrosion sets in, the water heater is on its way to breaking down entirely and will need to be replaced.

How Do I Know How Old My Water Heater Is?

If you lost the documentation for your water heater or moved into a home with an existing water heater, you may need clarification on how old it is.

Fortunately, you can quickly resolve this dilemma by looking at your water heater’s serial number. Look for a letter followed by a series of numbers, typically located on the top portion of your water heater, to determine its manufacturing date.

The letter usually indicates what month the appliance was manufactured. For example, “A” would indicate it was manufactured in January, and “L” would indicate a December manufacturing date. If the L is followed by 11, your water heater was manufactured in December 2011. This general rule applies to most manufacturers.

Is My Water Heater on Its Way Out?

close-up photo of a tankless water heater
Image Source: Canva

The expected life span of the type of water heater you have gives you an idea about when you may need to replace it. However, suppose you notice the following signs. In that case, you’ll want to contact a professional plumber to assess the situation and see if they can do anything to extend the service life of your water heater. Depending on the situation, water heater repairs may be enough, but at other times you may need to start shopping around for a replacement.

Signs your water heater may need to be replaced soon:

  • Drop in water temperature: If water doesn’t heat up as much or doesn’t stay at the desired temperature set on your thermostat as it did previously, the water heater may be giving out.
  • Smelly water: If your hot water suddenly has a strange smell or taste, something may be contaminating the water tank. Possible causes for this situation are metal being absorbed into the water or bacteria collected in the water tank. If cleaning the tank doesn’t fix this, call a plumber.
  • Banging or rumbling noises: As your water heater approaches the end of its service life, banging and rumbling noises tend to occur as sediment builds up in the tank, hardens, and forms a thick crust within the tank. The thick crust subsequently causes the water heater to make creaking and banging noises when it’s being used. This situation can be avoided by flushing tank-style water heaters annually and may even be required by your warranty. Unfortunately, many people neglect to keep up with this important maintenance and may end up with a prematurely broken down water heater and an invalidated warranty.
  • Tinted or rusty water: If your water is suddenly a dirty yellow or red, this indicates rust. However, it’s unlikely that this is a water heater problem if the discoloration also appears when you run cold water. If the water is only tinted when it’s hot, this is likely the result of a corrosion problem inside the water heater.
  • Cooler water temperatures: If water won’t heat up as much as it previously did or can’t stay at high temperatures for long, your water heater is likely nearing the end of its life.
  • Hard water hurts the water quality: If you have hard water, this can seriously affect the water heater’s life span by as many as two or more years. Look for limescale buildup on plumbing surfaces to confirm this sign. If you suspect you have hard water, speak with a plumber about their recommendations and if a water softener would be recommended for your setup.
  • Water pooling around the base: Start by looking for a leak from a valve or fitting, as this can be easily repaired by tightening or replacing the individual valve or fitting. If this isn’t the case, the water heater leaking may be coming from inside the tank, and the tank may be corroded or cracked.

Lastly, consider the location of your water heater. Water heaters located in crawl spaces or garages, where temperatures drop much more, will have to work harder to heat water to an optimal temperature. As a result of this extra work, they may wear out faster than units in a temperature-controlled part of the home. If your water heater is in a less-than-optimal location, check on it more frequently for warning signs that it’s breaking down.

How Can I Improve My Water Heater’s Life Span?

As with all appliances, regular maintenance is key to keeping your appliance running optimally.

Another step you can take to improve your energy efficiency and save money each month is insulating your water heater. Double-check that your water heater is not leaking before installing a water heater insulating blanket kit. The kit will provide you with everything you need to wrap the insulating blanket around your water heater and secure it with tape. Always turn the water heater off before installing insulation.

By improving your model’s energy efficiency, you’ll also prevent unnecessary strain on your water heater, helping to prolong its life span.

Closing Thoughts

Regular maintenance can help prevent water damage, mineral deposits, and many issues that could cause premature water heater replacement. If you’re at the point where you’re considering a new water heater, think about its ideal location. Remember, a temperature-controlled place will reduce the strain on your water heater, allowing it to work longer. Double-check with the manufacturer to see if your water heater is still under warranty, especially if it broke down after only a few years.

Other Maintenance Resources