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When To Replace a Water Heater

Updated Jan 9, 2023

Updated Jan 9, 2023

Home > Maintenance & Renovation > When To Replace a Water Heater

Hot water is a household necessity — without it, you wouldn’t be able to shower, wash your hands, or sanitize your dishes and clothes. Hot water is an amenity often taken for granted until you don’t have it. Many people don’t realize it, but a water heater needs routine upkeep to keep the hot water flowing. 

Water heater maintenance should be a part of your annual household chores to get the most life out of it. However, like most things, water heaters won’t last forever. Read through our guide to learn the signs that you might need a new water heater.

Signs That You Need a Replacement

residential water heater leaking
Image Source: Canva

When a water heater starts to fail, particular signs will appear. If you notice any of these things, it may be time to do some further investigation:

  • Absence of hot water
  • Leaking
  • Rusty water
  • Strange noises
  • Unknown history

Below, we’ve detailed what these signs could mean.

Absence of Hot Water

If you’ve noticed that you have less hot water than usual, the hot water isn’t lasting as long as it once did, or you have no hot water at all, one of the following could be the cause:

  • Broken heating element
  • Maladjusted thermostat
  • Tank that’s too small

A plumber can help fix a broken heating element, though sourcing parts may be difficult if you’ve got an old water heater. In some cases, if the parts are expensive, it may be more economical to opt for a total water heater replacement.

Lukewarm water may also result from a thermostat that isn’t adjusted properly. Generally, homeowners should set the thermostat on a water heater between 120℉ and 140℉. You likely need a replacement if you don’t notice a change in your hot water supply after adjusting the thermostat.

While the first two problems have potential solutions, there’s no getting around a water heater that’s too small for your needs. If more people are living with you or you’ve added a new appliance within the last year, you’re probably putting more demand on the water heater. The only solution for a water heater that’s too small is to replace it with a new unit of a more appropriate size.

Leaking

If you notice any water pooling around your water heater, it probably means it’s leaking. Leaks from a water heater are most likely caused by cracks that form from the expansion and contraction of the metal tank. One could also trace leaks to a problem with the pipes and fittings going to or from the water heater.

If a leak comes from the fittings, water inlet, or pressure relief valve, it could mean something went wrong in your water heater installation. A professional plumber can generally remediate these issues. However, water leaks coming from a cracked tank can only be resolved with a new water heater. Because it can cause significant water damage, a leaking water heater should be taken seriously and addressed as soon as possible.

Rusty Water

Rust is a sign of corroding metal, and corroding metal is bound to leak at some point. If you notice rust-colored water coming from your faucets, you may have a looming issue with your water heater. However, it could also mean that you have rust in your pipes — luckily, there’s a fairly easy way to spot the difference.

If you want to know the source of corrosion, start by draining a few buckets full of water from the water tank. If the water runs clear by the third or fourth bucket, the rust is probably in your pipes. If it still appears discolored, the rust is in your water tank, and your water heater will need replacement.

Strange Noises

Another sign of a worn-out water heater is noise emanating from the tank. As a water heater reaches the end of its life expectancy, sediment starts to build at the bottom of the tank. If your water heater is more noisy than usual, it’s likely because of the sediment moving around in the tank.

If you hear unusual or rumbling noises from your water tank, you can try flushing the tank to get rid of any sediment buildup, which can cause damage to the inside of your tank. However, if you flush the tank and still hear noises, you may have a bigger problem. Functioning water heaters should operate almost silently — noises coming from the tank point to impending cracking or failure, and you should have your tank replaced as soon as possible.

Unknown History

Most water heaters have a life span of between eight to 12 years, and it’s generally recommended that water heaters are replaced every 10 years. If you move into a home and don’t know when the previous homeowners changed the water heater, you may need to replace it. The manufacturing date is listed on the side of the tank, but the alphanumeric date system can be confusing.

Here’s how to tell the age of your water heater from its serial number:

  1. Look for the manufacturer’s sticker on the upper half of the tank.
  2. Locate the serial number.
    • The first character of the serial number should be a letter.
    • The second and third characters should be a number.
    • The letter corresponds to the month in which it was manufactured.
    • The two numbers correspond to the last two digits of the year it was manufactured.
  3. Calculate the age of your water tank.

For example, a serial number that starts with F09 means that the tank was manufactured in June 2009, as F is the alphabet’s sixth letter, which corresponds to the sixth month of June. Once you locate the serial number, you can determine the age of your tank and whether or not it needs replacement.

What Kind of Water Heater Should You Buy?

tank water heater in a garage
Image Source: Canva

If you’ve determined you need to replace your water heater, you may wonder what type to buy. We’ve detailed the options available below.

Storage Water Heater

Storage or standard tank water heaters are the most common type of water heater. It has a large water heater tank that fills with water and is constantly heated. Though it can be powered by gas or electricity, it has a relatively long refill time compared to some of the other options available.

Tankless Water Heater

A tankless water heater offers hot water on demand. Because tankless water heaters heat water only when you need it, they’re often more energy-efficient than other types of water heaters, though they’re more expensive upfront. One drawback is that they can struggle to simultaneously provide heated water to multiple sources — a problem for large houses or buildings.

Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heater

A hybrid heat pump water heater transfers heat from the air outside your home to the water in your storage tank. While this equates to efficient energy usage and low heating costs, it’s only ideal for hot climates.

Solar Water Heater

As you may imagine, a solar water heater uses solar panels to heat water. While this means major savings to your utility bills in the form of a free and renewable resource, it can mean that you’re stuck without hot water if you have a few cloudy days in a row.

Indirect Water Heater

An indirect, also known as condensing, water heater is a great option for homes with a natural gas heating system. Using the exhaust gas from your central heating system to power the heating elements, a condensing water heater can be efficient and money-saving. However, an indirect water heater isn’t an option if your HVAC system is electric.

Does a Home Warranty Cover a Water Heater?

If you’ve invested money into a new water heater, consider getting a home warranty policy to cover it. Home warranties help cover the cost of major appliances and their repair if something goes wrong.

While not every policy includes coverage for a water heater, doing some comparison shopping to find a home warranty plan that includes water heater coverage is well worth it. Getting a home warranty policy is a great way to protect your investments and give you priceless peace of mind.

Final Thoughts

Stay on the lookout for potential problems with your water heater, as they’re often signs that you need a replacement. Though many problems can be repaired, replacing the appliance every decade is recommended, and you should plan accordingly. 

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