Water heaters are one of the hardest working appliances in your home. Even when you’re not running your kitchen faucet or taking a shower, they’re busy preparing hot water. But all this effort takes a toll. Even the strongest water heaters need to be replaced after 8-12 years on average. But now you know how long a water heater lasts, what are some of the signs you might need a newer model?
No Hot Water
As their circuitry and heating element wears down, heaters produce less hot water. Lack of hot water isn’t always a sign your water heater needs to be replaced, however. In some cases, a faulty thermostat or heating element may be to blame. A plumber will help you get to the root of the problem and devise an effective solution.
Rising Utility Bills
Aging water heaters are not only less effective but less efficient. Old heating elements take longer to raise water temperatures and the longer they run, the more power they draw. Even if you don’t notice a dip in your water temperature, you’ll notice an increase in your energy costs.
Rust is the enemy of steel. Once it takes hold, there’s no way to get rid of it. Brown, dirty water is generally the first sign your water heater has begun to corrode and needs to be replaced.
Rumbling, Banging, or Sizzling
All municipal water sources contain sediments, such as calcium or magnesium. These minerals can build up inside your heater as water flows through it over time. When the heating element is activated, the rising temperatures can lift the sediment to the top of the tank, scraping it along the sides and bottom, which creates a rumble.
Other times, steam bubbles can form underneath hardened sediment and cause it to burst. If sediment builds up around the lower heating element, it creates a sizzling sound as the minerals are burned away.
Sediment makes your water heater less efficient and prone to failure. Excessive sediment not only creates noise, but it also creates hotspots that can warp the steel lining and lead to cracks.
Water heaters sometimes fail spectacularly, springing a leak that unleashes their entire contents out onto the floor. However, most of the time they fail subtly. Years of repeated heating cycles cause the metal to expand and contract so many times it eventually splits. Pools of water around the heater are normally the first sign this has happened. While small leaks can be sealed, they’re a sign the tank has weakened past the point of reliability.
Past Its Recommended Lifespan
The older your water heater gets, the more problems you’re likely to encounter with it. At a certain point, you’re better off buying a new one rather than risking future problems. If you don’t know the age of your water heater, check its serial number. It’s normally listed on the manufacturer’s sticker at the top of the water tank.
You’ll see a letter followed by a series of numbers. The letter stands for the month the tank was manufactured. D is April, the fourth month. F is June. G is July and so on. The next two numbers are the year the tank was manufactured. Thus, a water heater with a serial number that starts with G06 was made in July 2006. The rest of the numbers identify the individual unit.
A broken water heater can leave you without hot water for days or even weeks. While tankless water heaters have a normal lifespan of 15-20 years, homeowners with a traditional water heater should consider replacing theirs after 10. Consult a plumber. They’ll evaluate your water heater and tell you how long your current model is likely to last.
How to Extend the Life of Your Water Heater
Without regular maintenance, the average water heater lasts 10-12 years. With regular maintenance, however, they can last as long as 20, with few noticeable problems. To get the most out of your water heater:
- Flush the Tank Once a Year. Flushing your water heater removes sediment. Start by turning off the water heater and closing the cold water valve at the top. Next, drain the unit by opening the valve at the bottom of the tank. Use a bucket to collect the water or a hose to funnel it into a drain. Open the cold water pipe once again and let it flow until the water coming out the bottom of the tank is completely clear. Then close the drain valve and reactivate the water heater.
- Test the Pressure Valve. The pressure valve is a short, flat lever on the front of the tank that prevents pressure from building up and damaging your water heater. Test it at least once a year by opening it up. If it’s working properly, it will release a short burst of water. (Place a bucket underneath the valve to prevent water from spilling over your floor.) If the lever is stiff or nothing comes out, call a plumber.
- Lower the Temperature. Setting the water temperature to 120°F reduces the strain on your water heater. Reducing the intensity of each heating cycle prevents the steel inside from wearing out.
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