They don't make things like they used to, but that may actually be for the better. Sure, that old washing machine that you inherited from your grandmother may still work like the day they made it. But purchase yourself a new, energy-efficient one, and you can save oodles of money on water and electricity.
The same goes for other types of appliances, like a hot water heater. Regular replacements net you energy savings, better efficiency, and newer technology. The question is, what life expectancy can you squeeze from water heaters before they croak?
In this guide, we'll discuss how long the average water heater will last and how you can prolong the bottom of the tank. And if push comes to shove, we'll show you the signs that it may be time to replace your appliance.
The lifespan of your water heater can vary based on several factors. In unfavorable conditions, you may only get around six years of service. However, under normal circumstances, you can expect a minimum of 10 years, with some units lasting up to 15 years.
Let's explore the key variables that impact the longevity of your water heater:
What type of water heater it is (gas, electric, or tankless)
Whether you have hard or soft water
How much maintenance it gets
How much you use it
The condition of the anode rod and tank bottom
Let's go more in-depth as to why these things influence the lifespan of your heater.
The vast majority of Americans, especially in Arizona, have a gas or electric heater.
Gas tank water heaters are the most common. They use a pilot light and burner to heat the water inside the tank with natural gas. They also tend to have better heating efficiency, despite a higher initial cost.
Electric water heaters use 2-3 electric elements inserted into the tank which heat up the water. They are cheaper to purchase, but slightly more expensive to run.
The difference when it comes to longevity is most noticeable with the electric water heater. The elements, similar to the anode rod, corrode and collect sediment over time. They require a semi-frequent element replacement to function at their best.
In both cases, the main source of failure tends to be a leak in the tank.
Tankless water heaters are all the rage these days and are common outside the US. They give hot water on-demand, require less maintenance, and require far less space. Another benefit is that they tend to last much longer, usually about 20 years or more.
The Achilles' heel of a tankless water heater is corrosion. As the pipes begin to degrade, the unit may eventually experience failure.
Hard water is a common issue in Arizona. It's when water contains a heavy concentration of mineral ions.
This type of water is harsh on the skin, hair, and especially your home. It corrodes pipes and the tank inside your water heater. Having hard water can significantly reduce the life expectancy of your water heater.
Soft water reduces corrosive particles and extends their lifespan. However, this usually requires you to install a water softener alongside your water heater.
Water heaters require regular maintenance, something many homeowners neglect to do. They require a regular full tank drain and refill each year. A technician should inspect the gas pilot or heating elements on a similar timescale.
This is typically what kills water heaters the most. Without replacing the anode rod and heating elements, the corrosion spreads to the bottom of the tank and leads to a leak.
Pushing more water through the tank subjects its components to more hard minerals. Logically the more you use it, the faster your water heater will corrode from within.
Larger households, even with bigger water heater tanks, will require more frequent replacements. Or, households where the occupants have a much higher per capita water usage.
As we've mentioned several times, corrosion problems are a water heater's biggest enemy. To combat this, tank engineers created the anode rod. This attracts harmful sediment to itself--similar to heater elements--rather than letting it sink to the tank bottom.
Like your elements, you need to replace the anode rod a couple of times over the course of a water heater's lifespan. Once every 4-5 years should do the trick. Let it corrode all the way through, though, and there's only one place where the sediment will go: the tank bottom.
Once the tank's bottom springs a leak, it's game over. The only solution is to replace the tank at that point.
Luckily, water heaters flag you with clear symptoms as they give up the ghost. If you notice any of the following, replacing your water heater will be necessary.
Unless you have a tankless water heater, your hot water supply is limited. Houses have tank sizes from 20 to 80 gallons. You likely have already gotten a feel for how much hot water you can get before the tank is filled with cold water.
If hot water is running out very quickly, there are two possibilities: the heating is broken, or there's a leak. You should call your favorite technician to come over and take a look. This poor water heater performance is likely indicative of a tank in need of replacement.
What if you are getting no hot water whatsoever? In most cases, this means the pilot light has gone out, or the elements need replacing. Sometimes, though, it just means the tank is on its last legs.
You can replace a faulty pilot or corroded elements. The solution may also be a full replacement.
Leaks, as you have likely ascertained by now, have no fix. Water heaters aren't modular, and won't allow you to swap out the tank.
Leaks are nearly impossible to miss for water heaters. They tend to flood your garage or closet--leaving no room for doubt when it happens.
If you have a water heater pan with a PVC pipe, a leak may be less obvious. Periodically check the pan and outlet to see if there is any water. Even if the pan spares your home from flooding, you should still call a plumber ASAP.
Before any symptoms arise, you can get a feel for when your water heater will expire. The easiest way to do this is to check the serial number. You'll find it on the rating metal plate, fixed to the side of the heater.
Do the math on its age. If your water heater is already 8-12 years old, then it's time may soon come.
Sometimes, it's better to nip the problem in the bud before you wake up with a lake in your garage. An old water heater will doubtless have much poorer energy efficiency. New heaters may soon pay for themselves, thanks to their superior efficiency.
Replacing it saves you the headache when it fails. Plus, you get the aforementioned energy savings.
Water heaters, like any other appliance in your home, last longer if you care for them. Here are a few things that can squeeze a few more years out of them.
Taking maintenance precautions will do a lot to extend the heater's lifespan. You should flush the tank on a yearly basis, test its pressure relief valve, replace its air filter, and replace the anode rod. Have your technician drop by every year or two to handle these things as needed.
A few minor changes may extend your water heater's lifespan. For example, wrapping the tank and pipes in insulation. This allows it to achieve better heat efficiency at lower temperatures.
You can also consider lowering the temperature by a degree or two. You likely don't need the water to be scalding hot, even for dishes and laundry. Sacrificing those extra degrees may extend the life of its heating components.
Your water heater might not come with a lifetime guarantee, but hey, it works hard, just like you! Most water heaters call it quits after about 8 to 12 years; not too shabby, right? But a little TLC goes a long way in squeezing out a few extra years.
That's where we come in. At Parker & Sons, we're more than just a company - think of us as your trusty sidekick in the world of home appliances, A/C, heating, and electrical services. We've got your back, whether you're from Phoenix or Tucson, just like a good neighbor.
Don't wait for your water heater to wave the white flag. Reach out to us, because at Parker & Sons, we believe in lending a hand before the bell rings. A quick visit to our website or a phone call is all it takes to schedule a visit about your home maintenance needs. Remember, we're here for you - because your home isn't just any place, it's your haven.