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How to Double the Life of Your Water Heater

Tankless Troubleshooting

The average life expectancy of a water heater may be 8-12 years, but there are a few steps you can take which will nearly guarantee a few more years. In fact, there's one critical task that can double the service life, and all you need is your backyard garden hose!

Whether you're buying a new water heater and want to maximize it's service life, or you're just looking to get a few more years from an existing heater, this article will help keep your unit running in peak condition for as long as possible.

How to Extend the Life of Your Water Heater


Extending the service life of your water heater falls into two categories: Caring for a water heater already in service, and preparing for a new heater. Let's face it, water heaters aren't cheap, and there's nothing glamerous about buying them.

In fact, it's a bit like buying new tires for your car. You've spent a lot of money and your car drives better, but is it  really  that noticible? How often do you show off your new tires to your best friend? 


Caring for an Existing Water Heater

Water heater's don't last forever, but if you follow these tips you may be able to get a few more good years out of your heater, especially if it's relatively new.

Two handfuls of sediment

Flush Your Tank

If you only do one thing to care for your water heater, this is the thing to do. In fact, flushing your tank can double the life of your heater!

Some areas have what's known as hard water, which is water with high levels of magnesium and calcium. Hard water can be especially challenging for water heaters since as the water is heated the minerals precipitate and form sediment which collects at the bottom of the tank.

Sediment can also come in with your water supply. But regardless of how your water heater accumulates sediment, it can create all kinds of problems including reducing the efficiency of the water heater by covering the lower heating element (electric heater) or covering the burner of a gas heater.

By insulating the water from the heat source, the bottom of the tank can overheat and damage the tank's lining and weaken the tank. This is the first step in developing an unrepairable leak as your tank begins to corrode from the inside out.

How to Prevent Sediment Build-up

Once or twice a year drain a couple of gallons from your water heater's drain valve. If the water is clear, you can close the valve and go about your day. 

However, if you notice a fair amount of dirt and debris in the bucket, you should perform a full flush. Flushing your tank every year is a simple way to keep your water heater healthy. 

 >> How to flush a water heater <<


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Rusty pipes

Anode Rod

Corrosion is the number one enemy of water heaters. Once the tank springs a leak, there's no way to fix it, your only choice is to purchase a new water heater.

When you have water and steel, you'll eventually have corrosion. That's just a fact. Manufacturers design their heaters to resist corrosion by lining the tanks with glass and installing anode rods inside the tank. But it's your job to maintain these systems by flushing and changing your anode rod.

An anode rod is a metal rod which hangs inside your water heater. It's often made of aluminum, zinc or magnesium. And because the anode rod sacrifices itself, its sometimes called a sacrificial anode rod.

The anode rod is designed to breakdown through a process called electrolysis in order to save the water heater's steel tank . Without getting too technical, the less noble (more reactive) metal in the anode rod will corrode  before  the more noble (less reactive) metal in the steel tank.

Once the anode rod has been eaten away by corrosion, the steel tank will begin to breakdown. However, if you replace your anode rod you'll start the cycle over again and protect your tank.

How to Prevent Your Water Heater Tank from Rusting

You can protect your water heater's tank by checking the anode rod at least once a year and replacing it as needed. Some higher end water heaters have two anode rods for additional protection.

By replacing your anode rod when necessary, and flushing your tank on a regular basis, you'll prevent your water heater's tank from being eaten away by corrosion. These two preventative measures by themselves can double the life of your water heater.

>> How to check and replace your anode rod <<

Reliance 9001829005 32-Inch Magnesium Water Heater Anode Rod

Checking and replacing the anode rod in an inexpensive way to add years to your water heater's service life.


Pressure gauges in a row

Check your T&P Valve

You might wonder how a required safety valve can add years to the service life of your water heater. The answer is simple: Pressure. The T&P valve is designed to automatically open and release pressure from inside the tank when it reaches an unsafe level.

When water heats, it expands and creates pressure within the tank. We'll cover this in more detail below when we discuss using an expansion tank, but for now, just know that the T&P valve is in place to prevent a problem if the pressure inside the tank reaches an unsafe level.

How Can Testing my T&P Valve Extend the Life of My Water Heater?

High pressure within your water heater tank is much like having high blood pressure. It places added stress on the internal components and valves of the water heater, and over time can cause internal damage.

The T&P valve should be tested regularly to ensure that its properly working. If the valve is defective, it won't release the pressure within the tank when it reaches an excessive level.

If the pressure doesn't reach a critical breaking point, your tank won't explode (thankfully), but it will decrease the life expectancy of your water heater. However, if your T&P valve is defective you should replace it asap. A defective T&P valve can be a very unsafe. 

>> Learn more about T&P valves <<

Watts Regulator 3/4 Inch 0556000 T&P Relief Valve 3/4" 150 Psi

Regular testing of your T&P valve will not only help you extend the service life of your water heater, but it can also help you prevent an unsafe situation.


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Red Expansion tank on a white background

Expansion Tank

When water is heated it expands, and if it doesn't have anywhere to go, it'll place excessive pressure within the tank of your  water heater until eventually something fails or ruptures.

In the past, municipal water systems allowed water to flow back into the main supply line. This is called an open system. But today, the majority of water mains are designed with check valves to prevent the back flow of water (closed system).

These backflow check valves protect the fresh water supply within the water main from being contaminated with water from within the house. They ensure that the communities drinking water is clean and safe to drink.

However, the check valve also prevents the pressure release of water from your water heater, leaving your tank to deal with the extra pressure. The T&P valve will open if the pressure becomes too excessive, but if the valve is defective, the tank may bulge or even rupture!

Even if the thermal expansion of the water within the tank isn't enough to trigger the T&P valve or damage your tank, the pressure is still creating unnecessary wear-n-tear on your heater. Which results in a shortened service life.

How to Protect your Water Heater from Excessive Pressure

Installing a water heater expansion tank can give the water a place to go when pressures build within the tank. Expansion tanks look similar to a small propane tank, and are installed near the top of the water heater.

As water flows into the expansion tank, the pressure is reduced within the water heater tank, as well as the plumbing fixtures, and joints of the supply pipes. In essence, protecting your entire hot water system!

>> Learn more about expansion tanks <<

AMTROL ST-5 Thermal Expansion Tank

A water heater expansion tank will protect not only your water heater, but also your home's plumbing by reducing the pressure within your system caused by thermal expansion. 


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Man holding a pre-water filter

Pre-Filters and Softeners

You can't control the quality of water that comes into your house, but you can do things to help treat the water before it reaches your water heater and plumbing.

Installing a scale inhibitor can protect your water heater (and other appliances and plumbing) from the effects of hard water. 

Even if you don't live in an area with hard water, your water heater will benefit from a scale inhibitor, since there's mineral content in even the softest water.

How to Protect your Water Heater from Hard Water

 Think of a scale inhibitor as your water heater's first line of defense. The incoming water is treated as it flows through the filter before it enters your water heater tank.

Within your tank is your water heater's second line of defense, the anode rod. With much of the burden lifted from the anode rod, there's less chance that it'll be eaten away unexpectantly because it'll break down at a much slower pace. 

>> Read our full article on hard water, water softeners and scale inhibitors <<

Not all sediment comes from hard water. Some debris simply comes in with your incoming water. Regardless of where you live, we highly recommend installing a sediment filter on your incoming water supply. You can read more about sediment filters in this article.

Aqua-Pure AP430SS Hot Water System Protector

3M's Aqua-Pure Scale Inhibitor will help prevent lime scale build-up.


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Man writing with a pen on a clipboard

Preparing for a New Water Heater

Water heaters are an investment, and they're not inexpensive. Once you have your new heater up and running, you'll want to follow the tips discussed above.

However, the tips below can help you maximize the service life of your heater from the very start. Even before you bring it home!

House plans partially rolled

Proper Installation & Placement

Whether you own an electric or gas water heater, how it's installed will impact it's service life. It could even create a safety issue. Hiring a professional to install your water heater ensures that it's not only done correctly, but it also meets all code requirements. 

In addition, where your water heater is installed will also play a big role in its service life. Some things are obvious, such as don't install your heater in an area that's prone to flooding, as it may not only damage the heater it could also be down right dangerous!

If space is tight and you're feeling creative, it's probably best to find another solution. Installing a tankless water heater might be a better option, since tankless water heaters don't require as much space, they're able to fit into smaller places.

It might surprise you, that some homeowners try to solve the "lack of space" situation by installing their water heater horizontally! or cramming it into a location so tight it's nearly impossible to reach.

If your water heater  isn't  designed to be installed horizontally (some are) then you're putting a lot of strain on the tank and components, as well as potentially creating an unsafe situation.

Keep in mind that water heaters require regular maintenance, and from time-to-time need to be replaced. Your water heater should be installed in an area that's assessible with enough space to perform maintenance tasks.

Imagine having to climb over obsticles just to find your water heater. Then once there, barely being able to move! How often are you going to check on it? or perform necessary maintenance?

Quality as due north on a compass

Choosing the Right Model

Generally speaking, when it comes to buying a water heater you actually do get what you pay for. The higher-end manufacturers tend to have models that use higher quality components and are simply built better.

They often have features such as brass drain valves and multiple or larger anode rods. The tanks are better constructed with superior linings. Some even have features that will automatically remove sediment (although, you should still do an occasional flush).

Higher-end water heaters also typically offer a longer warranty period. This is a good indication that the manufacturer has confidence in the quality of their product.

Calculator and magnifying glass on a paper house

Properly Sized Tank

There's more to consider when finding the right sized water heater than simply having enough hot water. Just like anything, the more something is used, the faster it'll break down.

Water heaters are no different. The more hot water you use means your water heater will need to work harder and, thus it'll have a shorter service life. But that doesn't mean you should live without hot water.

How hard a water heater works is determined by the quantity of hot water drawn. This is the usage level of the water heater, and in the industry, its called the  duty cycle.

When the duty cycle is increased, the water heater's tank feels the stress, and the risk of corrosion increases. In addition, there's also more wear-n-tear on the heater's components.

Although you may not be able to lower your household's hot water demand, you can reduce the heater's duty cycle by purchasing a unit that meets your family's needs. 

If your 50-gallon water heater is serving a family of 6, it's going to have a high duty cycle. However, if you install a 70-gallon tank, the duty cycle will significantly lower . . . and the life expectancy of your water heater will increase.


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Warranty ribbon with pile of appliances

Warranty

When you're shopping for a water heater don't forget to check the warranty. Manufacturers that provide longer warranty's tend to have more confidence in the service life of their product.

Higher-end models will often feature glass or porcelain tank liners to help protect the tank from corrosion. In addition, the workmanship and quality of materials and components are typically superior to lower-end models. The old saying "you get what you pay for" applies to water heaters too.