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Water Heater Replacement: When to Replace Your Water Heater


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Like any appliance, water heaters break down over time and need to be replaced. No one enjoys taking a cold shower, so ideally, you'd like to be able to replace your water heater before it completely stops working.  

If you wait too long, it could lead to a much larger problem. Such as, large leaks and water damage to your home. So how do you know when it's time to replace your water heater? This article will show you 5 clues to help you decide.

Clues with Magnifying Glasses

5 Clues When to Replace a Water Heater

Unfortunately, water heaters don't last forever. If you're on the fence whether to replace your water heater, you may want see if any of the below clues apply to your situation.

If your heater falls into any of these categories, it may be time for a new unit.

Age of Your Water Heater

The first clue that it's time to buy a new water heater is age. The older the water heater, the more likely it is to break down.

As a general rule, a tank style water heater will last, on average, 8 to 12 years. If your water heater is pushing the 10-year mark, there's a good chance it's time to replace the unit.

You may even want to consider a tankless model.

With proper maintenance, and a little luck, you might be able to nearly double the lifespan of your water heater. However, sometimes, even with the best of care, a water heater will need to be replaced after only a few years.

3M Aqua-Pure Whole House Scale Inhibition Inline Water System AP430SS, Helps Prevent Scale Build Up On Hot Water Heaters and Boilers

Aqua-Pure Scale Inhibitor

Using an Aqua-Pure Scale Inhibitor can add years of service life to a water heater. These filters help protect your water heater from limescale build-up.

If your old water heater doesn't have one installed, we highly recommend installing one on your new water heater.

Rust and Corrosion

Clue number two is when your water heater develops excessive rust and corrosion.

Since most hot water tanks are made from steel, they will eventually develop rust or corrosion. In sever cases, you may notice rust in your hot water when it's drawn from the tap.

Sometimes you'll be able to see the rust and corrosion around the seating of the temperature and pressure relief valve, and/or the water inlet and outlet connections.

If you're able to see the rust and corrosion, it's a good indication that your tank is rusting and should to be replaced relatively soon. 

Unfortunately, there's not a way to repair a tank once it starts to rust and corrode. If your water heater has not started to leak yet, it'll only be a matter of time before it does.

If your water heater is located inside your home you probably want to be proactive in replacing it sooner vs. later. If the tank fails you could have thousands of dollars of damage to your home. Or at the very least, a huge mess!

However, if your tank is installed in a garage or basement, you may choose to wait until it begins to leak. The water damage will likely be minimal, and on a solid cement floor it should be relatively easy to clean.

Whatever route you choose, we highly recommend using water sensor alarm to alert you of a leak.

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Glentronics Water Alarm

These inexpensive alarms have sensors that will trigger when they become wet.

You can "buy some time" with this option and have the opportunity to plan for your water heater replacement.

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Drain Valve Does Not Drain Water

The third clue that it's time to replace your water heater is when the drain valve is no longer able to drain the water within the tank.

Over time, sediment builds and settles inside the bottom of the water heater's tank. If you have a gas water heater, you may have noticed a popping sound when the burner ignites. This is an indication that of sediment build-up.

Regardless of the fuel source, sediment build-up is a problem for both electric and gas water heaters. As it accumulates, it can clog the drain valve, and over time, it will even break down the interior of the steel tank. 

Flushing your water heater once a year will remove the sediment and help prevent damage to the tank, as well as extend the life of your water heater. But if you're not regularly flushing your tank, the sediment will build-up and eventually cause serious problems.

It should be noted that in severe cases, leaks can develop when the sediment is agitated during the draining process. We recommend calling a professional plumber to assist you.

There's always the possibility that the sediment build-up may have reached a point where the tank can no longer be drained. When this is the case, it'll be necessary to replace your water heater.

However, in many cases you'll be able to unclog the drain valve yourself. Read our article on How to Unclog the Drain Valve, we've listed 7 methods to help with this problem.

3/4" Propress Brass Ball Valve (1 pc) Lead Free

Ball Valve

One nearly sure-fire way to drain your tank is to install a ball valve. 

Read our article on How to Unclog a Drain Valve for other options.

Hot Water Tank is Leaking

Clue number four is when your water heater tank begins to leak.

A leak from the hot water tank is usually caused by an internal problem, and its rarely repairable. Follow these steps to see if you can determine where the leak is originating.

If you find the leak is coming from the tank itself, you'll most likely need to replace your water heater.

To prevent further water damage, turn OFF both the water and power to the water heater. Then call a professional plumber to install a new unit.

If you're a do-it-yourself kind of person, these articles will give you step-by-step directions: 

This may be a good time to consider installing a tankless water heater. They are far more energy efficient and offer a considerably longer service life. Read our Tankless Buyers Guide to learn more.

Water is Luke Warm or Cold

The fifth and final clue that it's time to replace your water heater is if the hot water is cooler than expected.

Something is clearly wrong if you find your water isn't as hot as it once was, or worse, it isn't hot at all.

There may be a problem with the heating element, or the thermostat. It's not uncommon for these parts to fail entirely or simply malfunction over time.

You can try replacing the heating element. This article will show you how. Heating elements are relatively inexpensive and fairly easy to replace.

Another possible cause is a broken dip tube. The dip tube is a plastic pipe that runs from the cold water inlet to the bottom of the tank. If it's broken, the outgoing hot water will be diluted by the incoming cold water. The result is cooler than desired hot water. 

Changing a dip tube is also fairly easy and inexpensive, and by following this article you should be able to do it yourself.

It could also be something as simple as your hot water requirements have increased. If this is the case, your water heater may be working fine, but isn't able to meet the household demand for hot water. In which case, you may want to consider purchasing a new water heater with a larger tank or going tankless. 

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Plumber's tools

Repairing Your Water Heater

If you determine that your water heater can be repaired, you may be able to do the work yourself.

However, if you choose to hire a professional plumber to do the work for you, he should be able the answer the following questions before getting started:

  • The cost of the repair
  • In his opinion, what is the life expectancy of the hot water heater after the repairs are completed
  • The cost of a new water heater (including labor)

With this information, you'll be able to decide if it's worth your time and money to repair the unit. Sometimes, even if a water heater is repairable, the best decision, in the long-run, is to purchase a new one. 

> > Read our detailed article on How to Hire a Plumber < <

Plumber installing a new gas water heater

Replacing Your Water Heater

If you decide that you need to replace your water heater, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Will you replace your system with the same type? If you've been considering switching to a tankless water heater, this might be a good time
  • Did the tank size of your old water heater meet your current household needs? If not, you may want to purchase a larger tank
  • Will you hire a plumber or install the water heater yourself? If you do it yourself you'll need to get rid of your old water heater, where a plumber will typically take care of that for you
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