How Long Does a Hot Water Heater Last?

Hot water heaters are vital to our daily lives, from a hot shower in the morning to a load of laundry at night, without a reliable hot water heater, a good day can become a bad one very quickly. If you’ve had your water heater for a while, you might be wondering how close you are to needing a replacement, or maybe you’ve just bought a new one and want to know how long that investment is likely to last. Here are a few common questions about the life span of water heaters and what to expect.

How Long Does a Water Heater Last?

 Your hot water heater will typically last somewhere in the range of 8-12 years.

That’s the short answer. The long answer is that the hardness of your water, proper maintenance, and knowing how water heater issues play a role in making it to that 8 to 12-year mark.

Common Issues That Cause Hot Water Heaters to Break

Sediment, Corrosion and Rust

 The most common reason a water heater breaks down is sediment build up. The amount of sediment that builds up in your water heater will be dependent upon how hard your water is and how often you have your water heater flushed. This accumulation can cause the interior of the tank to corrode throughout the course of its life, which will ultimately create a leak. A leak usually starts out small but as more corrosion occurs, the hole gets larger, causing more severe leakage. This eventually damages the hot water heater to a point where it is past repair.

Hot water heater tanks are made of iron and steel, which are highly susceptible to rust. All tank style water heaters come with a “sacrificial” anode rod, as a defense mechanism against rust. The anode rod should be checked on an annual basis and replaced as needed. Doing so will help prevent or minimize the amount of rusting or corrosion that will occur, therefore extending its useful life.

Over Pressurization

A hot water heater may also fail due to Over Pressurization.

Over Pressurization is when the amount of pressure inside the heating tank builds up causing leaks or a burst. This can happen if the incoming water pressure from your local water system or well is higher than it should be, or if there is a substantial amount of hot water being used that goes beyond what the device can handle. To help prevent a serious incident, all water heaters come with a T&P (temperature and pressure) relief valve. But over time, the tank can be worn down by excess pressure and the T&P valve can leak or malfunction.

Also, if the water temperature of the water heater itself is too hot (typically over 140 degrees Fahrenheit) the pressure in the tank can increase too much. To help prevent this, the recommended temperature for a water heater is 120-125 degrees.

Having your water heater serviced annually, just like your heating and cooling system, can minimize the chances of the above issues from happening while also helping to maintain the unit’s overall efficiency. That means a longer useful life and lower utility bills!

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Replace?

 There are a few of simple ways to tell if your hot water heater’s days are numbered:

  • It’s rusty– Check for signs of rust or corrosion on both the outside of the tank, especially at the base, and inside the burner chamber if it’s a gas unit. If you find signs of it in either location, it’s a good idea to start considering a replacement.
  • The drain valve isn’t draining– The same sediment buildup that causes the corrosion of your tank can also cause clog your drain valve, accelerating the rate at which your hot water heater breaks down. You can mitigate this problem if you get a heater flush once a year from an HVAC specialist as part of a routine maintenance program.
  • Your tank is leaking– If you notice water surrounding the base of your hot water heater, it’s likely that you have a leak on your hands. For more information on what to do in the case of a leak, check out our post on hot water heater leaks.
  • Your water isn’t hot– If your hot water runs out after a short period of time, there may be a problem with your equipment. This may not always merit a total replacement. You may have a broken dip tube or a malfunctioning thermostat, which are fixable problems.

Even if you clean and properly maintain your hot water heater, around that 8-12 year range you’re likely to encounter an issue that requires a replacement. When you do need that replacement, you’ll want to do some research into the best type of hot water heater for your home. You’ll also want to work with experienced hot water heater professionals to select and install your water heater to get the maximum value from your new system.

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