Should I Replace My Water Heater Before It Fails?

Last Updated On May 24, 2024

Updated on August 15, 2021



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should I replace my water heater before it fails

When you reach the pinnacle of your water heater’s life expectancy, you may be wondering if you should replace it or wait for it to break down.. You don’t want to end up without enough hot water for your family, but you also don’t want to pay for a new unit until necessary. 

Cost, convenience of replacement, and mechanical efficiency are all important considerations to keep in mind when deciding when to replace your water heater.

In this PlumbingNav guide, you will learn: 

  • When to Replace a Water Heater
  • Water Heater Life Expectancy
  • Signs of a Failing Water Heater
  • Reasons to Replace a Working Water Heater

What's In This Guide?

      When To Replace A Water Heater

      You will come across numerous reasons to replace your water heater depending on its age, its condition, and your needs. Keep in mind that needing a replacement after hours or over a holiday can be even more costly, so it is best not to wait if you see these signs.

      You should replace your water heater in the following situations:

      When the water heater gets too old

      You should replace your water heater when it reaches the end of its natural lifespan. At this point, you will experience more and more repairs until you end up replacing it anyway. 

      When the water heater starts to deteriorate

      When you notice the water heater starting to break down beyond repair, you need a new hot water heater immediately. The deteriorating water heater may not produce hot water properly, and it may provide low-quality water that can lead to health concerns. 

      When the water heater runs inefficiently 

      Inefficient water heaters cost you more to use, and they increase your home’s carbon footprint. Some water heaters perform at low efficiency, or their efficiency diminishes over time. 

      When the water heater doesn’t meet your needs 

      An improperly sized water heater will lead to frustration when you don’t have enough hot water, or you end up paying for a far more powerful unit than your current needs. A new water heater can make up for the cost in comfort and utility bills before you know it. 

      When you plan to sell your house

      An inefficient, deteriorating, or old water heater can turn away potential buyers when you sell your home. A new water heater can entice homebuyers, especially if it offers high efficiency.

      did you know should I replace my water heater before it fails

      Life Expectancy Of Water Heaters

      Like any other appliance, your water heater comes with an expiration date. When your water heater gets to the end of its life expectancy, you should replace the unit instead of making repairs to the unit or the plumbing.

      The life expectancy of your water heater depends on the type of water heater you have. See the following estimates for the life expectancy of the most common types of water heaters:

      • Gas conventional water heater: 10 – 15 years
      • Electric conventional water heater: 10 – 15 years
      • Heat pump water heaters: 15 years
      • Gas tankless water heater: 20 years
      • Electric tankless water heater: 20+ years

      Factors that contribute to how long your water heater will last include:

      • Water hardness
      • Sediment buildup
      • Usage
      • Maintenance schedule
      • Quality of components
      • Installation

      How To Extend The Life Of Your Water Heater

      Do you want to learn how to extend the life of your new water heater? Use these tips to make your water heater last as long as possible. 

      Perform Regular Maintenance

      Every water heater requires maintenance. However, tank-style water heaters need more maintenance than tankless models

      Some standard maintenance for tank-style water heaters includes:

      • Flush water heater once a year
      • Change anode rod every 3 – 5 years
      • Test pressure relief valve every six months

      This maintenance will keep the water heater working properly, and it will protect the connected plumbing, too. 

      Install Water Softener 

      Hard water, water with high levels of mineral content, will create additional sediment buildup in your water heater tank and cause it to deteriorate faster. A water softener will remove the minerals and extend the life of your water heater.

      Hard water refers to water with hardness levels greater than seven grains per gallon. For those who don’t want to measure their water hardness, signs of hard water include:

      • Stiff clothing after wash
      • Mineral buildup 
      • Difficulty rinsing off soap

      Top 4 Signs Of A Failing Water Heater And Corrosion

      How do you know your water heater is about to fail? Most water heater breakdowns happen as a result of tank corrosion. When the tank starts to corrode on your conventional water heater, you need to replace it.

      How do you know when your water heater tank starts to corrode? 

      Corrosion refers to a natural process of the breakdown of metal material, especially in aquatic environments, but you may run into alternative reasons for water heater failure as well.  

      Look for these signs of corrosion and imminent water heater breakdown: 

      1. Visible Rust and/or Discolored Water

      When your tank starts to corrode, it can create rust through the oxidation of iron and other metals. Look for visible rust on your water heater, especially around the connections and the valves. 

      Your first sign of rust may come from the water in your home. Rust can get into your water supply, causing it to possess an orangish hue. Discoloration can also come from sediment buildup. 

      Of course, you should not drink water with high levels of rust or sediment in it. 

      2. Leaks

      When your tank starts to corrode, it will start to deteriorate, causing leaks. You may also notice leaking around the drain line, water supply line, and pressure relief valve. 

      Examine the water heater to diagnose the cause of the leak. A leak coming from the tank will usually result in a large amount of lost water, not just drips. If the leak seems to come from a water line or valve, you can make a repair. 

      Try to tighten all valves and reduce the temperature of the water heater. If you still notice a leak, replace the offending component. If the leak persists or you think it comes from the tank, you will likely need to replace the water heater. 

      3. Popping Noises 

      Popping noises coming from your water heater generally result from excessive sediment buildup. Sediment buildup can create serious problems, some of which will lead to the need to replace the entire water heater. 

      Before replacing the water heater, try flushing the tank to remove the sediment buildup. You can also buy a water softener and ensure proper temperature and water pressure levels. 

      4. Water Temperature Problems 

      You may run across two water temperature problems: no hot water and inconsistent hot water. Before replacing a water heater for water temperature problems, you need to diagnose the problem and respond accordingly. 

      Possible causes of no or inconsistent hot water include:

      • Damaged thermocouple (gas)
      • Unit needs to be reset/no power (electric)
      • Damaged heating element (electric)
      • Leaking tank (tank-style units)
      • Damaged thermostat (all)
      • Clogged pipes (all)

      If it is a relatively new unit, you may opt to make a repair instead of replacing the entire unit. However, a damaged tank will always require replacement. 

      When To Replace Working Water Heater

      You should not wait for your water heater to break down before replacing it, especially in the following three situations:

      • Your current water heater runs inefficiently
      • Your current water heater does not fit your needs
      • A new water heater can help you sell your home

      Seeking Better Efficiency

      Your water heater runs at a certain efficiency level. Higher efficiency units last longer, require less maintenance, save you money on your utility bills, and help reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

      Water heaters contain an efficiency rating known as the Uniform Energy Factor (EUF). All new units have the rating clearly labeled. Any unit with an EnergyStar certification will provide adequate efficiency ratings. 

      Tank-type units, in particular, will lose efficiency over time, costing you more and more to operate the unit. You should replace the unit as you notice your utility bills creeping up to reduce your bills. 

      Generally speaking, the most efficient water heaters include condensing tankless units and hybrid units. 

      Water Heater is the Wrong Size

      You will experience numerous major changes in life, but you probably don’t consider how those affect your hot water heater. Some major changes that will affect your water heater include adding to your family and watching members of your family fly on their own. 

      One person won’t affect your hot water needs enough for a replacement, but when you add or subtract 3 – 4 people from your home, you will do yourself a favor by getting the proper size water heater for your new household. 

      Increase Home Desirability

      If you plan to sell your home in the near future and your hot water heater gives you trouble, replace it! Potential buyers will want new appliances, including a new water heater. You will attract more buyers if you have an efficient water heater still under warranty. 

      Frequently Asked Questions About Water Heater Replacement

      Can a water heater last 20 years?

      Yes. With proper use and maintenance, certain tankless water heaters can last over 20 years. However, most other water heater types last from 10-15 years. 

      When should you replace a water heater?

      Some reasons to replace your water heater include:

      • Reaching the end of life expectancy
      • Shows signs of failing
      • High utility bills
      • Wrong size
      • Selling home

      Should you proactively replace a water heater?

      You should replace your water heater proactively if a new water heater can significantly improve efficiency or if your current water heater does not provide the correct amount of hot water for your needs. 

      What are the signs your hot water heater is going out?

      Signs your water heater is going out include:

      • Leaks
      • Discolored water
      • Water temperature problems

      To avoid damage to your home, potential skin burns, and major inconveniences, be sure to check your water heater regularly for signs of deterioration.

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      About Plumbing Navigator

      We write about "all things plumbing," helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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      We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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