When To Replace Your Water Heater

Image of a man with question marks used for marketing

As a homeowner you know that like any appliance, water heaters break down over time and need to be replaced. Replacing your water heater tank before it’s a problem will help saves you time, money and frustrations. Waiting too long can lead to bigger problems like leaks and water damage to your home. So how do you know when it’s time to replace your water heater?

5 Clues That Your Water Heater Needs Replacement

1. Age of Your Water Heater

It’s crucial to know the age of your water heater; this will help give you an idea of when it’s time to replace your heater before it becomes a problem and a potential hazard. Most manufacturers suggested life expectancy is between 8-12 years and most warranties only cover up to 10 years (for a reason!). If your water heater is older than 10 years, then it’s good idea to pay attention and start thinking about replacing your water heater, even if you haven’t necessarily begun to experience problems yet. You’re more likely to experience problems the older your water heater gets.

How to tell the age of your water heater.

If you’re not sure the age of your water heater, then there are a few ways that you can figure out how old it is. Look for the serial number on the manufacturer’s sticker, this will provide a date code like, “1048J004046.” 10 is for the month (October) and the next two digits, 48, will indicate the week that it was made. So for this example, the water heater would have been made in February of 2005. You can also see in the example below, it actually has the build date, however, not every sticker has this information.

Age Of Water Heater By Serial Number

With that being said, however, some heaters are made but aren’t installed until one or two years later. If your water heater was inspected upon installation, then you can check the inspection date on your water heater to find out when it was actually turned on (look for an inspection tag from your city or state to find that date).

Knowing the age of our unit is a great way to be proactive. Nobody likes taking a cold shower and no one wants to deal with a leaking water heater. Knowing the age will give you an idea of when you need to replace your water heater. Additionally, having a licensed plumber perform routine maintenance on your heater is a great way to keep your heater running great while also being able to keep an eye on the health of your heater.

2. Your water heater tank is leaking

As metal heats, it expands and contracts and may create a leak. Usually water around the base of your water heater is a telltale sign that you have a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible or you run the risk of potentially dealing with a disaster. If you know your water heater is leaking and old, there’s no question that you need to get it replaced immediately.

To help prevent water damage if your water heater is leaking, be sure to turn off the water and power to your water heater and call a professional plumber right away. Having a leak almost always means that you will have to replace your water heater. The metal tanks are lined with glass; the inside is sprayed with a resin that in baked on the inside. A leak occurs when that glass lining has been broken, and trying to repair the lining would cost more than a replacement.

3. Water will only get lukewarm or is cold

If you don’t have hot water this is usually an obvious signal that something is wrong with your water heater. While experiencing this problem may not mean that you need to get a new system, it’s good to know what might cause this.

There could be a problem with the electric thermostat or the heating element. These parts have been known to malfunction over time or stop working. This may also signal that your dip tube within the tank is broken. This can cause the outgoing hot water to be diluted by the incoming cold water, which could be why you’re not getting any hot water. Some of these minor issues can be repaired instead of replaced, but it depends on the age of the water heater and the malfunction. Unfortunately, there are rarely a few parts that can be repaired on a water heater – it tends to be a thermocouple or thermostat.

It’s also possible that your family is outgrowing your current water heater’s capabilities. The need for hot water in your household may have increased. So while your water heater may be working fine, it may no longer be able to fulfill your home’s hot water needs. If this is the case, you may want to consider purchasing a new water heater with a larger tank or a tankless water heater. Find out what size hot water tank your family needs.

4. It’s making noises or a rumbling sound

As your water heater ages, sediment (mineral from your water, like calcium) will build up on the bottom of your tank. When the sediment is heated and reheated, it begins to harden. Sediment will cause a popping sound when the burner ignites and you’ll also probably experience a rumbling sound. This is a good indication that your heater is nearing the end of its life.

While your heater can still function with sediment, it means that your heater is less efficient and will need to use more gas or electricity to heat the water. Your water heater is trying to heat the water tank through a layer of sediment that reduces the heat transfer from gas being burned to the inside of the tank. Sediment can lead to cracks in your tank because the sediment causes the metal to become more brittle increases the chances of a crack. Sediment can crack the glass lining on the inside of the tank. Be on the lookout for any loud noises, it may be time to call a plumber to repair your water heater.

5. Rust and Corrosion

Hot water tanks are typically made out of steel and eventually this type of metal will begin to rust. Check your tank for any rust or corrosion by the temperature and pressure relief valve and/or the water inlets and outlet connections. It’s also possible that rust coming from your hot water. There is no way to repair a hot water tank once it’s begun to rust or corrode and it’s just a matter of time until your tank begins to leak if it hasn’t already. You should look for corrosion and rust around the heater if your water heater is 10 years or older.

Maximizing The Life Of Your Water Heater

Being proactive about your water heater will save you headaches, money and time. The best way to take care of your water heater is regular maintenance.

Flush Your Water Heater

Flushing your heater once or twice a year will help prevent damage and extend the life and efficiency of your water heater. Flushing your heater minimizes the sediment build-up that can break down the interior of the tank and can even clog the drain valve. If you’ve never flushed your water heater and it is 4 years or older, then you need to call a professional to flush it.

Test Pressure-Relief Valve

You may also want to test the pressure-relief valve by lifting the valve’s handle and letting it snap back. If this doesn’t release a burst of water into the overflow drainpipe, then you should probably have a new valve installed.

Lower Thermostat Temperature

It’s also a good idea to lower the temperature setting on the thermostat to 120 degrees. This will help reduce the damage to your heater that can be caused by overheating.

Install a Water Softener

Installing a home water softener is a great way to help extend the life of your water heater because it can reduce the sediment build up in your tank.

Considering Replacement for Other Reasons

Your water heater may be working great, but you’re looking to replace your water heater for other reasons. Upgrading to a more energy efficient model will help your save money in regards to your energy expenses. Installing a tankless water heater is also a great option for many families. You may have outgrown the capabilities of your current water heater and need a unit that will be able to provide continuous hot water. If you’re curious or want to learn more about tankless water heaters, get our free guide here.