When Is It Time for a Water Heater Replacement?

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How to Know When You Need a Water Heater Replacement

One thing we all take for granted is that when we turn on the faucet or showerhead, water comes out. The second thing we take for granted is that if we want hot water, hot water comes out. What we’re taking for granted is that your hot water heater is working, because your well or city water isn’t piped into your house at a heated temperature. For the most part, if you perform regular annual maintenance, water heaters last anywhere from 8 to 12 years, depending on your water quality. That’s how long you can take before considering a water heater replacement.

We don’t, however, recommend you wait until that hot shower you’re enjoying turns into a frigid blast of cold water because you took your water heater for granted for too long. Like any appliance in your home, your water heater will eventually wear down and need to be replaced. If you ignore the warning signals it sends out at the end of its life, you will likely face a cold shower one morning. Or worse, a flood when your tank gives way. 

In this post, we cover: 

  • How a water heater works
  • 8 warning signs your water heater needs replacing
  • The importance of regular maintenance

How a Water Heater Works

Most home water heaters are conventional gas- or electric-powered tank-type heaters. Basically, water that comes into the tank is heated until it is called for from somewhere in the house. How hot the water gets us regulated by a thermostat. The size of the tank is determined by the size of the house and the likely number of users; the more showers likely to be in use at one time, the larger the tank. Because once all the water is drained out of the tank, it takes some time to properly heat cold water that is just coming in.

There are also tankless water heaters that use a more efficient heat exchanger to warm water only when called for, as well as hybrid models that combine a tank with an electric heat pump. 

Water heaters are our specialty at Ongaro and Sons. We are fully familiar with tankless water heaters, high efficient water heaters and standard efficiency tank type water heaters. Our technicians will explain the differences and help you make the best choice for your home and family.

8 Warning Signs Your Water Heater Needs Replacing

While none of these is a definite indication you need to replace your water heater, any of these eight warning signs should at least make you consider the possibility. Always consult with a professional plumber to consider whether the water heater might be repaired or is in need of replacement. 

1. The Water Heater is More than 10 Years Old

The older your water heater, the greater chance you will have of experiencing problems. If your water heater is over eight years old, it could be nearing the end of its natural life—especially if it has not been well-maintained. Generally, most water heaters that are more than 10 years old should be considered for replacement. If something should go wrong with a water heater that old, repairs really aren’t worth it.

It’s really only a matter of time. You could wait until it springs a leak or stops functioning, but then you have to deal with water in your basement or crawl space, not to mention the inconvenience of being without hot water, as well as the potential costs of emergency repairs. 

Also keep in mind that more modern water heaters are more energy-efficient. Replacing a 10-year-old water heater with one not only heats your water faster, but saves you money on your utility bills. 

2. Not So Hot Water

Have you found yourself saying your water is not as hot as it once was? Have you found yourself in the shower and the water grows cold quicker than ever before? The problem may lie with the heating element or the thermostat. It is not uncommon for these parts to wear out over time. But, first, check to be sure someone in your household has not turned down the temperature. If not, it may be time to invest in a new unit.

3. Rising Heating Bills

Paying more than usual for your utility bill? Hot water accounts for much of the heating energy used in your home. If the hot water heater starts to work inefficiently because it is declining due to age, then it is a good idea to have it checked by a professional plumber. In most cases, the more cost-effective solution is a water heater replacement.

4. Sediment in the Tank

Water typically has some minerals in it that aren’t harmful to bathe in or drink. Some would maintain that it is these very minerals that gives water a good taste. For your water heater, however, these minerals in your water heater can collect and build up, forming sediment.  Over time, this sediment settles at the bottom of the water heater’s tank (of course, we’re talking about tank-type water heaters here). As the sediment is heated and reheated, it eventually hardens, wasting energy (because energy is expended heating the solid sediment) and using a lot of your water heater’s capacity. 

Sure signs there’s a lot of sediment in your water heater is if you hear banging or rumbling noises from your unit. You might also notice you are running out of hot water sooner than usual.

The extra time required to heat water leads to cracks or holes in your water heater, so you look for leaks if you hear banging or rumbling. If the sediment is not cleared from the system, it continues to build and may clog the drain valve. 

You can avoid sediment build up by flushing it out once a year. This not only prevents immediate damage, but extends the water heater’s life. However, if you haven’t performed regular maintenance (and you should), and your unit is nearing its life expectancy, it’s probably time for a new unit.

5. Leaks

As metal heats, it expands. Expanding metal can fracture. If there are slight fractures, water leaks from your tank. However, your water heater’s inner tank stops leaking when its metal cools down. So if you see water in your basement or utility room but you don’t see anything leaking from the tank, don’t assume it’s not a problem.

Check to make sure there are no other leaks coming from the fittings or connections to the tank. Also check your heater’s temperature and pressure overflow pipe for leaks. These are generally repairable; a leaky tank is not. If you notice any leaks and aren’t certain where they might be coming from, your best bet is to call in a reputable plumber to evaluate your water heater’s condition.

6. Corrosion

Only very old water heaters start to corrode. If you see corrosion on your water heater, it’s time for a water heater replacement. You’re only wasting energy using it, probably aren’t getting the water as hot as before, and time is running out before it doesn’t work at all.

7. Water is Red 

If your hot water has a reddish tint, it could be a sign the inside of the water heater is rusting out. You can try flushing out the water heater, especially if the unit is only a few years old. But if the unit is in the 10 years old range, it’s probably time for a replacement.

Another possible culprit is galvanized piping that could be rusting. One way to check for sure it’s your water heater and not the piping:

  • Connect a hose to the unit’s drain pipe that runs outside or into a bucket
  • Open the unit’s drain pipe 
  • Run a few gallons of water down into the unit
  • Check to see if the water is clear or still rusty

If after five buckets or so and the water is still rusty, that’s confirmation the water heater is the source of the rust problem.

8. Too Many Repairs

You should perform regular maintenance on your water heater once a year. Occasionally maintenance might uncover some issues, such as a malfunctioning thermostat, but regular repairs should be unusual. Frequent repairs are a sure sign a water heater replacement is in order soon.

Maintain Your Water Heater

To get the most efficiency and life expectancy from your water heater, make sure you perform an annual maintenance.  Water heaters perform better and last longer if you flush the tank once a year to remove sediment. Plus, without all that sediment inside, your water heater operates more efficiently, saving you money.

Ongaro and Sons—Your Water Heater Experts

Ongaro and Sons plumbers are knowledgeable in all the latest technology and installation techniques of water heaters. When it’s time to maintain, repair or replace your water heater, Ongaro and Sons offers quality service from experienced plumbers.