How long should a water heater last?

Is your water heater living on borrowed time?

The water heater is one of your home’s most essential appliances. Without it, you would not be able to take a hot shower, clean clothes, or wash dishes.

If you are concerned about the lifespan of your water heater, keep reading!

We will highlight the warning signs of a water heater on its last leg and give you some tips for expanding a healthy water heater’s longevity.

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

There are several signs that your water heater is on its way out. If you notice:

  • puddles around the tank are signs it may be leaking.
  • hot water turns rusty, tinted brown, or cloudy due to aging tank liner.
  • an increase in energy usage–this could indicate the heating element needs replacing.
  • strange sounds coming from the appliance. Any popping, rumbling, banging, or gurgling noises can be major red flags.
  • hot water is not as hot or doesn’t last as long.

The most apparent sign of a faulty water heater is when the hot water side stopped getting hot. Be sure to troubleshoot this issue for simple problems such as the gas line got shut off, heat setting got turned down, or a blown fuse or tripped breaker for tankless models.

You could also try flushing the water heater to remove hard water sediment collected on the bottom and restricting heat displacement.

You may also find that the problem can often be solved by replacing smaller, more affordable parts such as the pressure relief valve, gas burner, or thermocouple (depending on the kind of water heater you have).

hot water heater needed to clean dishes

Can a water heater last 20 years?

There are two types of water heaters: tank and tankless.

Both types can be purchased to work with either natural gas or propane fuel sources.

There are also electric water heaters, but these are small devices used mostly for instant hot water at a kitchen or garage sink.

There are electric whole-house water heaters also but they’re very expensive and usually require a 400amp main electric service panel.

The lifespan of your appliance will depend on which kind it is, how old it is, how often it receives maintenance and other factors.

Tankless water heaters can last up to 20 years or more because they only produce hot water when needed. Because they do not constantly 24/7 like tank heaters, they are under less strain and wear out much slower.

Most traditional tank water heaters last around 10 to 15 years depending on city water quality. Anything past 15 years is pushing it and risks water leaks and damage.

If your water heater is located in a garage or crawl space and your region is subject to cold weather, the appliance will have to work twice as hard to heat the water during these periods and will suffer a bit more wear.

Whether your home has hard water and a water softener or not may also affect the lifespan of your water heater.

Hard water is tough on water heaters because of the additional minerals that can build up in the tank.

It is essential to educate yourself on your home’s devices and their compatibility with each other when determining what repairs or replacements to make.

How old is your water heater?

If you inherited your water heater from the previous homeowner, you might not be sure of its age or how well it was taken care of.

Thankfully, most water heaters include the manufacture date as part of their serial number.

The serial number will start with a letter (“A” for January through “L” for December). Then the following two numbers will be the year.

For example, a tank with a serial number starting with L12 was manufactured in December of 2012.

It may be more difficult to determine how often the water heater was flushed. Still, an excessive or minimal amount of sediment can give you an idea when it was last flushed.

If you just purchased a home, you should have a plumbing, sewer, and water heater inspection.

In fact, it’s a much wiser move to do one while in escrow, to make sure there are no expensive repairs lurking in the system, especially in the drains and sewer line.

It may be easy to forget about your water heater as it runs in the background. Still, the worst possible reminder is a freezing cold shower.

Regular maintenance, flushing, and timely replacements can save you the alarming surprise.

If you are still concerned about the lifespan and health of your water heater, don’t be afraid to ask a professional!

water heater installation by RT Olson Plumbing -

How much does it typically cost to replace a water heater?

The replacement and installation cost for traditional gas or propane tank-style water heaters is around $1,400 to $2,400. The price will vary depending on the size, efficiency, and type.

Tankless heaters will last longer and reduce utility fuel costs, but they’re more expensive upfront.

Tankless heaters that run on gas or propane cost around $2,900 to $3,800 fully installed.

You can get some of that back with SoCal Gas company tankless water heater rebates of up to $1,000 (link here).

And though they’re not as common, solar-powered water heaters are the most expensive, ranging from $4,500 to $10,000, and oftentimes will still require a traditional water heater in the line after it to ensure hot water delivery.

When figuring up a budget for this project, you will want to consider installation and removal costs.

Going DIY can save you installation costs, but it can be risky. Installing larger water heater tanks can be a two or three-man job, and you have to be careful not to injure yourself while lifting it.

You will have to shut your water off for this process, so you want to be sure you can finish the installation the same day you start it. You may also need to consider how you will dispose of the old water heater.

Different cities have different regulations for disposing of appliances safely. Suppose you decide to pay a removal service to handle it for you. In that case, you will want to consider it an additional cost of the installation.

Summary: How often should you replace a hot water heater?

A good rule of thumb for tank water heaters is to replace them every 12 to 15 years.

For tankless water heaters, you will want to consider replacing them every 18 to 20 years.

If you want to avoid having to replace the appliance earlier, be sure to give your water heater annual flushes, maintenance, and regular repairs.

The water heater should be flushed at least once per year to clear sediment build-up.

Replacing the pressure release valve or heating elements when they start to wear out will extend the life of the whole appliance.

An annual plumbing and water heater inspection is recommended.

If you have hard water at your tap, then a whole-house water softener installed in line before the water heater can help extend the lifespan of it and all your appliances.

Infographic – All About Water Heaters

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Owner - Operator at RT Olson Plumbing
Bob Olson has over 18 years experience in all aspects of residential and commercial plumbing. He's a 4th generation plumber. With over 400 five-star customer reviews, he runs one of the best-rated plumbing companies in Riverside, CA.
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