If you’re looking for a new water heater or already experiencing issues with your current unit, you might wonder, “how long do water heaters last?”
The average water heater lasts between 8 and 10 years. However, several factors impact how long your water heater works. The brand, model, type, maintenance, water quality, location, and frequency of use all affect longevity. Electric tankless models could last 20 years.
In this article, we’ll discuss the specifics to help you determine the lifespan of your water heater. You’ll learn how to estimate how long your water heater will last based on the brand, how to extend its life, and how to tell if it’s time to buy a new water heater.
How Long Do Water Heaters Last?
Most water heaters last from 8 to 10 years, on average. In general, it’s recommended to replace a water heater every 10 years. But you may need to get a new water heater before or after this timeline. Other factors come into play in determining the exact amount of time, such as brand, model, type, maintenance, water quality, location, and how often you use the water heater.
Water Heater Lifespan Based on the Brand
As with all appliances, water heaters have varying lifespans based on the brand and model. Here are the exact life expectancies of some of the most common water heater brands on the market today.
Factors That Affect Your Water Heater Life Expectancy
Understanding the factors that affect a water heater’s life expectancy can help you replace it well before it springs a leak or causes damage to your home. Consider the following to determine the exact lifespan of your appliance.
The type of water heater is the first determinant of life expectancy. Some brands or models last longer than others. For example, residential water heaters may last between 6 and 13 years. Most tanks will not extend beyond 12 years.
You can further pinpoint the average lifespan based on whether your water heater runs on gas or electricity. There are also conventional and tankless water heaters. Both electric and tankless models typically come with a higher price tag and a longer life expectancy.
The lifespan of the tank is also determined by the water running through it. A water heater that’s subject to sediment build-up or mineral deposits may cause the water heater to work harder to heat the water properly and reduce the overall efficiency. For example, hard water can reduce the lifespan of your appliance by two years or more.
Today’s water heaters are designed to last longer than older models, but they all still require maintenance to keep them in top shape.
Many tank manufacturers recommend regular maintenance to keep your water heater in top condition. It’s best to drain and flush the tank each year for the best results. Most homeowners do not perform regular tank maintenance, opting to hire a professional instead. With routine inspection, you could extend the life of your water heater.
How often do you use your water heater? Check how many gallons of hot water your household typically uses to determine how frequently you use it. If many people live in your home or you have a large tank, you may go through a water heater faster than average.
Finally, your location may determine how long your water heater lasts. Some areas have hard water, which can wreak havoc on the unit and reduce its lifespan by two or more years.
Water heaters located in crawl spaces, basement, or garages, any area where the temperature drops significantly, can reduce life expectancy. The frequent temperature changes make it harder for the appliance to work. Water heaters that are installed in a temperature-controlled environment tend to last longer.
Average Life of Water Heaters Based on Type
Water heaters also last for varying amounts of time, based on the type. For example, tankless and electric models typically have the most extended lifespan.
Traditional tank-style water heaters last from 8 to 12 years, on average. You can find tank-style water heaters available in gas or electric, which also determines the life expectancy. They typically include 40 or 50-gallon tanks.
These types of water heaters have an anode rod that protects the interior lining from corrosive materials.
Over time, the rod corrodes and stops working, causing corrosion to begin spreading in the tank and sending your water heater into the final stages of its life.
Tankless or “on-demand” water heaters are the newest option. They can work for up to 20 years or more. Instead of constantly running to maintain a tank of hot water, tankless models only kick on when you need hot water.
They also don’t need anode rods, which corrode over time, so tankless models tend to require more minor replacements.
Gas Water Heaters
Gas water heaters are typically more environmentally friendly than electric models, but they do not typically last as long as other types. With proper maintenance, a gas water heater may last between 8 and 12 years.
However, gas units have components that wear or break over time. They require more maintenance and tend to have a shorter life expectancy as a result. Many gas water heaters only last around 6 to 8 years.
Electric Water Heaters
Electric water heaters often work for a few years longer than gas models. The average electric water heater lasts between 10 and 15 years.
How to Find the Age of Your Water Heater
If you’re not sure how old your water heater is (either because you bought it used or purchased a house without knowing the exact age), you can take a photo of the rating plate on your tank and ask a professional to help.
You can also check the water heater’s serial number. This number is on the appliance’s documentation or the upper portion of your water heater.
This serial number will always begin with a letter, and is quickly followed by a series of numbers. The letter typically represents the month, with the following two digits representing the year it was made. For example, “B10” means the water heater was manufactured in February of 2010.
However, not all manufacturers include the serial number on the unit. You may need to confirm the serial number or age on the company’s website.
When to Replace a Water Heater
So how often should a water heater be replaced? How do you know when your hot water heater needs immediate replacement?
If your water heater is over 12-years-old or exhibits any of the following symptoms of going bad, it’s time to replace it. The most common first signs on a failing water heater include:
- Brown water
- Cold water
- Clanking noises
- Erratic heating
Signs Your Water Heater Is Going Bad
Water heater problems are typically self-evident in time. The most common signs you need to buy a new water heater include old age, gurgling or popping sounds, odd-colored water, dripping or puddles, or a lack of heat. If you observe any of the following preliminary warning signs, purchase a new water heater before the problem becomes much worse.
The easiest warning sign that your water heater is going back soon is age. Most water heaters last from 6 to 13 years, with 8 to 10 years as the average. If your water heater is more than 10-years-old, you should consider investing in a new unit before problems arise.
Over time, hard water sediment may build up inside your tank. The sediment becomes hard as it’s repeatedly heated. You may notice a loud gurgling or popping sound when this happens as the sediment shifts around in the tank. The rumbling noises only grow louder over time, especially when the tank is heating hot water.
Noises like these cause the water heater to overwork. It can cause internal damage, leaks, and other issues. Your energy bill may skyrocket, or you may notice a strain on your water heater. Although noisy water heaters often lead to a leak, you might be able to stop or prevent the sediment from building up by flushing the tank annually.
3. Rusty Water
If the water has a tinted or brown appearance when you use the hot water, you may have rust in the water heater. Rusty water is a massive indicator of wear. If you see brownish water, your water heater or piping is rusting on the inside. It’s not uncommon for the tank to begin leaking soon after showing signs of rust, as the corrosion eats through the steel surface and spreads.
The problem is figuring out where the rust is coming from initially. It could be the pipes that lead to the faucet or the water heater itself. Rusty water in the bathtub or sink could signal you have a rusty water heater. Whichever is the cause, rust requires an immediate fix. You may need a professional to find the right solution for you.
You may also notice rust around the pressure relief valve or water inlet on the water heater. If that’s your case, you probably have rust inside the tank as well. If you don’t already have rusty water, you may soon. Replace the tank as soon as you can.
A massive sign that you should replace your water heater immediately is water leaks. Water may pool or drip from the unit, or you may notice moisture near the tank. Check around the water heater’s base for dampness, which is the first sign of a slow or new leak. A crack or leak could mean you need to replace the water heater based on it’s location.
If you have puddles of water around the water heater, it’s time to replace it. Otherwise, you may cause more damage to your home, such as rot and other forms of water damage.
5. No Heat
Another telltale sign you need a new water heater is cold water. If your water does not reach hot temperatures anymore, call a professional to check it immediately. You may have a misadjusted thermostat or a broken heating element. A pro will rule out these issues to determine if you need the replacement.
Should I Replace My Water Heater Before It Fails?
Your water heater may work for a longer or shorter period than the average time, even based on the specific brand. For this reason, it’s best to replace it after 12 years, whether it shows symptoms or not. Getting ahead of the situation before the water heater becomes a problem could save you a lot of pain later.
You want to think about replacing the water heater two years before the predicted lifespan or the best results. For example, you should consider a new tankless water heater as the unit approaches 15 to 18-years-old.
If you don’t replace your water heater before it fails, the unit may die when you least expect it. Waiting for repairs could require you to take cold showers and disrupt your typical day. The water heater may also begin to experience issues that could cause damage to your home later, such as leaks that lead to water damage.
What Brand of Water Heater Is the Most Reliable?
When you’re purchasing a new water heater, it can feel overwhelming to select between the many brands and types on the market. Finding the most reliable brand requires research. The ideal water heater may depend on your home or personal needs. However, certain brands are more reputable than others.
The most reputable brands include GE, Whirlpool, Kenmore, A.O. Smith, Westinghouse, and Rheem. You may notice some of these manufacturers are familiar household names. They all feature top-of-the-line appliances and have been in the industry for decades.
If you’re looking for a brand specializing in smaller water heaters, Rheem and A.O. Smith are among the top best water heaters.
Best Time to Buy a Water Heater
Most people buy a water heater through a hardware store or a plumber, who typically installs the unit. You can install a water heater yourself if you’re handy.
You might be able to save money by purchasing your water heater during seasonal sales. Like many other major appliances that use a considerable amount of energy, fall is the best season to look for lower prices. Many appliances release new models just before the holidays, so last year’s stock goes on sale in September. Prices typically keep falling as fall wears on.
You may also want to look for big weekend sales around October, November, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day. Thanksgiving weekend and Black Friday sales are also highly lucrative both in stores and online.
How to Extend the Life of Your Water Heater
There are many ways you can extend the life of your water heater. Regular maintenance prevents many problems. However, the method that’s right for you may depend on the cause of your issues.
For ideal maintenance that keeps your water heater in proper working condition long-term, your water heater maintenance schedule should include:
- Flushing the tank every four months or every year
- Testing the temperature relief valve once per year
- Replacing the anode rod every three to five years
- Cleaning the tank once per year
- Checking the burner in your gas water heater each year
Flushing the Tank
If you have sediment building up in the tank, flushing the tank each year helps drain the sediment and helps the water heater become more efficient. Yearly tank flushing from a professional plumber also allows water heaters to reach their total life expectancy.
Gas water heaters and tank-style models commonly see sediment build-up, which mainly requires regular flushing before leading to hissing noises in the tank. Sediment can cause tons of problems if you leave the particles sitting in the tank. It’s ideal to drain your water heater twice per year to get rid of sediment before it causes corrosion.
Over time, this corrosion will lead to leaks, rusty water, puddles, and various other problems.
To flush a hot water heater, drain the water from the tank. Make sure to turn off the electricity or gas for safety purposes before you start. Next, attach a garden hose to your drain valve at the bottom of the tank and direct the end outside or into a bathtub where it can drain. A colander can help catch the sediment from the tank and further prevent clogs.
When the tank is empty, run cold water into the tank. Open the drain valve to allow the tank to empty itself again. The water may appear discolored or odd in texture. The water should become transparent as the sediment and hot water drain completely. You may need to fill and drain the tank with cold water multiple times. Repeat the process until the water is clear.
When the job is done, remove the hose and turn the electricity or gas back on. You may also want to call a professional plumber to complete the process for you.
Checking the Pressure Valve
Maintenance also helps you replace elements that may cause long-term damage if they go unnoticed, such as the heating element, thermostat, or thermocouple. If you have a gas model, you should check the burner annually. Testing the pressure valve is also recommended for safety, no matter what type of tank you have.
Pressure valves come on both electric and gas water heaters. They’re sometimes known as the TPR valve. The valve opens under pressure or with too much heat, preventing explosions or any damage to the appliance. When the valve malfunctions, you may have sediment build-up blocking the opening.
To check if your pressure valve needs replacement, turn off the gas or electricity. Lift the valve’s handle to release a burst of water and allow it to snap back into place. If you don’t see water flow from the valve when it’s open, a new valve will extend the life of your water heater.
Replacing the Anode Rod
The anode rod, a metal rod in your water heater tank, attracts minerals before they become sediment and corrode the tank’s lining. Essentially, the anode rod protects your water heater by attracting minerals before they cause deposits on the tank.
However, you must replace the anode rod when it wears out immediately. When the rod wears out, your preventative maintenance will not do much. Minerals will begin to cause the tank to rust or leak. For the best results, check the anode rod in your water heater every three to five years if you want to extend your water heater’s lifespan.
Turn off the electricity or gas before you start. Then, drain a couple of gallons of water to check for rust. The anode rod should be attached to the top of the tank. Unscrew the hex nut on the top of your tank to reach the rod.
If you can see the core wire or the rod has a thick layer of deposit, it needs replacing. Anode rods are readily available and affordable at any hardware store.
Insulating the hot water pipes could help extend the lifespan of both electric or gas water heaters. You can also lower the temperature setting to below 120 degrees F to reduce damage from the tank overheating.
Regularly cleaning the tank each year prolongs the life expectancy as well. Cleaning extends past flushing the tank free of sediment to cleaning the outside of the tank.
If you have rust, leaks, puddles, or a 12-year-old water heater, it’s time to consider buying a new unit immediately.
If your hot water heater reaches the end of it’s life expectancy or you notice any warning signs, you should consider replacing it. The information above can help you target the exact age, lifespan, and warning signs you need to think about. But you can also use the table above to select a water heater that will last longer.
Did you find the information you needed to figure out how long your water heater lasts? If you learned what you need from this article, please let us know. Share it with your friends and family so that they can find the right water heater for their home as well.