Your water heater provides hot water for your home, and it’s an appliance you likely use every day. When you turn on the water tap, your water heater springs into action sending hot water to your shower, bathroom, kitchen sink, and washing machine. When it doesn’t work, you notice. It is important to know when your water heater needs to be replaced so you have uninterrupted hot water for your household.
A hot water heater’s lifespan depends on many factors, including the type of water heater, the energy source, the type of water you have, and how well the unit is maintained. On average, most water heaters last between 8 and 12 years but some can last up to 20 years with regular maintenance.
Types of Water Heaters
There are two main types of water heaters that work for most households:
- Conventional tank water heaters
- Tankless water heaters
Each type of water heater is either powered by gas or electricity. Conventional tank water heaters are the most common type of water heater. They store hot water in a tank and keep it hot until you’re ready to use it while tankless water heaters don’t use a storage tank.
Conventional Tank Water Heaters
How does a conventional water heater work?
A conventional tank-style water heater will have a 40, 50, or even 75-gallon capacity and is powered by either electricity or gas. Cold water fills the tank and is heated by a heating element. The tank stores the hot water until it is needed. As hot water is used, the thermostat monitors the water temperature by turning on the heating element to heat more water and turning off the heating element when the water reaches the right temperature. When you turn on a hot water faucet, hot water rises to the top of the tank and is sent to the faucet or shower for use.
How long do conventional water heaters last?
The average lifespan of a traditional water heater is about 11 years, but they can last anywhere from 6 to 15 years. Factors like how often you use hot water, the size and location of your water heater, the quality of your water and how often you maintain it all play a role in how long it will last. Because they are always on and running conventional water heaters have a higher risk of failure than tankless water heaters.
What causes conventional water heaters to fail?
There are a few things that can cause your storage-tank water heater to fail prematurely:
Sediment build-up – Over time, the minerals in your water will settle at the bottom of the tank and form a layer of sediment. This can insulate the heating elements and prevent them from doing their job, which will cause your water heater to work harder and use more energy. Eventually, this build-up can corrode the tank and lead to a leak.
Anode rod corrosion – The anode rod is responsible for protecting the steel tank from corrosion. If the anode rod corrodes, the tank will start to rust and leak.
Not enough maintenance – Just like your HVAC system, your water heater needs to be maintained in order to function properly. Flushing the tank once a year can help remove sediment and prolong the life of your water heater.
Tankless Water Heaters
How does a tankless water heater work?
Tankless water heaters are wall-mounted devices that offer hot water to the whole house and are known as on-demand or immediate water heaters. And, as mentioned above, this sort of water heater lacks a large storage tank. When you turn on the hot water faucet, cold water runs through a pipe and into the unit. An electric element or gas burner heats the water as it passes through.
Because there’s no tank to fill, you have an endless supply of hot water. When the demand for hot water stops, so does the heating element. It’s important to note that a tankless heater must be sized properly for the home in order to work as intended. That’s why it’s crucial to have a professional do the installation.
How long do tankless water heaters last?
Tankless water heaters have an average lifespan of 15 years, but they can last up to 25 years with proper maintenance. These units heat water on demand, so they’re more efficient than conventional tank water heaters. Proper maintenance of tankless heaters is essential in order to maximize the lifespan of the unit. Tankless heaters contain more components than tank heaters and therefore tend to fail at a higher rate without proper maintenance.
What causes tankless water heaters to fail?
There are a few things that can affect how long your tankless water heater will last, such as:
- The quality of the unit
- How often it’s used
- The water quality in your area
- Whether it’s properly maintained
If you take good care of your tankless water heater and have it serviced regularly, it could last up to 20 or more years. However, if you don’t maintain it properly or live in an area with hard water, it might only last half that time.
When to Replace Your Hot Water Heater
No matter how well you take care of your water heater, eventually, it will need to be replaced. If you’re not sure when to replace your water heater, there are a few signs to look out for, such as:
- Strange noises
- Lukewarm water
- Higher energy bills
If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to call a professional for an inspection. They can help guide and determine when you will need to start shopping for a new water heater.
Average Replacement Cost of a Water Heater
If your water heater is starting to show signs of age, it’s probably time to start shopping for a new one. Don’t wait until it completely breaks down before replacing it, or you could be left without hot water for days or even weeks. The average cost to replace a conventional water heater is $2,000 to $4,000 and a tankless water heater installation can be between $6,300 to $7,500.