Known as one of your home’s most essential appliances, your water heater is a true workhorse. It’s also an appliance often taken for granted until it quits working.
While you may ignore that tank in the basement or crawl space, it’s there 24/7 heating water and keeping it ready for your next shower or after-dinner dishwashing session.
Today’s post answers the question on many homeowner’s minds, especially if they’ve noticed their water heater not taking care of their hot water needs like it used to. If you’re wondering how long do hot water heaters last, take a minute and read our guide to water heater lifespan.
Water Heater Anatomy 101
The average person looks at a water heater as nothing more than a storage tank. After all, the tank is the only thing you notice from the outside, right? What you see is the protective shell — the tank sits inside, wrapped in insulation.
What you don’t notice are the various working parts of the water heater including:
- Copper Pipes
- Dip Tube
- Shutoff Valve
- Discharge Tube
- Drain Valve
- Pressure Relief Valve
- Anode Rod
All water heaters also use a heating mechanism.
Gas water heaters use a burner and chimney. The burner sits under the tank and the chimney sits on top. If you have an electric water heater, you’ll have a heating element.
These parts help your water heater deliver hot water when you need it and help keep the water hot in the tank until you turn on the hot water faucet.
When Water Heaters Go Rogue
Before diving into statistics about water heater lifespan, let’s look at what happens when a water heater quits working. Manufacturers design water heaters to meet a household’s demands for many years. That said, parts wear out and bring hot water service to a halt.
One of the first signs you have a water heater ready to go rogue is sketchy hot water service. Maybe things go lukewarm while you’re in the middle of a shower. You could have a worn-out dip tube or thermostat.
If you notice noise coming from the water heater, don’t ignore it. Popping, rumbling, and sizzling noises all indicate potentially serious problems. You may have sediment buildup, a faulty valve, or a leak.
If you have a gas water heater and notice crackling sounds, don’t worry. It’s likely condensation on the burner.
While lukewarm water or noise may indicate a problem, springing a leak causes immediate trouble. Because you don’t check on your water heater every day, detecting a leak could take time. You may not notice anything until you already have a flood in your basement or utility area.
Finally, you’ve likely heard stories about exploding water heaters. Keep in mind water heater manufacturers place a high priority on safety, but two things could cause an explosion. If you’ve set your thermostat too high or your pressure relief valve malfunctions, expect trouble.
The quality of your water may also cause a water heater to wear out sooner than expected.
Does Climate Affect a Water Heater?
You might wonder if the high level of humidity in the Southern states affects the lifespan of a water heater. It’s not the humidity! Instead, water quality can make a water heater develop sediment, which then leads to rust (if ignored).
Hard water contains minerals. Minerals are not friends to water heaters. Gas and electric water heaters deal with hard water mineral buildup a bit differently.
A gas water heater heats water using burners located at the bottom of the tank. Minerals harden into a scaly buildup on the bottom of the water heater tank. Buildup interferes with the water heater’s ability to maintain the correct water temperature.
The scaly buildup also affects electric water heaters. The scale builds up on the heating elements, which reduces efficiency.
How Long Do Hot Water Heaters Last Under Normal Circumstances?
If you don’t have hard water and you give your water heater a little TLC, you can expect it to give you several years of service.
Today’s water heaters usually last anywhere between 8 and 12 years. That statement might leave the homeowner with the 20-year old water scratching their head. Certainly, you may get more than the average number of service years from a tank water heater.
You can do two things to better predict how long your water heater works for you.
The first is to figure out the age of your current water heater. When it reaches the midpoint — around 4-6 years — pay extra attention to performance and watch for signs the appliance needs either repair or replacement.
Continue reading to find out one of the most critical things a home can do to maximize the useful life of their water heater.
Give Your Water the Good Life
Your water heater may not outlive you, but it can give you plenty of service years. You might even enjoy it for a few years beyond the predicted average lifespan.
Provide your water heater with TLC by performing routine maintenance checks. You can inspect it for visible signs of leaking, but your plumber can do a more thorough inspection. Schedule a yearly plumbing inspection, which includes your water heater.
Whether you have a gas or electric water heater, you should drain a few gallons from the tank every 6-12 months. If you notice dirt or other debris in the water, it’s time for a full-scale cleaning. Your plumber can also take care of this for you.
If you live in an area with hard water, consider installing a water softener. This helps reduce that scaly mineral buildup so damaging to the insides of your water heater.
Is Your Water Heater Ready for Service?
Have we answered your questions about how long do hot water heaters last? As you can see, this appliance, if cared for, can provide you with many years of hot water.
With regular maintenance, you can even extend its life up to or past its predicted average lifecycle.
Whether you have a new water heater or it’s nearing the end of its useful life, our team can either repair or replace your unit. Contact us today and schedule an inspection, we service the entire Columbia area!