How Long Do Water Heaters Last? – Tips to Increase Life Expectancy

A water heater is a crucial home appliance, especially when the winter comes. You can’t compare a lot of things to having a hot relaxing shower when it’s chilling outside. Although water heaters are durable devices, they can’t serve you forever. The question is how long do water heaters last, and is there any way to estimate their lifespan.

The answer is yes, and we are focusing on the factors that affect its life expectancy in this article. We will tell you about the expected lifespans of different heaters, but also crucial factors that affect their durability. You shouldn’t forget the importance of proper maintenance as that is the only way to maximize the heater’s lifespan. You should also know how to recognize when something’s wrong with your appliance immediately.

We will cover all these topics in our water heaters life expectancy guide, so let’s not waste any more time and start immediately!

How Long Do Water Heaters Last

What Is My Water Heater Life Expectancy?

The life expectancy of your water heater will depend on many factors. The type of water heater is the primary reason you should consider when determining the expected lifespan. That is why we will start by explaining different water heater types and their estimated longevity.

Different Types of Water Heaters and Their Life Span

You can find three major categories of water heaters in today’s market. These are:

  • Conventional tank heaters
  • Tankless water heaters
  • Hybrid water heaters

Let’s get into the specifics of each to tell you more about their expected lifespan.

  1. Conventional Tank Heaters

    When we say conventional water heaters, we are talking about those use a tank to work and heat your water. You may also encounter people calling them traditional as these were the first type of heaters to show on the market. The primary reason why people decide to use them is that they are available at affordable prices. Maintaining them shouldn’t cost a lot of money either. Additionally, you can have hot water in case of an emergency. Furthermore, you will be able to access up to 100 gallons of hot water, depending on the model you use.

    However, you should be ready that you can run out of hot water in the middle of a shower. After you use all the water, it might take up to a couple of hours for the heater to recharge. On top of that, the utility bills may be high, especially in winter. As for the life expectancy, traditional tank water heaters should last between 10-15 years. Many experts put their estimated lifespan at 12 years. However, it is essential to note that how well you take care of your heater directly affects its lifespan.

  2. Tankless Water Heater

    As the name suggests, these heaters do not use a tank. That is their main difference compared to traditional water heaters. They use electric coils or gas burners to heat the water instantly. As a result, you will always have access to hot water. It means you won’t have to worry whether you forgot the turn on the heater or wait for the water to heat.
    You will, however, need to keep in mind that you will receive a steady stream of hot water, but not an unlimited supply.

    Many heaters only cover a single shower/person, and you need to buy a bigger unit for higher supply. In other words, if you want to do dishes while another household member is showering, you will need a big tankless water heater.
    The good news is that tankless heaters are smaller than tank units on average. Tankless models might demand a higher initial investment, but they make that up with their extended lifespan. As long as you maintain the heater properly, it should last at least 20 years. The warranties also tend to be more generous, and many will cover the entire estimated lifespan.
    Check out important specifications to consider in choosing a tankless water heater.

  3. Hybrid Water Heaters

    Hybrid water heaters use a heat pump to transfer heat from one location to another. It is called hybrid because it has features of both tankless and conventional heaters. Rather than working on demand, a hybrid heater transfers hot air to the tank when that is necessary. If it notices a high demand, it will use electric heating, but you can also activate the energy-saving mode and adjust other settings.

    As for the lifespan, most hybrid water heaters last for about a decade. It is less impressive than the other two types, but they are still a long-term investment.

Factors That Affect the Life Expectancy of a Water Heater

The years mentioned above are only an estimated life expectancy for every type of water heater. Understandably, nobody can accurately say how long will your heater actually last. However, here are some factors that may affect its lifespan.


6 Considerations that Attribute to Water Heater Lifespan

  1. Location

    Where do you plan to install your water heater? You should make sure to pick a dry location, and not one susceptible to flooding. In that case, your heat might not only last short, but you could compromise the safety of your home.
    Although water heaters can be placed in a relatively tight space, you also want to ensure that there is at least a couple of inches on each side. That way, you allow the heater to “breathe” and enable easy access to it in case of potential repairs.

  2. Quality of Water

    The quality of water in your location can compromise the performance and durability of the water heater. You want to look for minerals and other potential contaminants. Optimal water quality will ensure that the limescale doesn’t build up inside the tank, and it also guarantees prolonged resistance against corrosion. This may be a factor you can’t affect too much, but there are tricks you might try. In some cases, you may need a softener to ease the hardness of the water, but make sure not to make it too soft.

  3. Does Choosing an Electric or Gas Water Heater Affect Its Expectancy?

    Picking between a gas and electric water heater is an interesting topic to discuss, but in this article, we are focusing on its life expectancy. The truth is that both heater types have approximately the same lifespan. You will find some experts claiming that an electric model will serve you for a year or two longer. However, the truth is that it largely depends on the unit you choose. If you are lucky enough, a heater will last years beyond its estimated life expectancy, but it can also fail a couple of years before its predicted lifespan ends. Rest assured it won’t have anything to do with the fuel you selected.

    ** What are your household needs and how much of your budget are you willing to pay? To help, we’ve created guides on what to consider before choosing a gas tankless water heater and important specifications to consider in choosing an electric tankless water heater.

  4. How Often You Use it

    Yes, the durability of a water heater will directly depend on how often you use it. For example, let’s imagine a heater that serves a five-member household versus one that serves only a single member of the household. The latter will last longer since it won’t use as much water as the other one.

  5. Brand and Price

    When it comes to the brand, it is the oldest rule in the book. If you stick to a reliable manufacturer, you will get a trustworthy product. Choosing reputable water heater brands is the best guarantee you will get a product with premium component quality, and one that will serve you for a long time.

    A price can also be a fine indicator of what to expect. You should beware of water heaters whose cost seems too low because there is probably a catch involved. On the other hand, some manufacturers like overpricing their units. That is why you should look for a heater that looks like the best value for money.

  6. Warranty

    Regardless of the product, you are purchasing; a warranty is always a fine indicator of how much the manufacturer trusts the product. If they provided a generous warranty, you could rest assured they believe they made a top-quality heater.
    But if the warranty is considerably less than the usual life expectancy for that type of water heater, it should raise a red flag. You may ask why that is the case, or find another model that fits your needs.

Effects of Hard and Soft Water on Water Heaters

Before we dig into how it affects water heaters, let’s discuss water hardness itself. Have you ever wondered about the type and quality of water running through your home? It is mineral content that determines the hardness of the water. There are tests you can use to check the hardness, or you can have the water tested in a laboratory. If you feel your local authorities are trustworthy, you can contact the city or the water supplier for more information.

We divide water hardness into three categories:

  • Soft – water usually shouldn’t have more 1 grain per gallon (gpg) or more than 60mg of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) to be called soft.
  • Balanced – this water has from 1.1 to 6-7gpg and between 60 and 120 milligrams of CaCO3.
  • Hard – any water that has more than 7gpg, and 120mg of CaCO3 are considered hard.

Please note that the ranges mentioned above may vary from one location to another, and depend on regulations. However, it is vital to remember that water that has over 10.5gpg or 500mg of CaCO3 is not suitable for domestic use because it is too hard.

How Hard Water Affects a Water Heater

Hard water doesn’t cause problems only for your water heater, but the entire plumbing system. The issue is that this water can cause build-up in your pipes, and that includes pipes you connected to the heater. Additionally, minerals can build up limescale on the tank bottom.

As a result, that buildup will be an obstacle between the water and the burners that should heat it. That may cause problems to achieve the desired water temperature. The same applies to electric heaters where this limescale can for on heating elements.

Here is an overview of the ways how hard water can affect your heater:

  • Compromised efficiency – as we already explained, hard water forms a buildup that doesn’t allow your tank or heating elements to their task optimally. As a result, you may deal with water that is far from hot when doing the dishes or showering.
  • You will need to flush the heater more frequently – we will talk about it later, but maintaining your water heater involves flushing it occasionally. The general rule is once every year, but if you have exceptionally hard water, you may have to do that every several months. You will have to admit that can be a big hassle!
  • Diminished lifespan – even if you give your best in taking care of your heater, using too hard water might reduce its life expectancy for a couple of years.

If you are looking for ways how to reduce the hardness of the water on your property, you may want to use a water softener. However, keep in mind that your goal should be to make the water balanced. That is because soft water can also have a negative influence on your heaters.

** Before you invest a large amount of money in a water heater, read this guide on what to consider when buying an energy-efficient water heater.

How Soft Water Affects a Water Heater

When you say that the water is soft, you don’t exactly think that it will be a threat to your water heater. The truth, however, somewhat different. The task of softeners is to eliminate magnesium and calcium from your water and add sodium instead.
The next thing you should know is that your water heaters have anodes that have the task to prolong the corrosion of your heater. It is inevitable for your heater to corrode, but it is these anodes that have the task of delaying that from happening as long as possible.

These anodes, however, have a problem with soft water. To be precise, they have a problem with salt in the sodium that softeners added. Salt speeds up the corrosion process, and subsequently reduces the life expectancy of your heater.
In conclusion, you should always aim to maintain balanced water in your home. Make sure to test it first to confirm the hardness. If it is in the balanced range, you can consider yourself happy, and it is probably an indicator that your water heater will last longer than one used with exceptionally hard or soft water.

How Maintaining Your Water Heater Can Affect Its Lifespan

The rule for all household appliances (and products overall) also applies to water heaters. The manufacturer will provide an estimated life expectancy. However, it is you who will affect how long your heater will last.
The way how you are using the water heater, and whether you are dedicated to maintaining it, can greatly affect its lifespan. Let’s take a look at some details that may help you to learn how to take care of a heater properly, and extend its lifespan.

water heater life expectancy

How to Take Care of a Heater Properly & Extend Its Lifespan

  • Make Sure Everything Is Installed Correctly

    We will start from the very beginning. You may think it doesn’t have anything to do with maintenance, but the truth is that the process of maintenance starts with installation.

    You want to ensure that everything is installed properly, which is why it might not be wise to install the heater yourself. If you trust your skills enough, and you received detailed instructions, you might consider a DIY installation. However, due to the bulkiness of some water heaters, make sure to consider if you need an extra set of hands. In that case, call a friend or a neighbor to assist you during the installation.

    The safest way to ensure that everything was installed properly is to call a professional. You want someone who is experienced in working with the particular type and brand of the water heater you purchased.
    Reliable professionals will do the job right the first time, and they will check that everything works flawlessly. That will give a jumpstart to your water heater, and set everything up for maximum lifespan possible.

  • Regular Maintenance Checks

    The first thing you want to ensure is that you check up on your heater now and then. That means you inspect your heater carefully, and look for any signs of damage. Make sure to check for leaks, too, and look for anything that seems out of order.
    If you notice leaking, it is important to call a professional immediately. The problem with small leaks is that they can turn into huge ones quickly. You don’t want to risk having a flood in your apartment as that can lead to a costly repair and destroy your valuables.

    In most cases, leaks do not require a lot of effort to fix when they are small. Even if you call a professional, the chances are that they won’t charge you a lot.

    While we are at that topic, you may want to call a professional to perform a regular maintenance check of your water heater. You should that in addition to your inspections for potential issues. If you want to be on the safe side, make sure to get a professional to check on your heater once a year when everything works right, or as soon as possible if you notice any issue in functioning.
    ** Find out the costs associated with buying and installing a new water heater.

  • Inspect the Anode Rod

    If you read carefully, you know this is the piece that does its best in preventing the tank from corroding. It is a metal piece that has the task to gather any rust before it attacks the heater construction. As expected, the longevity of an anode rod is limited and shorter than the life expectancy of the heater itself. That is why you want to check the anode rod yearly. If it seems like it is totally corroded, or close to achieving that status, it is time to replace it.

    Fortunately, new anode rods shouldn’t be too expensive. It is, however, vital to replace them regularly to keep your heater construction safe. As a general rule, anode rods should last for several years, but their maximum estimated life expectancy is five years.

  • Flush the Tank Regularly

    You should take the term “regularly” with caution here. It might mean 12 months if you are living in an area with balanced water. But if your water is hard, you may need to flush the tank every six or even three months.

    Here is the best way to check it – grab a bucket and get a gallon or two of water directly from your heater in it. Examine the water and see if it looks clean. If you notice obvious debris and dirt, it is time for flushing. That way, you will optimize the efficiency and prolong the durability of your heater.

    Some heaters have a self-cleaning feature, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t flush the system. However, it will mean you won’t have to do it as often, but only every couple of years. In case it seems too confusing to conduct the flushing yourself, you can always contact a professional.

  • Check the Pressure-Relief Valve

    This valve plays an important role in water heater functioning. It has the task of preventing an explosion by releasing any pressure from the tank when needed. The valve does this automatically as long as it works properly. You want to test the functioning of the valve occasionally. Do this by removing the lever on the heater’s top. Watch the discharge pipe, and see if water gets out. If you don’t notice water, you should replace the valve right away.

  • Is There Room to Lower the Temperature?

    When the professionals install your water heater, they will set a certain heat level on the temperature dial. Some will ask you about your preferred temperature, but others will set it themselves. More often than not, they will set the temperature at 140F. However, keep in mind that you can adjust the temperature dial.

    First, you will need to find where it is. It can be on the front or the side of the heater, and you might need to unscrew a box to access it. Once you identify where it is, establish the current temperature. You can adjust the dial any way you see fit, so try 130F or even 120F. Experiment for a couple of days, and see if the water hotness is suitable. Continue with the adjustments until you find the desired temperature.

    Why is this important for your heater’s lifespan? It’s simple – if you reduce the temperature, the heater won’t work as hard. That should automatically extend its life expectancy. Additionally, you will also reduce your utility bills. Some rough estimations are that you can save 3-5% in your energy expenses by reducing the temperature by 10 degrees, which is a tempting deal.

  • Insulate the Pipes

    Here is a neat trick that can extend the lifespan of your water heater, but also improve its performance. The idea lies in adding insulation to your pipes. It shouldn’t be a demanding project, and you might want to complete it yourself.
    For starters, you want to use a foam pipe insulation. Make sure that it matches the diameter of your pipes and slide it over them. You want to apply it to pipes with both cold and hot water. The more pipes you can reach, the better.
    Once you install this foam, you will improve the coldness and hotness of water depending on what you need to use. It may also be a way to decrease energy bills.

  • Insulate the Heater

    Apart from insulating the pipers, you can insulate the heater itself. You will need an insulating blanket that will fit the dimensions of your heater. The first thing you need to keep in mind is to turn off the water heater before working anything on it. That includes setting the pilot position for the gas valve or switching off a suitable breaker in the panel if you are using an electric heater.

    Now, you want to place the blanket around the heater, but make sure that you haven’t obstructed any of its important parts. For example, you need to leave the room for the access panel, keep the top of the heater open, and ensure that gas vent can continue working without obstructions. In other words, any part that the instructions indicate you shouldn’t cover must remain open.

    You will probably need to cut some holes on the blanket to fit your unit. That is why you will need time to complete this project, but it is important to do everything right. It is the only way to help the heater’s lifespan while ensuring everything functions well. In case you haven’t realized, the major benefit of this approach is the same as when insulating the pipes. The heater won’t have to work as hard to heat the water, and the blanket will help the water in the tank to remain hot for longer.

How Do You Know When to Replace Your Water Heater?

You’ve done everything right, and your water heater has provided loads of hot water over the years. However, you are in the final years of its life expectancy, and you are aware that a replacement will be required soon.
There will be situations when you haven’t had your water heater for long, but it still seems it is not functioning well. That is why we will check out the signs that indicate you need to repair or replace your water heater.

Signs Your Water Heater Needs to Be Repaired or Replaced

  1. You Don’t Get Hot Water

    It is primary (and virtually the only) task of a water heater. If it doesn’t do that job right, it is time to start worrying. Start by checking the gas valve if you are using that heater type. Alternatively, you may want to inspect for limescale that formed in the bottom of the tank and compromises the efficiency of your heater. You may also be dealing with dip tube corrosion.

    In some cases, the issue is repairable. However, it might also be that your water heater has reached the end of its lifespan, and you need to replace it.

  2. Fluctuating Heat

    Anyone can conclude that a water heater is not working if it doesn’t deliver hot water. But an indicator that something is wrong with the appliance is also if the heat fluctuates, or it is not at the same level as before.

    For example, it may seem like the water is only warm for the last several days. If it was hot up to that point, it is time to perform a thorough inspection. Maybe the heating element has problems with the stored limescale, and you need to flush the system so that it can heat the water properly again.

  3. You Found a Leak

    If an appliance is a part of your plumbing system, it shouldn’t leak. It is the first rule in the book, and leaks are signs that you need to repair the unit as soon as possible. You might find leaks at the welded joints, sidewall seams, or close to rusted threads. These are the most common locations, but leaks can be in other places, too. Either way, it is essential to resolve the issue before it becomes a major problem.

  4. You Notice Water Close to a Water Heater

    You might not notice a leak directly, but you stepped in a puddle of water located close to the heater. That is another obvious indicator of a leak. A puddle may be an indicator that leakage occurs somewhere where you can’t see it right away (a pipe inside the wall or something like that). Either way, this is something that requires you to act and call a qualified expert to diagnose and fix the problem.

  5. Low Water Pressure

    You used the strongest settings, but it seems like you are only getting a slow stream of hot water from your heater. Perhaps you shouldn’t blame the appliance because pipes or inadequate design may be at fault. However, it may be wise to call a professional to diagnose the issue and fix it.

  6. The Water Seems Sandy or Muddy

    It is a clear indication that something is not right. Before you continue using the water heater, it is important to flush the system and clear any sediment that found its way to the tank. The chances are this will resolve the issue, and your heater will continue working as normal.

  7. Your Heater Became Noisy

    Like other appliances, the water heater may become noisy as they get old. If you frequently hear pops and cracks, it may be a sign that it is time to flush the system. These sounds may occur when you have mineral content caused by hard water stored at the bottom of the tank. The noises you hear appear because the heating element gets in touch with them.

  8. You Spend a Lot of Money on Repairs

    You are trying your best, but it seems like you have to repair your heater every several weeks. It is a clear indicator of a dying appliance that won’t serve for much longer. Instead of investing that much money into repairs, start considering purchasing a new heater.

Wrap Up

Water heaters are long-term investments and appliances that should serve you for decades. However, if you want to ensure to maximize their lifespan, you will need to invest some time and effort into maintenance. Regular inspections and maintenance checkups are among the crucial factors that can prolong the lifespan of your heater. The sooner you identify the problem, the sooner you resolve it, and the less damage to the appliance. It is why you should be a responsible owner and take good care of your heater.

Life expectancy can be one of the factors when choosing your desired water heater. However, you should also keep in mind other things, such as their type and features. The crucial factor is that it can meet the expectations in terms of securing enough water for all household members. The primary task of a water heater is to provide sufficient hot water, and you should pick a model that can do that well for years to come.

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