The water heater is an essential appliance that does its important job faithfully, day after day, without much notice – until it’s no longer as dependable as it used to be. Yet determining the time when repair isn’t cost-effective or when to be proactive and replace it before your water heater conks out completely is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are telltale signs to look for and factor into your decision to buy a new unit.
While our state-certified master plumbers at Adams and Son Plumbing have extensive experience answering emergency calls about water heaters that suddenly expire and/or empty their contents all over the utility room floor, we’d rather spare Central Florida homeowners the stress. Here is what you need to know to avoid trouble and extra expense.
How to Tell Before Trouble Starts – How Old is Your Water Heater?
The average lifespan of a typical electric storage tank water heater is 10 to 15 years; that of a gas storage tank water heater is eight to 12 years. Tankless models can last 20 to 30 years.
But what if you don’t know your water heater’s age – which is possible if it was in place when you bought your house? For a tank model, one sure way is to check its serial number. This is typically located on the manufacturer’s sticker on the upper half of the tank. But as if to make things complicated for the average homeowner, it’s listed in code. Decoding the serial number can be tricky, as they vary by manufacturer. Hot Water Solutions provides a helpful guide to make sense of it all.
When you know your water heater is nearing the end of its useful life, you can plan accordingly. You’ll have time to compare and choose the model best suited for the size of your house and the amount of hot water your family uses on average. You may even be able to switch from tank to tankless. This is a far better situation than having to replace your unit during an emergency, when you’ll need to take whatever is available.
Has Trouble Started? Here are the Signs to Look for!
While a leak is the most obvious sign, it isn’t really a sign – it’s the aforementioned emergency. Moisture or a puddle around the unit’s base means you don’t have the luxury of shopping around. Replace it immediately! Leaks are usually caused by a build-up of pressure inside the tank. This occurs when the water pressure or temperature is too high, or when the relief valve isn’t working properly. Neglecting a leak can lead to the tank exploding. Need we say more?
One of the first indications of trouble could be a sudden increase in your utility bill. If there is no other cause (such as a pipe leak), your unit could be expending extra energy to provide the same amount of hot water. Should this be the case, look for the other following signs:
Rusty or cloudy water – Water discoloration is a definite sign your unit is underperforming. Rust-colored water, or water with a metallic odor, can mean a few things. Either the sacrificial anode rod needs to be replaced or the tank itself is beginning to rust, which is often due to corrosion of the steel lining. A rotten egg odor indicates the growth of bacteria in the tank. A corroded tank must be replaced as soon as possible. Cloudy water often indicates a sediment buildup inside the tank, and if the water remains cold, a heating element may be broken. If this is the case, the heating element can be replaced, but be on notice that replacement time may be near.
Rusty pipes – Rust could also come from the pipe that brings water to your faucets. Regardless of the source, you need to address the problem urgently because it is a sanitation issue. To check whether the problem is with your water heater or your pipes, you can open your hot water tap and let it run for some time. If the rusty water continues to flow by the third bucket load, it means the rust problem is in the water heater.
Rusty valve/inlet – If you see rust around the water inlet or pressure relief valve, it means there is rust present in the tank. It also means it’s time to replace the unit as soon as possible.
Knocking noises – If you hear loud noises coming from your water heater, it means there is sediment buildup inside the tank. When the sediment hardens, it can start moving around the tank, causing those unwanted sounds.
Once there is sediment buildup in your water heater, it starts consuming more energy to heat the same amount of water. The knocking sound is another indication that your water heater has lived its life of faithful service. If you want to increase the life of your water heater, flush and clean your tank periodically (or call a plumber to do the job).
Cold water – If the water heater dispenses cold water instead, a tripped limit switch, misadjusted thermostat or broken heating element could be the culprit. First, check the water heater’s circuit breaker in the service panel to make sure it hasn’t tripped. If the breaker has tripped, switch it off, then switch it back on again. If the heater’s breaker did not trip (it is still on), try to reset the high-temperature limit on the heater. Our blog post – “Why Does My Hot Water Never Last Long Enough?” – offers troubleshooting tips, as well as how to tell when it’s time to call a plumber.
Another reason could be that the water heater is too small to provide enough hot water for your household’s needs. If the size of your household has increased recently, you may need a larger capacity tank.
Repair or Replace? Which Type of Water Heater is Best for Your Home?
There are occasions when your water heater can be repaired. Some of the replaceable parts include the burner assembly, heating elements, thermostats, valves, thermocouples, motors and igniters.
You can consider getting your storage tank water heater repaired if it is less than 10 years old and a replaceable part fails. However, if it is more than 10 years old, you haven’t maintained it properly, or you see any of the signs mentioned above, you should consider replacement. Repairs are generally not cost-effective once the unit reaches the average limit of its useful life.
As a water heater is an important investment, you need to consider which type is best for your home based upon cost, efficiency and longevity. Traditional storage tank units are still the most popular. However, tankless water heaters are quickly increasing in popularity.
Tankless water heaters use high-powered burners to rapidly heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger and deliver it directly to your faucets or shower without storing it in a tank, providing hot water on-demand. Tankless water heaters are powered with electricity or gas. One of their main advantages is energy efficiency, as they were found to be 22% more energy efficient on average than gas-fueled storage-tank models in tests conducted by Consumer Reports.
Storage tank water heaters are more common. They have an insulated tank that can hold 30 to 50 gallons of water. These water heaters run on gas or electricity. Natural gas storage tank water heaters are more energy efficient (almost 50%) than their electric counterparts. Natural gas storage tank water heaters are slightly more expensive than electric models. These water heaters also have a temperature and pressure release valve that opens up when the pressure or temperature increases beyond the specified limit.
Compared with storage tank water heaters, homeowners who have tankless water heaters and use less than 41 gallons or less of water per day can save anywhere between 24% to 34% in energy costs. If you use around 86 gallons of hot water every day, you can still save 8 to 14% on energy costs. Also, compared to storage tank units, tankless water heaters are less prone to corrosion. Another plus: The lack of a tank eliminates the possibility of a catastrophic water leak that can damage flooring, furniture, etc.
According to U.S. Department of Energy estimates, in comparison to a traditional gas-powered storage tank water heater, a gas-powered tankless water heater can save an average of $108 in energy costs every year. An electric tankless model can save an average of $44 every year over their traditional tank counterpart.
Tankless water heaters can save you money in the longer run, have a longer lifespan, don’t occupy too much space, and can instantly provide you hot water. But this type is more costly than storage tank water heaters, installation is more complex and expensive, and it might not be able to keep up with demand if you are doing numerous chores requiring hot water at the same time.
Storage tank water heaters are not all that costly, and their maintenance and repairs are less expensive. But storage tank water heaters are less energy-efficient, occupy more space, can store only a limited amount of hot water and have a lower lifespan as compared to a tankless model.
The Take-Home Message
Now that you know how to determine whether to repair or replace – as well as the pros and cons of storage tank and tankless water heaters –you will (hopefully) be able to select your next unit based on the factors and features you consider important, rather than under duress.
Whether your water heater needs repair, or you’re ready to replace it, call us! Adams and Son Plumbing is a family-owned business with over 50 years in plumbing service. A state-certified plumbing contractor, we have over three generations of master plumbing experience. Contact us to learn more and schedule a service appointment.