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Water heater lifespan

The water heater lifespan is on average 8 to 12 years, with replacement generally recommended at 10 years.  There are two exceptions: gas water heaters last approximately 6 to 8 years and tankless water heaters can last 20 years or more.  If you need to replace your water heater, there are many reasons why tankless water heaters are the way to go.  

It’s important to know your water heater lifespan in order to determine the age of your water heater, you must interpret a code in the unit’s serial number.  For example, a Bradford White model water heater will have a code that looks like this: “BH6511396,” in which the letters B and H signal the year (2005) and month (August) of the unit’s manufacturer.  A convenient guide for most brands can be found here.

If your water heater lifespan is nearing the end of its time, it is best to simply replace the unit before issues arise.  Before the end of their service life, water heaters may work perfectly, but when they reach their expiration date they can suddenly and unexpectedly leak.  When this happens, the water heater leak is more like a flood and can lead to costly repairs from water damage to your property, in addition to the cost of replacing the device itself.  New models are up to 20% more efficient and can save up to $700 in energy costs over the life of the unit, so replacing the unit in this situation makes sense.  Plus, a water heater’s lifespan generally increases with newer technology.

Even if your water heater lifespan is not near the end of its time, issues can arise as the unit ages.  Common causes of these issues are a lack of regular maintenance, heavy usage, and an excessively high-temperature setting.  Water heaters should be flushed yearly by a qualified and licensed plumber.  This rids the unit of collected sediment that causes corrosion and increases the unit’s efficiency.  Additionally, the pressure relief valve should be tested yearly.  This is done by lifting the valve’s handle and letting it snap back.  This should release a burst of water into the overflow drain pipe.  If it doesn’t, install a new valve.  If you have a large or busy household that uses a lot of water, the water heater will experience more wear and tear than one in a smaller household.  This will naturally lead to a shorter lifespan for the unit.  Additionally, setting the thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit reduces damage to the tank caused by overheating.

Important factors to consider a Water Heater Lifespan

Water heaters contain few moving parts, so few things can go wrong.  Some benign issues include the pilot light on a gas water heater flickering out, the circuit breaker for an electric water heater tripping, the thermostat breaking, the burner or heating element failing, and the valve sticking.  Repairing or replacing any of these parts is inexpensive, but if the tank is more than 10 years old, or if it is leaking, it is best to simply replace the unit.  Signs of a more serious issue requiring maintenance or replacement include:

  • Bad smell of the water
  • Water Leaks
  • No hot water
  • Water is present, but it is not hot enough, or there are frequent temperature fluctuations
  • Rusty color water is coming from the faucet or shower
  • The water heater is making loud rumbling noises
  • Corrosion and rust is noticed on the walls of the tank

If you notice any of the aforementioned warning signs, especially if your water heater lifespan is more than halfway through its expected time, contact a licensed plumber immediately, as they signal the presence of an issue that could lead to significant property damage and financial loss

Kelson Carter

Article reviewed by:

Kelson Carter, aka, The Prince of Plumbing

Kelson is a 3rd generation Plumbing Contractor. His family business is located in Greenwood, Indiana, and provides Residential Plumbing Service to the Indianapolis Metro market.

Kelson grew up watching his grandfather and father do plumbing. After graduating high school, Kelson went to Trade School and became a Licensed Master Plumber and Licensed Plumbing Contractor. He is also Certified in Backflow Prevention. He currently owns and operates Carter's My Plumber with his parents.


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