If you’re anything like most homeowners, the hot water heater is probably one of the last things on your mind. You turn the shower or faucet on, and you naturally expect the water to get hotter in a couple minutes.

That is, until it goes out. Then, having a working hot water heater is all you can think of.

Average Life Expectancy

Just like buying anything else, the answer to this question completely depends on what you buy. Typically, most water heaters tend to last the length of the warranty, which means if you have a cheaper water heater, you can expect it to give out in about 5-6 years (maybe a few more if it’s fiberglass, or if you’re lucky). Some high-end models even come with a lifetime warranty attached, just to give you that extra piece of mind, but if you can find a model that comes with a 10-12 year warranty, you won’t have to worry much about replacing it.

Tankless water heaters throw another wrench in this equation. Because their usage is more “as-needed,” they don’t typically have the wear and tear and corrosion that comes with standard water heaters. They generally last upwards of a decade, while some may even extend up to 20 years.

There’s also a difference between gas and electric heaters. Though some people claim that gas heaters are more environmentally friendly, electric heaters generally have less components, and therefore, fewer parts that can fail. They typically last about a year longer than gas heaters, but if your house is already wired for gas, it’s usually cheaper to stick with the type of tank you already have.

Causes for Tank Failure

Most of the time, your hot water heater will fail due to corrosion that builds up on the inside of the tank. This can result from over-pressurization of the tank itself, caused by either too much heat or too much pressure at the inlet. To remedy these issues, try to keep the temperature below 140 degrees Fahrenheit and install an adjustable valve to minimize the flow.

If the thin coating of glass on the inside of the tank is compromised and water makes contact with the metal walls of the tank, it’s only a matter of time before rust begins to set in and the tank fails. Though you most likely won’t see this process takes place, rest assured that once you notice your tank leaking, it’s too late. There’s virtually no way to reverse the corrosion on the inside of the tank; it almost always needs to be replaced. Though the cost might be a little high – usually near $1,000, on average – replacing the tank before it bursts will save you two or three times that in avoiding water damage.

How to Extend the Life of Your Tank

Since replacing your water heater is one of the more expensive “routine” tasks you may encounter, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some basic maintenance tips to help extend your heater’s life, even if just for a couple more years. Below are some of the more common ideas.

  1. Do a Visual Check. Make sure you don’t have any boxes or clutter that gets in the way of your heater, and check the joints for cracks or leakage. If you see a leak, call our team immediately; even a small leak can turn into a big problem in a hurry.
  2. Check the Anode Rod. Plumbers sometimes call the anode rod the “sacrificial lamb,” because its whole purpose is to attract the corrosion to itself to avoid it getting on to the tank. Check it every year, and if it’s corroded, look into replacing it. They generally last five years or so, and are relatively cheap to replace. If your tank has an option for a second rod, look into adding one as well.
  3. Install an Expansion Tank. Since water pressure tends to contract and expand, it’s a good idea to have a smaller tank nearby to handle the overflow. An expansion tank gives your water heater an extra place to send water, reducing the stress inside the cylinder and extending your tank’s lifespan.

If you’re unsure about tackling these problems yourself, or would just like a second opinion, feel free to give our team a call! Our staff is ready to answer any questions you may have.