How long do water heaters last? The average service life of a tank-style water heater is 8 to 12 years, and when it comes to tankless models, you could get over 20 years of service if properly maintained.
Let’s face it, water heaters aren’t cheap, and they’re a headache to replace. This article will give you the variables that impact a water heaters life expectancy, and tips on how to improve their longevity.
Life Span of Water Heaters
Even the highest quality, and most expensive water heaters require maintenance to keep them running. Failure to perform routine maintenance will cause your water heater to age prematurely, and thus shorten the service life.
But with that said, the type of water heater you own will play a big role in how long it lasts.
Tank-Style Water Heater
Tank-style water heaters store the heated water in a large tank until there’s a demand for hot water. These types of water heaters are fueled by either gas or electricity.
Because electric tank-style water heaters tend to operate cleaner, they also have a longer service life than gas units.
- Electric Tank-Style Water Heaters have an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years
- Gas Tank-Style Water Heaters have an average lifespan of 8 to 12 years
Heat Pump/Hybrid Water Heater
Sometimes called a heat pump water heater or a hybrid water heater, these units are some of the most energy efficient water heaters on the market.
Rather than depending on gas or electricity, a heat pump water heater will pull the heat from the air to heat the water.
As with all water heaters, maintenance is critical when it comes to determining the life span of a heat pump water heater. A well maintained unit could have a service life of up to 20 years, but that’s more the exception than the norm.
- Heat Pump/Hybrid Water Heaters have an average lifespan of 13 to 15 years
Tankless Water Heater
Tankless models are often called on-demand water heaters because they operate only when there’s a demand for hot water. They can deliver an endless stream of hot water since they’re not limited by the size of their tank.
Just like tank-style water heaters, tankless models are available in both gas and electric models.
Both gas and electric tankless water heaters can have a service life of 20 years if properly maintained. Electric models have a more simplistic design which means there’s not only less things to go wrong, but troubleshooting and repairs are typically easier.
Since electric tankless water heaters are less expensive than gas models, many homeowners choose to replace the unit rather than make repairs.
- Electric Tankless Water Heater have an average lifespan of 7 to 10 years, but often exceed 20 years
- Gas Tankless Water Heaters have an average lifespan of 20 years
6 Variables that Impact Water Heater Life Expectancy
If you’re wondering if it’s time to purchase a new water heater, you should consider the following 6 variables which determine a water heater’s lifespan.
Type of Water Heater
As discussed above, the type of water heater you own will play a big role in how long it lasts.
Tankless water heaters last much longer than conventional tank-style models, and the type of fuel (gas or electric) also plays a role in service life.
Although, the age of the water heater is not the sole variable when determining service life, it shouldn’t be ignored either.
Assuming you own a gas tank-style water heater, you can expect 8 to 12 years of use. Keep in mind, there are outliners that may not reach 8 years of service, and also heaters that will exceed 12 years.
But knowing where your water heater is on this time table will help reduce the surprise when you no longer have hot water or you find a puddle around your heater.
The single most important thing you can do to increase the longevity of your water heater is to perform consistent maintenance.
Tankless water heaters and tank-style water heaters require different maintenance tasks, but it’s critical that each type is flushed regularly to keep them running efficiently.
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Where your water heater is located will also play a role in its longevity. If your water heater is located in a closet or other well insulated place in your home it won’t need to work as hard to heat the water since the air around it will be warm.
However, if it’s located in the garage or a drafty basement, the surrounding air will be colder and not only will your water heater need to work harder to heat the water, it’ll need to cycle on more frequently to keep the tank of water hot when it’s not in use.
Chances are you won’t want to spend the money to re-locate your water heater. But you can make a small investment and wrap the tank in an insulated blanket.
These blankets are inexpensive and designed specifically for water heaters. And, as an added bonus, you may even notice a decrease on your utility bill!
If your water heater wasn’t installed correctly there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. Not only could the service life be reduced, but there could also be safety and health risks.
Hiring a professional to install your water heater will ensure everything is done correctly. Many DIYers prefer to install their own water heaters, but we highly recommend hiring a professional, especially if it’s a tankless install.
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If you live in an area with hard water, your water heater will need some help to keep it operating healthy.
Hard water is the term used for water with high amounts of minerals. Anything that comes in contact with mineral laden water will develop a white scaly film called limescale.
Limescale will also build-up in your water heater and make it more difficult to heat the water. With the added strain on the system, the water heater’s service life is shortened, as well as its efficiency.
Read our full article on hard water and how to protect your water heater HERE.
Tips to Maximize the Service Life of Your Water Heater
As we mentioned earlier, performing regular maintenance is the single most important thing you can do to maximize your water heater’s service life.
Here are our top tips to help give your water heater a lengthy service life:
Tank-Style Water Heater Tips
These tips will help improve the performance of your tank-style water heater:
Tip #1 – Flush the Tank
A water heater tank needs to be flushed every six months to a year. And if you live in an area with hard water, you may need to do it more frequently.
Sediment is a sand-like material that collects at the bottom of your water heater. It can be a solid material, such as sand or debris, but it can also be calcium carbonate which plays a large role in water hardness.
Although, typically not a health risk, sediment can be a disaster to your water heater.
Your water heater will need to work harder than it should when sediment collects and covers the burner (gas) and heating elements (electric) at the bottom of the tank. This not only lowers energy efficiency, but also places more wear-and-tear on the components, thus shortening their service life.
In addition, as the sediment builds, the tank will begin to corrode from the inside out, until it eventually leaks. There’s no way to repair a tank leak, so your only option will be to purchase a new water heater.
Flushing your water heater will remove the sediment build-up from inside your tank. This article will show you how.
Tip #2 – Check the Anode Rod
The anode rod is often called a sacrificial anode rod because it sacrifices itself to protect the tank from corrosion.
This long rod runs vertically inside the tank and is typically made of aluminum, magnesium, or zinc. Each of these metals will easily corrode because the most vulnerable metals are attacked first by corrosion. The anode rod will be attacked and destroyed. Leaving your steel tank safe.
However, once the anode rod has been eaten way, your tank will be vulnerable to corrosion, and eventually leakage.
The anode rod should be inspected once a year after your water heater is 2 or 3 years old. Inspecting and changing the anode rod is very easy and this article shows you how.
Tip #3 – Check the T&P Valve
The T&P valve (temperature & pressure valve) is a safety device which all tank-style water heaters are required to have installed.
When water is heated, it expands and causes the pressure within the tank to increase. As the pressure builds, it can cause damage to the water heater. It can even create a dangerous explosion.
The T&P valve is designed to open and release the pressure from your tank before it reaches a dangerous level.
T&P valves need to be tested at least once a year to ensure they are working properly. Occasionally they’ll need to be replaced. However, it’s not uncommon for the valve to malfunction because of sediment or residue build-up.
Testing the T&P valve will flush the sediment from the valve, and give you the peace of mind that you and your water heater are safe.
This article will show you how to test and replace an T&P valve.
Tankless Water Heater Tips
Tankless water heaters stay in service longer than tank-style water heaters largely because there’s less corrosion. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need regular maintenance.
Here are a few tips to help your tankless water heater have a long service life:
Tip #1 – Flush
If you want to increase your tankless water heater’s lifespan, the number one thing you can do is to flush it regularly. Flushing, or also called descaling, removes the limescale build-up within the unit.
Limescale build-up will coat the internal parts of the tankless unit, including the heat exchanger, causing the unit to work harder and less efficiently.
One of the reasons tankless water heaters can last 20 years is because all the parts can be replaced. However, when the heat exchanger needs to be replaced it often makes more sense from a cost perspective to purchase a new tankless.
Flushing a tankless water heater isn’t difficult, but it will take about 2-hours. This article will show you how.
Tip #2 – Add a Sediment Filter
Tankless water heaters have a small pre-filter that filters out sediment before the water enters the unit. However, this is your tankless water heater’s only line of defense.
Most definitely, you need to clean the pre-filter on a regular basis, but filtering the water prior to it entering your water heater will make a huge difference.
The health and longevity of your tankless water heater is dependent on the quality of water it receives. A tank-style water heater collects the sediment at the bottom of its tank. It may run less efficiently, but it can accumulate large amounts of sediment before it creates a serious problem.
A tankless water heater has no where to “store” sediment. It simply mucks up the mechanism and in a short time breaks down.
Adding a pre-sediment filter is a relatively inexpensive way to protect and add years of service to your tankless water heater.
To learn more, check out this article.
Tip #3 – Hard Water
If you live in an area with hard water, you have two options to protect your tankless water heater.
- Flush your tankless more frequently than recommended to reduce limescale build-up, or
- Prevent limescale build-up by treating your incoming water prior to it entering the water heater.
You can add a scale inhibitor to the incoming tankless water line, or install a full house water softener. Regardless of your choice, these systems treat the water to reduce the hardness, which will reduce the amount of limescale build-up.
Learn more about your options to protect your tankless from hard water in this article.
Tip #4 – Annual Preventative Check-up
If you own a gas fueled tankless water heater we highly recommend having a licensed professional do an annual preventative check-up to ensure everything is operating as it should.
A minor problem that may go unnoticed, could become a major repair down the road. Preventive maintenance is always time and money well spent.
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