When to Replace a Water Heater: 7 Signs That It’s Time

Traditional tank water heaters last an average of 10 years. But the specific life of your heater depends on a variety of factors, including proper installation, how much you use it, your maintenance routine, and the quality of the unit.

Knowing when to replace a water heater can be a challenge if your unit doesn’t stop working completely. You might notice the water doesn’t heat quite as quickly, or it might start making new noises.

But is it really ready to be replaced, or does it just need a little maintenance? Knowing what to look for can help you decide if it’s time to invest in a new water heater.

Check out these seven signs you need a new water heater before you make your decision.

1. Lack of Hot Water

Have you had more than your share of cold showers lately? If you notice that your hot water heater can no longer keep up with your hot water demands, it may be time for a new unit.

Maybe the water starts to run out sooner than normal. This can happen because sediment that builds up can reduce the capacity.

Sometimes it might take longer than normal for the water to heat up or it doesn’t get as hot as you want it to. If the water only gets warm and not hot, check the thermostat setting.

If it’s set to lower than 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the unit may not be able to produce hot water. Try bumping up the thermostat to that higher range to see if the water temperature increases the way you want it to.

If you suddenly have no hot water at all, make sure the pilot light is still lit. You should also check the circuit breaker to make sure the unit still has power.

2. Leaking

By the time you notice leaking from your water heater, you likely already have damage. Rusting metal can cause holes to form.

The constant heating of the metal can also lead to leaking. The heated metal expands, which could result in cracks in the inner tank. Those cracks can let water seep out of your tank, where it can damage the floors, walls, and other surrounding areas.

Leaking typically only happens at the peak of the heating cycle. Until the tank reaches that peak temperature and expands, the tank can hold the cracks together and prevent leaking. It may take you some time to notice the leaks because it’s not usually a steady stream of water.

If you notice a puddle or moisture around your water heater, do a little investigation to find the source. Sometimes the leaks can come from fittings, connections, and overflow pipes. Those issues can usually be repaired, unlike damage to the tank, which usually means it’s time for a new unit.

3. Strange Noises

New and unusual sounds coming from your water heater may signal a major problem inside the unit. Sediment buildup inside the tank is often responsible for those noises.

Sediment makes the unit run less efficiently and may cause more damage over time. The minerals harden as they constantly reheat inside the tank. The sediment might bang around or touch the heating element, which can cause a banging, popping, cracking, or rumbling sound.

4. Rust in Water

Over time, rust can build up inside your water heater. That rust will continue to get worse and might eventually cause leaking in the water heater.

You may start to see that rust in the water that comes out of your faucets. You might notice the rusty colored water even more when you run the hot water.

Sometimes rust can come from the pipes themselves. To find out if the rust is inside the water heater, drain water directly from the water heater using a 5-gallon bucket.

Run two or three buckets out of the tank. If all of the buckets contain rust-colored water, the problem is likely inside the tank.

5. Smelly Hot Water

When you run your hot water, take a whiff to see if you notice any unusual smells. The metal inside the water heater can flake off as it breaks down. That can cause a metallic smell in your water, particularly the hot water.

You might also notice a metallic taste when you drink the water.

6. Increasing Repair Needs

Do you feel like you’re always calling the plumber to work on your water heater? The cost of those service calls adds up, and the increasing repair needs may mean your unit is nearing the point of being beyond repair. Instead of constantly paying for service calls, it may be a better investment to put the money toward a new unit.

You can get traditional tank water heaters installed for anywhere from $300 to $3,500, depending on the capacity, warranty, and other factors. With the range of options, there are water heaters available for most budgets. If you want to go tankless, budget $1,800 to $5,000 total.

7. Old Unit

You can’t predict for sure how long your water heater will last, but if it’s getting closer to the 10-year mark, the chances increase of needing a replacement. Do a little research to find out how old your water heater is if it’s starting to show other signs of wear.

If you have a large family or use a large amount of hot water, the lifespan of your water heater may be much shorter than the average 10 years. If your area has extremely hard water, your water heater may also not last as long.

A well-maintained unit may last longer than average even with high use or hard water. If you flush the unit regularly and have it professionally serviced by a plumbing company, you may get more years out of it.

When to Replace a Water Heater

Deciding when to replace a water heater is easier when you know the signs that it needs replacing.

Investing in a new water heater can save you money on utilities and make your showers more comfortable with consistently hot water available quickly.