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Water Heater Maintenance and Efficiency

water heater

Q. My water heater is 15 years old. About how long should it last? Are there things I can do to maintain it and make it more efficient, or should I just replace it?

A. It’s hard to say how long your water heater will last. Certified home inspectors estimate the life span to be about 10 years. Some manufacturers suggest 12 to 13 years, but I had a water tank that lasted more than 40 years before the heating element finally gave out. It’s wise to replace a water heater before it fails, because sometimes failure includes a ruptured tank or a massive leak that can do a lot of damage.

The life span of a conventional water heater (one with a tank) depends on factors such as the volume of water cycled through it, the hardness (mineral content) of the water and the tank’s interior coating. Many water heaters come with warranties as long as 12 years; a longer warranty may be an indicator of higher quality and possibly a longer life span. These warranties usually cover only the cost of a replacement tank; they typically do not include the cost of labor to install it or the costs from flood damage if the tank fails.

You can check for warning signs that your water heater tank or heating element may be failing:

  • Water leaking from the tank or pooling on the floor underneath it
  • Rust, corrosion or mineral deposits around fittings or release valves
  • A decrease in water temperature from your faucets

Many experts say an important water heater maintenance practice is to drain the tank every year or two. Others recommend that if your tank has not been drained in the past six to seven years, you should avoid doing so, because draining could remove sediment in a way that allows leaks to develop. Consult the owner’s manual for your model for the recommended maintenance tips.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to increase the efficiency of your water heater:

  • Insulate the first six to 10 feet of easily accessed hot-water line where it exits the tank.
  • If the tank is warm to the touch or is in a cold location, such as a garage, consider insulating it with a heater blanket. But, check the owner’s manual to make sure doing so won’t void the warranty. If you have a gas or propane water heater, make sure the blanket doesn’t block the unit’s air supply.
  • Keep your water temperature to 120 degrees or less. This will help you save money and ensure longer life for pipes and gaskets.

Keep safety in mind. If you have a gas or propane water heater, protect your family from the “silent killer” of carbon-monoxide gas. Pick up a carbon-monoxide detector from the hardware store, and install it near the heater.

Looking for more ways to save money on your hot-water bill? Showering accounts for almost 17 percent of indoor water use, so you can save money by installing efficient showerheads. Replace older dishwashers and washing machines with more efficient models. Repair any leaky faucets; a drip every second can add up to $35 a year.

When it’s time to purchase a new water heater, check out all the options. Some co-ops offer rebates on energy-efficient models. Others offer incentives for water heaters with large tanks or for installing load-control devices that remotely turn the water heater off during brief periods of high-energy demand.


Call Justice Plumbing for your comprehensive plumbing needs!