Shower Running Cold? It Might Be Time for a New Water Heater

Most people probably don't think about their water heater until they use hot – er, cold – water.

Water heaters, like most home appliances or systems, can and do break down. However, because most water heaters are tucked away in basements or closets, they are often out of sight and out of reach of homeowners. But that doesn't mean they don't need attention and maintenance.

And for homeowners who come to the conclusion that they need a new water heater – whether expected or not – it can be a good idea to know what you're looking for, how long they'll last, and what you expect to ultimately pay.

When does a water heater need to be replaced?

If you don't know when your water heater needs to be replaced, experts say there are usually a few signs to look for. The most common signs include water pooling under the water heater itself and particles in the water when you turn on a faucet.

“If you see water pooling at the bottom and sediment forming,” says Brandon Thompson, owner of Circle T Handyman, a handyman service in Chicago, Illinois. While Thompson says the sediment is more or less natural (though not ideal), water heaters can rust, causing water to leak and pool at the top or bottom.

“Slow leaks become big leaks and big leaks become big problems,” says Scott Cohen, senior manager of channel marketing at Rheem, a company that makes water heaters, boilers and heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. “Consider replacing it if there are signs of leaks in the tank or if it's older and no longer meeting needs – if you're running out of hot water during peak usage times.”

In other words, if you're running out of hot water, that may be another sign that it's time to look for a replacement.

You should also consider the age of a water heater. If the water heater is decades old, you should probably think about replacing it, even if there are no immediate signs of wear and tear. Thompson said 20 years is “maybe the maximum you want to go for on a single water heater.”

How long should a water heater last?

While Thompson says water heaters can last up to 20 years, a typical water heater is likely to last more like 10 years. But again, if you see signs that the tank is showing its age, you may want to consider replacing it before it breaks.

“With good maintenance, the average water heater should last 10 to 15 years,” Cohen said. “It depends on maintenance and the water quality in your area. Also, you can look at the warranty to get an idea of ​​the minimum lifespan.” As a rule of thumb, however, homeowners should expect their water heater to last 10 years.

Keep in mind, however, that there are different types of water heaters, each with their own lifespan and maintenance requirements. Here's a breakdown of some of the most common types:

Storage or tank water heater

These are the most common types of water heaters and look like a large tank that is probably hidden in your basement or closet. They usually last between 10 and 15 years and are probably the cheapest types of water heaters from the start. They can also run on electricity or gas, but are usually not efficient. According to data from Angi, they could cost between $600 and $2,500.

Instantaneous water heater

Tankless water heaters are smaller than their tank counterparts and are more efficient because they use coil systems to heat water. Prices for the product and installation starts at over $1,000 in most cases and can cost as much as $3,500. They also run on electricity or gas, but consumers can reduce their electric bills due to improved efficiency. Tankless water heaters also typically have a longer lifespan, up to 20 years.

Heat pump or hybrid water heater

Heat pumps are just coming up and heat pump technology is also being combined with water heaters to create heat pump or hybrid water heaters. These are usually the most efficient types of water refusers, but also the most expensive — they can cost thousands to purchase and install, but they also have tax incentives (more on that below), which can lower the price, and should last about 15 years.

“Heat pump water heaters are currently experiencing rapid market growth,” Cohen said. “There are many incentives that can drive down the price.”

How much does it cost to replace a water heater?

The cost of replacing a water heater depends on several factors, but mainly it depends on the cost of the specific water heater you choose to replace and the cost of labor in your area. Generally speaking, though, Angi's data puts the average cost of a new water heater at just over $1,300, with the range typically being between $881 and about $1,800.

The size and type of water heater are the main factors that affect the cost of the water heater itself.

But again, there are many factors that come into play — most notably whether you're buying a newfangled hybrid water heater or a traditional one, and how much plumbers will charge to replace it. You'll also want to consider whether any additional work will need to be done to your home. This might include some demolition to remove the old water heater or install a new one (and subsequent repairs), or interfering with your existing plumbing to properly install a new water heater. Also, keep in mind that this may require permits.

Another thing to consider is government incentives. Cohen said that for certain types of new water heaters, homeowners may be able to qualify for federal tax credits that can be as much as $2,000, or 30% of the project cost. In fact, you may be able to get a newer, more efficient water heater and still get a tax break.

How to keep your water heater running

Maintenance is important and if you want your water heater to continue working properly after 10 years, some basic maintenance once or twice a year can help keep everything in good working order.

Cohen says a quick visual inspection of the connections and valves for leaks can be a simple matter. You can also flush the heater itself once a year, which can help remove buildup. “The whole process can take half an hour a year,” he says.

But when something seems wrong, most homeowners have only one thing to do, Thompson and Cohen say: Call a plumber.

“There's not much a do-it-yourselfer or homeowner can necessarily do on their own” if they suspect their water heater has a problem, Thompson said. “It's not the kind of thing that requires you to clean the trap in the sink.”

So what should you do if you are worried about whether the water heater is operational or needs to be checked?

“Get a plumber,” Thompson said.

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