A Guide to Life Span of Various Types of Water Heaters, and When to Replace Them

A Guide to Life Span of Various Types of Water Heaters, and When to Replace Them

A hot water heater is one of your home’s biggest investments: traditionally it will consume 15-20% of your household’s energy use. But most hot water heaters won’t last more than 10-15 years, and if it breaks down unexpectedly both your finances and your comfort can suffer. But here’s the good news: new, high-efficiency hot water heaters are more reliable and cost less to operate than older models. In this guide, you’ll learn about the different types of hot water heaters, what the signs of an aging unit are, and see what the benefits of upgrading to a new, more efficient hot water heater are.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide – feel free to jump to the section you’re interested in.

  1. How Long Do Water Heaters Last?
  2. How Can I Determine the Age of My Water Heater?
  3. What are Common Hot Water Issues That May Be Signs of Aging?
  4. What are the Benefits of Replacing and Upgrading Your Water Heater?
  5. How Do You Replace Your Water Heater?
  6. Can A Water Heater Be Repaired?

How Long Do Water Heaters Last?

For all the expense and effort involved in purchasing, installing, and then eventually removing a hot water heater, you want to get one that lasts as long as possible. Estimated lifespans of different hot water heater types are: 

Gas: 8-12 years

Electric (standard): 10-13

Hybrid Heat Pump Electric: up to 15 years

How Can I Determine the Age of My Water Heater?

Is your hot water heater ready to be replaced? This table will help you figure out when it was made, based on its serial number:

Rheem and Ruud MMYY**** YY = Year of manufacture MM = Month of manufacture 1209D1234 = December 2009
American and AO Smith
2008–present: YYWW******* YY = Year of manufacture WW = Week of manufacture 16051234567 = 2016, 5th week (early February)
Pre-2008: *MYY****** YY = Year of manufacture M = Month of manufacture 4D051234567 = April 2005
A = January | B = February | C = March | D = April | E = May | F = June | G = July | H = August | J = September | K = October | L = November | M = December
Bradford White YM******* Y = Year of manufacture M = Month of manufacture KH6511396 = August 2013
A = 1984 or 2004 | B = 1985 or 2005 | C = 1986 or 2006 | D = 1987 or 2007 | E = 1988 or 2008 | F = 1989 or 2009 | G = 1990 or 2010 | H = 1991 or 2011 | J = 1992 or 2012 | K = 1993 or 2013 | L = 1994 or 2014 | M = 1995 or 2015 | N = 1996 or 2016 | P = 1997 or 2017 | S = 1998 or 2018 | T = 1999 or 2019 | W = 2000 | X = 2001 | Y = 2002 | Z = 2003 A = January | B = February | C = March | D = April | E = May | F = June | G = July | H = August | J = September | K = October | L = November | M = December Note: Bradford White water heaters manufactured 20 years apart will have the same letter designation

What are Common Hot Water Heater Issues That May Be Signs of Aging?

There are some signs that indicate your hot water heater may need a repair – or maybe on its way to the junkyard. Consult a professional if:

  1. You see rust: a hot water heater near the end of its lifespan may start to rust, which can result in rusty water coming out of your taps, or rust showing around the water inlet or pressure relief valve on the heater itself.
  2. It leaks every time your hot water heater heats a tank of water, the metal expands and contracts. Eventually, it will begin to crack, resulting in leaks. If a newer heater is leaking, though, it could just be a sign that there is a faulty fitting, which your plumber can fix.
  3. It makes strange noises: rumbling or popping from your hot water heater is not a ghost in the machine, they are often signs of sediment buildup or age-related damage inside the tank. Ideally, you just need to have your tank flushed, but heavy sediment buildup is often a sign that a heater is old enough to need replacement. 
  4. No hot water: this worrisome sign is sometimes the easiest to fix: just make sure your hot water heater’s thermostat is set properly and that it’s not in “vacation” mode. If those don’t work, then you are likely getting an early warning that it’s time to shop for a new hot water heater.

What are the Benefits of Replacing and Upgrading Your Water Heater?

Avoid Emergency Replacement

Without hot water you can’ bathe, wash clothes or clean your dishes; it’s something we generally take for granted, and to be without it unexpectedly can deal a major blow to our quality of life and even our health. And every homeowner dreads the financial pain of an emergency plumber visit. So planning to replace your hot water heater before there’s a crisis is essential.

Money Savings (lower energy bills)

New hot water heaters are more efficient than those manufactured just a decade ago, which means they cost less to own and operate. The newest hot water heater technology – hybrid heat pump hot water heaters – use about a third of the energy a traditional tank heater does, so a family that ordinarily spends $35 a month to operate their hot water heater would only spend about $9.50 with a hybrid, which lets these units pay for themselves in just a few years. You can learn more here.

Estimated Electric Water Heating Cost per Month $35 $9.50
Estimated Annual Electric Water Heating Cost $419 $114
Savings per Year $0 $305
Lifetime Savings (Based on a 10-year warranty) $0 $3,050
Utility Rebates and Tax Credits NO YES
Payback on Incremental Cost Not Available 3 years or less
Warranty (Tanks and Parts) 6-years 10-years

Energy Savings (environmental benefits)

Newer appliances that use less energy don’t just save money, they have environmental benefits as well. More efficient heaters produce fewer greenhouse gases. And here, again, the newest technology is seeing the most dramatic results. Most household appliances operate below 100% efficiency: they take in more energy than they put out. Hybrid hot water heaters, on the other hand, operate around 300% efficiency, so they deliver more energy than they use. You can learn more here.

New Features (wifi connectivity, app)

We’re accustomed to seeing new features in our cars and TVs, but new hot water heaters have gone high-tech as well. Some models – particularly electric ones – can connect to your wi-fi and be controlled with a smartphone app. With an app you can control your heater’s settings in real-time and/or schedule when you need hotter water: for instance, heat the waterless when you’re at work, but have it nice and hot before you get home. Wi-fi connectivity also helps technicians keep tabs on your heater and troubleshoot it if something isn’t working correctly.

How Do You Replace Your Water Heater?

The process of replacing an old hot water heater begins with a couple of questions: What size water heater do I need? And: what kind of water heater do I need?  A family of four will need, roughly, a 50-gallon tank heater, though your needs may vary. And the kind of heater you buy may be affected by your home: for instance, you may not have the option of hooking up to a gas source and therefore have to limit your search to electric. Your best bet is to have a professional survey your home and give you recommendations that will meet your hot-water needs, work within your budget and be most efficient for your space. You can learn more here How to Choose a Hybrid Hot Water Heater?” and you may check Gas vs. Electric Hot Water Heaters – Pros & Cons”.

Can A Water Heater Be Repaired?

Sometimes a hot water heater repair is all that is needed: a loose-fitting or a faulty sensor aren’t indicators that your heater needs to be replaced. But patching up a bigger problem that indicates a heater near the end of its lifespan – cracks, rust, mineral buildup – may just waste money that could be better spent purchasing a new, more efficient unit. And since some high-efficiency heaters – particularly hybrid heat pump models – are eligible for utility and government rebates, the cost to purchase one may not be much more than patching up an old, failing model. At the very least, the monthly savings of a new, efficient hot water heater can more than offset the replacement cost.

Contractors for Hybrid Heat Pump Hot Water Heater Installation

Finding the right contractor can be the key to having a hybrid heat pump water heater installed correctly and safely, and is certainly easier than doing it yourself. Beyond word-of-mouth recommendations, local building inspectors or trade groups may have a list of licensed contractors in your area.

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