5 Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Water Heater

In the majority of households, the availability of warm, running water is vital to everyday living. From showers, baths and frequent hand–washing to cooking, laundry and dish–cleaning, the average person could end up utilizing water of varying warmth up to 20 times per day. When you multiply that usage by each household member, the demands placed on the water heater is brought into perspective.

Sooner or later, you’re bound to see signs that your water heater needs to be replaced. Whether it’s due to usage strain or the age of the tank, water heaters — even the best of them — have a lifespan of roughly a decade. While you can help prolong the life of your water heater with annual maintenance, chances are you’ll need to have the pre–existing tank replaced with a new one if you occupy a given residence for more than eight years. Therefore, it’s important to know as a homeowner about the signs that would indicate when it’s time to replace your water heater.

1. Your Water Heater is too Old

Nothing lasts forever, least of all a water heater. During the course of an average home occupancy, a resident is bound to face that moment where they need to replace a water heater. Trouble is, most homeowners are unaware of when a water heater reaches its expiration date. Not knowing this, however, can lead to major risks when the heater starts acting up due to old age.

How Long Do Water Heaters Last

— The majority of water heaters last between eight and ten years. While ten is the age at which heater replacement is generally recommended, the actual need to replace a heater could arise before or after this timeline.

Signs of a Bad Water Heater

A water heater should be replaced beforehand if it shows the following symptoms:

  • Rusting, either on the tank or in the water
  • Noises
  • Leaks
  • Failure to heat water

Serial Number

— The way to learn about the age of your water heater is to look at the serial number, listed on the manufacturer’s sticker that can usually be found on the upper half of the tank. However, the number won’t list the date in a readily identifiable format. Instead, you’ll see numbers that look like the following:

  • G061193740
  • D041069367
  • I071047856

You can then find an age identification site to tell you the age based on the specific manufacturer’s serial number identification.

2. Rusty Water or Heater Inlet Valve

Even though steel is the strongest material on the face of the earth, it has a weakness: rust. When corrosion takes hold on a steel surface, it slowly spreads and eats through the steel in certain spots. On water pipes and tanks made of steel, rust serves as the warning sign for oncoming leaks.

Trouble is, it’s often hard to tell whether rust is coming from the water heater itself or the pipes that lead to your faucet. In any case, rust is an immediate problem that needs to be rectified for the sanitation of your household.

Rusty Water

— When rust appears in the hot water from the faucets in your sink and bathtub, chances are you have a rusty water heater. On heaters used past their expiration date, rusting is inevitable. Rusting can occur in any water heater, even those that are only between eight and ten years old.

Rusty Valve/Inlet

— If you spot rust around the water inlet or pressure relief valve on the heater, it’s likely that rust has also taken hold inside the tank. If that’s the case, the only option is to replace the tank as soon as possible. There’s no way to salvage an aging water heater once rust enters the picture.

Rusty Pipes

— If tap water comes out rusty, it could also be a matter of the pipes. If your piping system consists of galvanized pipes, rust could form on the insides with age, and the problem can sometimes get so intense that it becomes noticeable in sinks and tubs.

One way to determine whether rust is originating from your pipes or from the water tank is to drain several buckets worth of hot water from the tank. If the water still comes out rusty by the third bucket load, it’s definitely a problem with the tank and not the pipes. This, of course, would mean that it’s time to replace the water heater. After all, water leaks could soon appear if the rust eats through the steel.

3. Water Heater Noise

Another telltale sign of an ailing water heater is noise from the tank. As the heater ages, rumbling noises will start emanating louder and louder as the tank heats up water. In households that consume large amounts of hot water, the problem is likely to be even more pronounced once the cause takes hold. Noise from a water heater is generally due to the following causes:

Sediment Buildup

— As an aging water heater is continually called upon to heat and reheat water, sediment starts to form on the bottom of the tank. Over time, the sediment hardens and grows thicker along the tank floor. Sediment can wear a water heater down rapidly and lead to the following problems:

  • Inefficiency — water heaters with sediment buildup consume more energy due to the increased strain involved in heating water.
  • Accelerated Damage — the extra time that a tank spends heating water can cause the metal to turn brittle, which accelerates the likelihood of crack formation.

Noise from a water heater caused by sediment buildup is often an indicator that the tank will eventually leak. However, the damage that sediment causes can be stopped with the following method:

Flush the Heater

— The tank to your water heater should be flushed on an annual basis. Doing so drains the sediment from the tank, which is then able to work more efficiently. With a yearly tank flush, a water heater is likelier to last for its full life expectancy of roughly ten years. It’s best to have licensed plumbing professionals perform the flushing.

If a tank still makes noise once sediment has been flushed, there is probably a more serious problem with the water heater overall. In any case, healthy water heaters shouldn’t make noise, and those that creak or rumble despite periodic flushing are likely on the verge of a crack or leak regardless, and should therefore be replaced as soon as possible.

4. Water Heater Leaking

As your water heater nears the end of its life expectancy, there’s an increased chance that you’ll see water appear on the floor around the tank. When you see water, it generally means one thing: leaks. Depending on where you have the water heater located inside your house, a leak could result in significant property damage. As such, the most dangerous problem that could ever occur would be a serious leak with your water heater.

Primary Cause of Leaks

— Water leaks are often the result of expansions to the metal in the tank. These expansions occur over time as the inner–body of the tank is exposed to thousands upon thousands of heating cycles. When a fracture first forms, the gap is likely to be slight enough to hold water in all but the most trying circumstances. Therefore, when the tank is idle, water won’t leak, but when the metal expands at the height of each heating cycle, small amounts of water are bound to leak through the gap.

Alternate Causes

— Water leaks aren’t always the result of expansions in the metal. In some cases where leaks have occurred, there might not even be any problem with the tank itself. If water has appeared around the tank, check the following components of the water heater for signs of wetness:

  • Fittings/connections to the tank
  • The temperature/pressure overflow pipe

If leaking is evident in either of those areas, there could be something wrong with the fittings, in which case you’ll need to have a plumber come and examine the issue. If the connections and fittings show no traces of leaks, the tank itself is most certainly at fault. You can rectify the former problem with tightening and adjustments, whereas tank leaks really have no remedy. Therefore, if water is leaking directly from the tank, it’s time to replace your water heater.


— A leak in your water heater could be one of the most serious home maintenance issues that you’re liable to face throughout the span of an occupancy at a given residence. If the heater is located within your house on the ground floor, a leak could unleash the following consequences:

  • Soaked/ruined carpeting
  • Saturated/destroyed belongings — books, records, antiques, furniture, electronics, etc.
  • Mold stemming from the absorption of rotted water into floors, walls and carpeting

Therefore, you’ll want to have a leaking water heater replaced immediately if the unit is situated at ground level inside your house. A minor leak might not be quite as urgent if the heater is located in your basement or garage with no valuable belongings placed nearby, but you’ll still want to act sooner than later.

5. Water Heater Not Heating

Warm and hot water are among the most vital household necessities. Without warm water, you can’t wash your hands or take showers, nor can you clean dishes or run your laundry machine. Most residents take warm water for granted, and are therefore set off balance whenever water from the sink or bathtub fails to reach sufficient warmth.

The loss of heat in your water supply is likely down to one of three possible issues with your water heater:

  • A misadjusted thermostat
  • A broken heating element
  • A tank that’s too small for the size of your house

The first two problems are easy to rectify and do not necessarily indicate any need for heater replacement. Only the third problem is a likely indicator that, yes, you probably do need a new heater.

Thermostat Adjustment

— If the water from your faucets fails to reach adequate levels of heat, the problem could be down to an issue with the electrical thermostat. For problems such as this, the solution could depend on a simple thermostat adjustment. In order to bring sufficient warmth to a household water system, the settings on a thermostat should be between 120 and 140 degrees.

Broken Heating Element

— If nothing but cold water pours from your sink and bathtub faucets, the issue could stem from a broken heating element in your water heater. With a simple call to your local plumber, you can likely get the repairs you’ll need and have the heating functions restored within hours. If the water heater has been manufactured within the past eight years, a sudden loss of heating power is probably not due cause for an all out heater replacement.

Insufficient Tank Size

— The likeliest correlation between loss of water heat and the need for heater replacement comes when a household gets too full for the tank in question. If there are more members in your house now than there were last year or six months ago, the demands of your house could possibly be exceeding the limits of your pre–existing water heater. In this case, it really could be time to replace the water heater with something more equipped to meet the size and usage demands of your current household.

Call Ready & Able for Water Heater Maintenance

Water is one of the most utilized resources in every household. In the majority of these daily usages, water is needed with some degree of warmth. Therefore, when your water heater fails for whatever reason, the issue must be rectified as soon as possible to ensure the comfort of each household member.

In Central Pennsylvania, residents call Ready & Able for help with their plumbing and HVAC needs. In neighborhoods throughout Dillsburg, Enola, Lewisberry, New Cumberland, and other parts of Harrisburg and York county, our service crews are there on the double to repair and replace heating units of various models and sizes. If you see signs that your water heater needs to be replaced, give us a call today.

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