How Long Do Hot Water Heaters Last? (and How to Extend Their Life)

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If you notice that the water in your shower is not as warm as usual or you’re planning ahead for major household expenses, you might be asking yourself, how long do hot water heaters last?

Tank-style hot water heaters typically last between 8 and 12 years but can survive up to 15 years if they’re well maintained. Tankless water heaters can last up to 20 years because they function on-demand and don’t break down from mineral build-up and corrosion like tank style heaters do.

In this article, I cover the factors that impact the lifespan of your water heater, teach you how to determine its age, give you tips on how to extend its life, and reveal the warning signs that the end is near. To be clear, the information in this article only applies to tank-style water heaters.

Let’s dive right into it! Select the links below to skip straight to a particular section.

Factors That Impact the Lifespan of a Hot Water Heater

There are several factors that impact the lifespan of your hot water heater including the quality of water in your home, the amount of stress on your water heater, and how well you maintain it.

Hard Water

Hard water contains a higher concentration of minerals such as calcium and magnesium compared to soft water.

Hard water can leave white spots on your glassware and sink, but even more concerning is the damage it can do to your plumbing, appliances, and water heater.

Over time, minerals in hard water build up within your hot water tank and accelerate corrosion and rust. That corrosion and rust will eventually lead to cracks, leaks, and other irreversible damage.

There are several tests you can conduct to determine if you have hard water in your home and several things you can do to soften the water if those tests come back positive.

Stress on Your Hot Heater

Tank style hot waters heaters have to continuously maintain the temperature of the water in its tank. If your system is located in a cold basement or crawl space with poor insulation, the tank loses heat and has to work harder to maintain the set water temperature.

The extra energy it takes to overcome the heat loss and maintain the set temperature not only costs you more in energy but it also puts more stress on your heater.

Most of the time, moving the location of your water heater to a warmer room is not an option, but there are things you can do to increase the temperature of the room such as adding insulation, replacing old windows, and wrapping your tank in a water heater insulation jacket.

Similarly, if the temperature setting of your hot water heater is too high, the system has to work hard to achieve and maintain that temperature. Most manufacturers default the temperature to 140 degrees Fahrenheit which is unnecessarily high.

You should be able to turn the hot water in your sink all the way up and not burn your hands. If that’s not the case for you, the temperature setting on your hot water heater is too high. Why waste the energy and put extra strain on your water heater to maintain a temperature that you can’t even use without scorching yourself?

Maintenance Schedule

Like most appliances, conducting regular maintenance on your hot water heater will have a positive impact on its lifespan.

Every water heater has an anode rod inside of its tank that protects the lining of the tank from corroding. It does this by attracting particles through a process called electrolysis.

Over time, the anode rod loses its effectiveness and particles and rust settle at the bottom of the tank.

At least once a year, you should have a plumber come to your house and drain your water heater to clear the build-up and prevent irreversible damage to the inside of your tank. Every 3 years, you should replace your anode rod.

Hiring a plumber to perform annual maintenance and to drain your tank will cost around $80 to $100 depending on where you live. To find out the exact cost in your area, get free, no-obligation quotes from local plumbers on HomeAdvisor.com.

How to Check the Age of Your Water Heater

If you’re concerned that your water heater might be approaching the end of its life, the first thing you should do is confirm its age.

Many experts recommend replacing your heater two years before you expect it to die. In doing so, you not only avoid the unpleasant surprise of having no hot water in the middle of the winter but also you’ll save money because your heater uses significantly more energy in its final years.

The easiest way to confirm the age of your water heater is to locate the serial number on the tank. The serial number is usually located on the top part of the tank but the location varies by model. Mine is printed on the bottom part of my tank (outlined in red).

water heater serial number

Usually, the built date is encoded into the serial number. For example, most serial numbers start with a letter followed by numbers. The letter indicates the month it was built and the number immediately following the letter indicates the year.

If the date is not completely obvious, don’t play the guessing game. Put the manufacturer’s name and serial number into Google and you’ll be able to find the exact age pretty easily.  

How to Extend the Life of Your Hot Water Heater

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, tank-style hot water heaters typically last between 8 and 12 years. It’s rare for water heaters to last longer than 12 years, but there are a handful of actions you can take to give your water heater the best chance to last longer than average.

Here’s a quick overview of the things you can do to extend the life of your hot water heater.

Change the Anode Rod Every 3 Years

One of the most effective ways to extend the life of your hot water heater is to replace its anode rod every 3 years.

Every tank-style water heater has an anode rod inside of its tank to prevent the lining of the tank from corroding.

Anode rods are made with a steel core and an aluminum, magnesium, or zinc exterior. The exterior metals attract minerals in the water through a chemical process called electrolysis. The minerals stick to and corrode the anode rod instead of settling against the lining of the tank.

The only problem is, anode rods don’t last forever. In fact, after 3 years they corrode, lose their ability to attract minerals, and need to be replaced.

If you don’t replace the anode rod, minerals will stick to the lining of your tank causing rust and corrosion and ultimately reducing its lifespan.

Lower the Water Temperature

The easiest thing you can do to extend the life of your water heater is lower the water temperature.

Most systems come with the temperature set to 140 degrees Fahrenheit which is great for killing bacteria when hand washing dishes but isn’t necessary for typical household use.

Most dishwashers and washing machines have the ability to increase the temperature during a cycle so there’s really no reason to overheat the water in your tank.

Lowering the water temperature to 120 degrees, as recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC), will not only save you money on your energy bill but it will also reduce the stress on your system.

Check out the video below to learn how to lower the temperature of your water heater. It’s simple, easy, it will save you money and extend the life of your water heater.

Drain the Tank Once a Year

Even though the anode rod is designed to collect minerals and prevent corrosion, some of those minerals still find their way to the lining of the tank. Drain your tank once a year to clear out any sediment or rust that has accumulated and refresh your system.

Test the Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve

Every water heater has a temperature and pressure relief valve. This is an important safety feature that is required by plumbing codes on all water heaters. If the pressure or heat within the tank exceeds a certain amount, the valve opens to release the pressure, prevent damage, and eliminate the possibility of an explosion.

water heater temperature and pressure relief valve
Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve

Test the temperature and pressure relief valve once a year to make sure it’s functioning properly and there is no sediment blocking its pathways. A blockage could cause the valve to malfunction and allow dangerous pressure to build up.

Check out the quick video below to learn how to test the temperature and pressure relief valve.


Use a Water Heater Insulation Jacket in the Winter

If your water heater is located in your basement or any other room that gets cold in the winter, it’s worth investing in a water heater insulation jacket. They prevent heat loss so that your system doesn’t have to endure unnecessary stress during the winter when the temperature outside drops.

They are inexpensive and you can find a variety of them on Amazon. This particular insulation jacket is one of the best sellers and its maker claims you’ll get a position return on investment in 6 to 12 months due to energy savings.

Signs That Your Hot Water Heater Is Dying

There are several signs of water heater failure that you should never ignore. Here’s how you know the life of your water heater is coming to an end.

Your Water Is Cold or Lukewarm

Is the water in your home cooler than usual? According to Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, one of the most common symptoms of water heater failure is a drop in water temperature.

As minerals settle against the lining of your tank, the build-up creates a barrier between the water and heating element which causes your system to work harder to heat the water. Over time, the blockage becomes too thick for the system to function properly.  

Strange Rumbling or Popping Noises

Another concerning sign is when your water heater starts to make strange rumbling or popping noises. As the lining of your tank begins to corrode, pockets of air boil along with the water causing rumbling or popping sounds.

Murky Water or Metallic Odor

If you pour a glass of water and it looks murky or cloudy and has a metallic odor, it might be time for a new water heater.

According to David Leroy Plumbing, the minerals and rust that build up in the tank eventually make their way into your pipes and out your faucets and taps. This could be caused by mineral build-up inside your pipes, but in most cases, it’s a sign that the water heater has serious corrosion and needs to be replaced.

Leaky Tank

The most obvious sign that your water heater has reached the end is when the tank starts to leak. There are many different components of your water heater that could leak, but if it’s the tank, you’ll need to replace the entire system.

Corrosion from mineral build-up eventually leads to cracks in the lining of your tank. When you notice this, immediately call a plumber because those cracks will expand and cause a flood in your home. Unfortunately, there is no way to salvage a leaky tank so prepare to shell out some cash for a new heater.

No Water Heater Will Last Forever…

No water heater will last forever but you can give yours the best chance of survival by following the simple tips in this article.

Remember to change the anode rod every 3 years, lower the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, drain the tank once a year, test the pressure valve, and keep your tank warm with an insulation jacket.

My last piece of advice is to find a local plumber that you can trust. They’ll be able to perform annual maintenance and give you advice when you notice signs of breakdown or failure.

If you don’t have a plumber already, check out HomeAdvisor.com. On HomeAdvisor.com you can type in your location and get free quotes from plumbers in your area in minutes. Every plumber on their site has been vetted so you know you’re getting a high-quality, licensed professional.

Leave a comment below if you know of any other tips or tricks to extend the life of your water heater. Thank you for reading!

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the info on hot water heaters. My home’s hot water heater isn’t working. I’ll call a professional to come and replace it.

  2. Its good to know that tank-style water heaters typically last between 8 and 12 years. My wife was wondering how long our new water heater will last. I’ll let her know that the water heater should last around a decade.

  3. I find it scary when you said that a sign that a water heater has reached the end of its lifespan is when there are minerals lining its tank that causes its water to drop in temperature. In case this does happen, one should hire a local plumber to inspect and fix the problem as soon as possible. Doing this will help the homeowner make a smart investment to restore it to its full efficiency or have a new one installed.

  4. I like that you suggest having a plumber drain your water heater every year. I imaging that having to change over your entire hot water system after your current one breaks is a huge hassle. I’d definitely prefer paying for regular maintenance, then paying for a new one.

  5. I found it interesting how you mentioned how you should replace your water heater if it shows any sign of corrosion or leaking. Right before my water heater stopped working, I noticed a rust spot near the bottom, which should have been a warning sign. Instead of hiring someone to repair it when I noticed it, I waited and it eventually broke for good. I will keep this in mind as I finish replacing my water heater!

    • I feel your pain Ethan! It has happened to the best of us. When it comes to water heaters, leaking is almost a sure sign of a major problem.

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