How Long Does a Hot Water Heater Last? (Expert Tips + Photos)

Even though most of you are shopping for tankless water heaters, even more are wondering, how long does a hot water heater last before it keels over?

The fact is most homeowners are not sure when to replace their hot water heater. They believe that once a heater starts to break down, it is time for a replacement. Others keep their water heaters for so long that it becomes too expensive to maintain. The length of time that it takes to replace the water heater differs from one heater to the other as explained below.

Water heaters are generally not made to last for more than 15 years. Most brands will start malfunctioning by the end of their tenth year and may need a replacement. Moreover, the longevity of a heater is also determined by the type of material used. The quality of maintenance of the heater also determines its effective life.

Heaters that come with tanks made of fiberglass tend to last much longer than the conventional tanks. Some high-end models of this type come with a lifetime warranty. Unfortunately, when the tanks get damaged, they cannot be repaired, and the whole unit has to be replaced.

Most of the low-end heater models come with a five to six-year warranty. It can last around two years after the end of the warranty period giving it a life of about seven to eight years. Higher quality models can last for up to three years after their 10-year warranty. These high-end models come with heavy-duty anode rods that are key to keeping the inside of the heater in good shape.

Electric vs Gas Water Heaters

On average, electric water heaters last about two years longer than their gas counterparts. However, this is not always the case. New gas models have fail-safe components that make them last comparatively longer and work effectively, thereby doing away with the two-year advantage of the electric heaters. Gas is environment-friendly and a lot cheaper per unit of water heated. It lowers the energy bill and the carbon footprint.

When Do You Know It is Time to Replace the Heater?


As said earlier, a water tank that has lasted for more than ten years may be heated inefficiently even if it does not have any problems when heating water. Consider replacing such a heater with new, more efficient models. If it is a tank-style heater, you may consider a tankless model.

Rust and Corrosion

If when you turn your faucets on the water comes with a tint to it, it may be an indication of rust in your water heater. Most heaters will first show the rust before they start leaking. Rust is unpleasant and may damage your clothing and other surfaces that meet the water.


This is the sound of an explosion that is common in the tank-style heaters. The sound comes from sediment buildup. When the water is heated, these sediments heat up to a point where they explode.


With time, the heater starts to get damp due to moisture buildup. These areas with moisture build-up end up becoming the new spaces for water leakage. If you start collecting water puddles below your heater, consider replacing it immediately.

Lack of Hot Water

This sign should be checked along with the signs discussed above. The heater may fail after using for a very long time or due to some other problem. However, if the heater keeps failing, is old and has one or more of the other problems discussed above, consider replacing it as soon as possible.

The heating element may fail over time, making it unable to heat the water beyond being lukewarm or not heating the water at all. In such a case, consider replacing the element. If this is not the reason why you are not getting hot water, the reason could be as a result of a broken dip tube. The dip tube is the pipe that connects the cold water inlet to the bottom of your tank. If the pipe gets broken, the hot water is mixed up with the incoming cold water leading to cold or lukewarm water.

Drain Valve Fails to Drain Water

Over time, sediments may build up on the inside of the tank-style water heater such that it covers the outlet where the water drains. You may also hear a popping sound if you are using a gas heater. The sediments will continue building up until such a point that it will break down the inside of the tank.

Fortunately, you can deal with the sediment buildup by having the tank flushed at least once a year. However, there comes a time when, even with flushing, the sediment problem becomes unbearable. This is the time to consider replacing the entire unit.

Things to Consider when Replacing a Water Heater

When it is time to replace your water heater. There are a few things that you should keep in mind so that you get a good quality heater that will serve you for a long period. Here are some of the considerations.

Are you replacing the tank with the same model?

Research on the available tank models and brands before deciding on the tank to purchase. You may also consider going for tankless heaters or switching from electricity to gas.

What size will you pick?

Has the previous system been serving you effectively in terms of providing enough hot water? If you plan to expand the family or the water was barely enough, consider purchasing a system with a higher capacity. You may seek professional help to determine the ideal capacity.

Do you hire a plumber or do it yourself?

There are models you can install on your own. However, it is generally recommended that you get a plumber to do the work. A plumber would do the work efficiently and help avoid messy mistakes or even find other problems in your water heating system.

An ideal water heater is energy efficient, serves your hot water needs effectively, and lasts long. You should know how long your water heater can last so that you can plan for a replacement well in advance. The signs above should serve as a warning that it is time to replace the heater.

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