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When to Replace the Hot Water Heater

Updated on January 31, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

How can you tell it is time to replace the hot water heater.

There are several ways to tell when it's time to replace the old hot water heater. Of course, it's best to take your time and look at the different water heaters before you actually need one. It's no fun rushing around trying to find a replacement on a Friday afternoon!

But what are the signs that old water heater is ready to be retired?

When to Replace the Water Heater

1. Age. How long has that particular appliance been working for you? A gas hot water heater is expected to last 8-12 years, while an electric model does a little better at 10-15. Tankless water heaters have a longer life expectancy but they are so new that it is hard to estimate their actual lifetimes.

2. Water. Rust colored hot water; do you get tinted water when you open up the hot water tap? This is a real good indication!

3. Temperature. Hot water is not as hot or you run out of hot water under normal conditions.

4. Moisture. Moisture around the base may signal a slow leak.

5. Cold Water. An ice cold shower first thing in the morning is a pretty good sign that something is wrong.

6. Puddles. A flood in the area around the water heater is a sure sign that you need a new one.

The last two are obvious, and kind of funny but the truth is that most of people wait until they DO jump into that icy shower at 6 a.m. to decide that it is time for a consult with the plumber.

Old Betsy, our 17 year old, 90 gallon, gas hot water heater just bit the dust
Old Betsy, our 17 year old, 90 gallon, gas hot water heater just bit the dust | Source

Figuring out your hot water needs

Replacing a water heater can be tricky. There are a lot of different types and sizes and it is confusing. How many gallons do you need? Tankless water heater or Conventional? Gas or electric? What about solar? Sometimes the more research you do the worse it gets! First things first:

How much hot water do you need?

To effectively decide what size water heater you need you will have to figure your family's peak usage. This means that you have to figure out how much hot water your household will use at the most in any particular hour.This is accomplished by answering the following questions ( the number following the activities refer to the gallons used for each activity):

How many times in the peak hour of your family's day do you:

  • Showering 20
  • Bathing 20
  • Shaving 2
  • Washing hands and face 2
  • Hand dishwashing 4
  • Automatic dishwashing 10
  • Preparing food 5
  • Automatic clothes washing 32

So if your busiest water usage is at 6 p.m..and the dishwasher is running, there is a load of clothes in the wash, and two people will take showers then your peak water use is 82 gallons per hour. You need a tank with at least 82 gallon FHR, or first hour rating.. This does not account for low flow shower heads and faucet aerators so it could be less but is a good rule of thumb. Many 40- 50 gallon water heaters come close to this but you may need something a little bigger.

Gas, Electric, or Solar? Tankless or Tank?

Once you know what you need you can consider the next part. Should you choose gas, electric, or solar?

Stick with What You Have

Typically you should stick with what you have installed all ready unless you are making the switch to solar. It is expensive to make a change from electric to gas or vice versa. The solar water heater will pay for itself in combined tax beaks and rebates, and energy savings in an estimated 4-5 years but again, the installation can be difficult if there are a lot of things to change.

Electric or Gas?

Electricity and gas are a trade off. The electricity is a little easier on the environment, especially if your provider has a source of renewable electricity but can cost more and works much less efficiently than the gas. Natural gas is not a renewable resource but is much more effective and, in most areas, cheaper than electric. Most plumbers will tell you that it is usually best to go with what you all ready have rather than making a switch.

What about Tankless?

If you want to replace a conventional water heater with a tankless water heater it is much easier to do with electric than with gas. Continuous water heaters that are gas need special size vents and gas-lines which drives up your cost considerably. When I queried my plumber about this very thing he said that for my house to switch it would cost over $2,500.00 without even buying the water heater!

However, many sites recommend the gas over electric for whole house heating. This type of heater also cannot take on too many things at once. If you are doing a load of laundry then you might be able to take a shower at the same time but not run the dishwasher as well. If you get one of these units, look for a gas-fired model eligible for 2006-2007 federal tax credits, at least an Energy Factor (EF) of 0.80.

Efficiency

A conventional water heater needs to have a minimum energy factor of .63 for gas and .93 for electric . The new heaters are much more efficient than they used to be and have more insulation and substantially reduce stand by heat loss.

An added bonus is that the typical conventional water heater will cost about half of what a tankless will, and about one fourth of what a solar powered one will.

Incentives and Tax Credits

Many areas have state and local tax credits and incentives for a homeowner that chooses to buy an energy efficient hot water heater. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) gives homeowners a $300 tax credit when they improve energy efficiency by buying and putting in qualified hot-water heaters. Be sure to check with your local utility company as well because some have incentives and breaks for their customers.

Choose wisely and well. This appliance is going to be around for a long time! Do your homework and comparison shop and choose the best type of water heater for your family.

installing a solar hotwater heater

Tankless Hot Water Heaters

Gas Hot Water Heater Replacement

Comments

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    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      4 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      I would. A puddle beats water to your ankles.

    • hhunterr profile image

      hhunterr 

      4 years ago from Highway 24

      I learned something. thanks.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 

      4 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      I'm getting conflicting advice on what to do if the drain valve starts leaking. The company that installed it said that if that happens, it doesn't necessarily mean the water heater is about to go. However, to get it inspected, it costs $140.

      I think I should probably bite the bullet and get a new one since ours is pretty old.

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      4 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      :/ that's no fun! Sometimes the bottom has begun to rust out from mineral deposits

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 

      4 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      Thanks for this Hub. We found a puddle that looks like it's coming from the drain pipe, but the drain pipe is tight. I'm guessing something is wrong. The heater is a 1996 vintage.

    • profile image

      timothy 

      6 years ago

      Just a theoretical question in a 2 bath house with 5 people 2 adults and 3 kids who shower once a day all kids are under 9. How much should a hot water heater cost in a single month? I ask because the only thing gas in my house in my hot water heater but I pay 150 to 170 a month in gas is that normal?

    • MrWaterheater profile image

      MrWaterheater 

      6 years ago

      Clare it sounds like you may possibly have deposits in your water heater. Basically grit and dirt build up over time (esp. in a hard water area).

      Get your landlord or even yourself to mini drain it. There should be a valve at the bottom. Get a bucket, put it underneath. Slowly turn the valve counterclockwise until water comes out.

      If the water is clean it won't be deposits (something more complicated to do with water pressure).

      If it is dirty then this should help!

    • profile image

      Charles F 

      6 years ago

      I'm curious to know what a hot water heater is lined with on the inside. We have to regularly unscrew the spigots on our faucets to clear the screen of a white papery teflon-like substance. Could this be the lining of the hot water tank?

    • profile image

      clare 

      6 years ago

      I live in rented accommodation and my landlord does not like to spend money; I have an old water heater; which "heats" water as ou use it. Sometimes it runs fine but other times it's warm, then goes cold and then warm again. Recently, when running a bath, the water runs warm (not hot) and by the time the bath is full; it's cold. Any ideas as to what could be the cause?

    • JasonHunt profile image

      JasonHunt 

      6 years ago from South Florida

      Next time my hot water heater goes out, I'm checking into the tankless system. I wonder if my insurance company would offer me a discount because of buying one? It would seem like less cost / risk for them.

    • caycoltken profile image

      caycoltken 

      7 years ago

      77caycoltken says

      I f you have to ask that question you probly shouldn't do it .Im not trying to put you down but.it`s a safty issue.If it`s an electric wh you `ll have to wire it in . If it`s a gas you`ll have to play with gas piping.

      Usaually labor isn`t the issue with wh because they don`t take that long to put in. Just make sure it`s done right.

      Thanks

    • whitton profile image

      whitton 

      7 years ago

      Great Hub with some very useful tips on when to replace the hot water heater.

    • profile image

      Ryan G 

      7 years ago

      This morning I had a shower just fine, but then my wife had to crank the heat all the way to the top just to keep it warm... ugh. After reading your post here I guess we're now in the market for a new water heater.

    • profile image

      tiffany  

      7 years ago

      My hot water is running out faster than ever. I use to be able to take long showers now it runs cold after 5 mins. If we flush the hot water take will this take care of the problem? The tank is 8yrs old.

    • profile image

      Heather 

      7 years ago

      Please help

    • profile image

      Heather 

      7 years ago

      We have a 6 year old electric hot water heater and now we have no hot water and no sounds coming from it I don't think it is even refilling and just a couple of day before no hot water we had extremely hot water and never had been that hot before

    • profile image

      Gareth 

      8 years ago

      My water heater is producing heavy noise sometimes. I dont know what to do??? I have bought this water in 2008.

      Please Help!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Joel T. 

      8 years ago

      It's useful to own a propane camping shower in the event that your hot water heater gives out. You can still wash dishes and take showers until you get a new one. Although one will probably run to get a new one as soon as the old one breaks ;) Someone I know recently had the gas shut off at his house for weeks because of a gas leak. He eventually ordered a solar shower bag because he was tired of taking cold showers.

    • profile image

      noob 

      8 years ago

      I believe you have the values for hand dishwashing and automatic dishwashing incorrect. Dishwashers typically use 1/6th of the amount of water for the same amount of dishes. See this post, among others: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/01/built-in-d...

      The average dishwasher uses between 4-6 gallons of water per cycle, so you would have:

      Dishwasher: 5

      Hand dishwashing: 30

      @Greg older tanks were typically made from copper and can last a very long time. Newer tanks are main from steel and can fail after only 5 years in certain conditions and depending on manufacturer. You would typically expect up to 5-10 years for the cheaper models (i.e. 5 yr warranty), 10-15 for the more expensive ones (i.e. 10 yr warranty).

    • portableac7 profile image

      portableac7 

      8 years ago

      Is it true that electric water heater is safer than gas hot water heater?

    • profile image

      felice long 

      8 years ago

      My electric hot water heater looks like it may have a slow leak. Just about a half ich of water in pan now, but sometimes less depending on the time of day I check. Plumber said just to keep an eye on it weekly. But it is bothersome nonetheless. What should I do?

      Thanks so much.

      Felice

    • profile image

      Bill P. 

      8 years ago

      My hot shower water would run cold after about five minutes, so I replaced the lower heating element on the 40-gallon water heater (I emptied the tank before removing the lower element, of course). This worked and my shower water now runs hot for as long as I want.

      HOWEVER, the hot water throughout the house is now somewhat iron-rust colored. Will this dissipate in a few days or do I have a larger problem?

    • profile image

      Mark Moller 

      8 years ago

      Flooding has been the indicator in my last two apartments that the water heater was ready to be replaced. The last time it happened, in the morning, I had a somewhat cool shower, and that afternoon the heater flooded. It really bites, especially if you have things in the storage room that were not prepared to be waterlogged.

    • profile image

      simon 

      8 years ago

      My waterheater is natural gas. Now it is making noise like when we have a pot on la stove and the water is boiling. What dose mean? Is it time to change it? please help Thank you.

    • profile image

      Edward K 

      9 years ago

      my hot water heater keeps going out, about every three days, I live in a manufactured home. I have already put an extension on the exhust pipe that goes thru the roof, and I have tried to open up the skirting in two places that are on opposite sides of the home. when I first moved here the heater just went out about twice in the spring and summer months, but now it seems to be going out every three, or four days, I also have replaced the thremocouple without any better results. I would buy a new one but that might not be the problem. the water heater is about 6-7 years old.

    • profile image

      Greg 

      9 years ago

      My water heater is 25 YEARS OLD and running great. Why is that?

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      9 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      jenn, if it is just the heating element it can be replaced, if not you need a whole new unit.

    • profile image

      jenn 

      9 years ago

      my water heater is electric and it just stopped working. It is about 8 yrs old. ai'm not sure but it looks like the heating element burned and melted together.. HELP!!!!!!

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Jen-

      We had some of the same issues right before our water heater died. As far as I can figure even with the flushing the sediment settled on the bottom ..Before you have a really wet floor I suggest getting a new heater. :/

      Even if you get somethign small and cheap as a stop-gap until you can get what you want....hope this helps...

    • profile image

      Jennifer C 

      10 years ago

      Hello Marye,

      I was hoping you coud direct me to a solution to my issue. I just bought a new house, with a well and natural gas. I'm still trying to collect the necessary information on my well, water heater, and filter system (we also have older copper piping). When I moved in, the house was vacant only for about 3 months. We replaced the filter and drained the heater with the hose and turbulance technique. We drained it almost 6 whole times until the water was clear. The cold water runs almost completely clear and when tested with a kit bought from Lowes, the water tested negative for baceria, led, iron, and all other levels are within comfortable limits. So we felt safe to shower, the water was clear and the pressure was weak but enough to manage until we can upgrade the filter. The next day, less than 12 hours after the last shower, the bathwater (hot only) ran very red and rusty looking when settled at the bottom. The cold water was clear however.

      So, the well water is tested clean, and after numerous evacuations of the hot water heater (to what I thought was cleaned through) I am still getting really dirty water. I guess my conusion lies in not knowing if the piping is the cause or if the water heater is too far gone for just a clean out. Is there any solution to clean the tank out more efficiently?

      I would appreciate any suggestions.

      Thanks

      Jen

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