You and Your Water Heater

AO Smith 50 Gallon Water HeaterWe are fortunate enough to live in an era where having hot water is a basic standard of living. And to think that 150 years ago, people were lucky to have their water heated by an indoor fire. Thankfully, nearly all modern homes have a water heater of some kind. There are many different kinds of water heaters. You have gas water heaters, electric water heaters, tankless water heaters and solar water heaters. This post is going to take an in-depth look at the most common type of water heater in America: The Gas Water Heater. More specifically, we’re going to be discussing the signs and symptoms of a water heater that is nearing the end of it’s life.

The average life span of a gas water heater is about 10-12 years. A lot of factors influence the lifespan of a water such as how frequently it is used, how hard the water is and how frequently it is flushed. Another important factor in the lifespan of the water heater is if it is a quality product. Just like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and that adage holds true with water heaters. You can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and get yourself a discount water heater, but the life span probably won’t be quite as long as if you were to choose a higher quality heater through your plumber or local supply house. Either way, eventually all water heaters will fail. It is important to be knowledgeable about the signs of an aging water heater to make sure you are not one day stuck without hot water and you’re in a pinch.

Water Leaking From Your Heater

Water Leaking From Water HeaterWater heaters work by collecting water within a tank and heating it on demand for you. So when you are taking a shower and need to wait for the water to warm up, it’s because you are requiring a large amount of hot water, and it takes your water heater a few minutes to get up to speed. When the water is collected within the tank, the heating element beneath ignites and begins to warm the water within the tank. This is a basic breakdown of how a water heater works.

But with the tank being made of metal, the constant heating and cooling will put stress on the tank over time. The type of water you have can also put stress on your water heater. If you live in an area that has very hard ground water, the minerals in the water can contribute to the wearing down of the tank. As time goes on, the metal will begin to develop small cracks that will cause water to leak onto your floor.

It is important to stop the leak as soon as you notice it. To do this, turn off the valve that supplies the water to the water heater. It should be located directly above the water heater and should turn very easily. If for some bizarre reason the valve will no turn to the off position, you may have to shut off the water to the whole house and call a plumber for your emergency leak. If you do find water leaking on the ground, it is a sign that your water heater is at the end of it’s life and needs to be replaced.

Debris in Your Water

What To Do If You Find Water

Imagine it’s the end of the day and you turn on the water to run yourself a nice warm bath. As the water is running you begin to notice small pieces of rust and debris coming from the water spout. You think to yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Well if you have an aging water heater, it may be the cause of the problem.

Rust In Water HeaterAs we mentioned, as the metal in the tank of the water heater continues to be heated and cooled, the metal begins to wear down. As this process takes place, not only are leaks possible, but debris in your water can become an issue as well. They will usually only become apparent when hot water is running. This is one of the earlier signs that your water heater is beginning to fail.

What To Do If You Find Debris in Your Water

Because finding debris in your hot water is usually an early sign that your water heater is going out, you will not be put in a position where you will be without hot water right away. But that doesn’t mean this is an issue that should be ignored. Your water heater is nearing the end of its life and will need to be replaced. It’s better to be proactive and have it replaced now, rather than when your stuck without any hot water.

Waiting Longer For Hot Water/ Less Hot Water

You may not notice it at first, but when your water heater is beginning to fail, but eventually you will start to notice that it takes longer and longer for your water to heat up. You may also notice that your hot water isn’t lasting nearly as long as it used to. And nobody wants to have their morning shower cut short because they’ve run out of hot water.

As time goes on, this is inevitable in all gas water heaters. Often times the reason for this lack of hot water is the heating element. These fail with time just like anything else. But the heating element isn’t the only problem that can cause a lack of hot water. When there is a leak in the inner lining of the tank, it can lead to a decrease in hot water and can make the wait longer for the temperature of your water to get to a comfortable level.

What To Do If You Don’t Have Enough Hot Water or You’re Waiting Longer For Your Hot Water

If the cause if the problem is the heating element, you may be in luck. Many heaters can have their heating elements replaced by a professional plumber in a short period of time. But if your water heater is getting close to 8-10 years old, replacing the heating element may only be a band-aid for the problem. If you do have an older water heater, you may be better off purchasing a new heater rather than just replacing the heating element. Because water heaters usually only last about 10 years on average, it’s usually a better investment to spend more upfront and not have to worry about the problem for another 10 years.