The average life of a water heater (with a tank) is about 8-12 years. It’s not all that long when you think about it. Be sure you keep the unit well maintained so it will last at least that long. When the time comes, water heater replacement can set you back a bit.

The average cost of a new water heater is from $650 to $1,611 with installation and disposal of the old unit. The cost will vary, though, depending on the type of water heater itself, the size of the new unit, where you live, and the type of fuel.

We’ll explain how to clean water heaters regularly to keep them running as well as when you might need professional water heater service. Stay tuned for more info!

Tips for Extending the Life of a Water Heater

So, you must be wondering what keeping a water heater in good condition entails–how best to be a proactive owner and keep water heater maintenance cost to a minimum.

1. Read the Manual!

This might seem obvious, but a lot of people neglect to do it–especially those who had their water heaters installed professionally. The manual has important information generally but also some specific to your unit’s model and manufacturer.

You also need to know where the unit is located in your home (some people don’t!) and what its fuel type is–usually either gas or electricity.

2. Turn Off the Fuel Source Before Doing Any Maintenance

If it’s electric, you should switch off the breaker, checking to be sure that you used the correct switch. If it’s gas, there should be instructions on the tank itself or in the manual explaining how to do this. Here’s a helpful illustration.

If you’re nervous or uncertain, though, call a professional for assistance. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

3. Drain Water Heater Sediment Periodically

You should drain about a quarter of the tank a few times a year to remove sediment and other debris. Begin by turning off the cold water supply, and then connect a garden hose to the drain valve.

Let the water drain into a bucket until it’s clear. If it remains cloudy, open the water supply valve again to agitate any lingering sediment, then drain the tank again.

You might consider draining a few gallons a month, especially if you live an area with a lot of sediment in the water. You don’t need the hose for this, just a bucket.

4. Check the Anode Rod

The anode rod (aka the “sacrificial anode rod”) is  a very important part of your water heater–perhaps even the most important. And, by the way, replacing it (every 3-5 years) as the unit ages could extend that unit’s life significantly.

Anode rods are made from either magnesium, aluminum or aluminum/zinc alloy and their job is to protect the tank from corrosive substances. The rod collects those substances and eventually is likely to fail because of it.

Even though steel tanks are lined with glass to provide a layer of protection to the steel lining underneath, the glass can crack over time and expose the steel–hence the role of the anode rod.

This is also why it’s sometimes referred to as “sacrificial”–it’s expected to be sacrificed. Replacing the anode rod could be a DIY project, but you also might want to have it done by a professional plumber.

5. Maintain the Temperature and Pressure (T&P) Relief Valve

Ordinarily, this important water heater component sits idle waiting for an emergency. Its job is to release water that has expanded inside the water heater due to a temperature exceeding 210 degrees or a pressure exceeding 150 psi.

However, the T&P valve needs to be checked annually to be sure it’s in good working order. If it isn’t working and the temperature and/or pressure exceed their limits, you, your family, and your home could be in danger.

The T&P valve, when in good working order, will prevent a flood or, worse, an explosion by opening and releasing hot water and steam through the discharge tube. Otherwise, a lot more than just the water heater would need to be replaced!

So, it’s not hard to see why maintaining the T&P valve is critical. Here’s how to test it:

  • Make sure  the discharge tube is firmly attached. Be careful not to let the escaping water scald your feet.
  • Put a bucket under the discharge tube to catch the water.
  • Pull back briefly on the valve’s metal lever such that a small amount of water (roughly a quarter cup) is released into the bucket.
  • Be sure that the valve snaps back to its original position. If it doesn’t snap, it will need to be replaced.

And be sure to check periodically for leaks in the valve as well.

6. Keep Older Units Running Longer by Insulating Them

Use a fiberglass jacket or water heater blanket (widely available online and at home supply stores) to improve or maintain your unit’s heating efficiency. Be sure to place it where it doesn’t come into contact with the flue.

You should also insulate both the hot and cold water pipes.

7. Check Drain and Pressure Valve Before Refilling the Tank

Be sure both the water drain and pressure valve are closed before allowing the tank to refill. Otherwise, you will have a flooded basement or utility room!

8. One Important Extra Tip

While this last tip isn’t about the mechanical maintenance of the water heater, it’s one we believe should be shared: keeping the hot water at a temperature that prevents the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

Read more here about this important topic!

See Ya in 12 Years (or More)!

The life of a water heater may not be all that interesting, but let’s hope that, in the case of yours, it’s a long one. As you’ve seen here, though, this usually doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes some routine maintenance by the owner.

We’re not trying to turn you into a DIY repair person; in fact, there are many repairs a novice absolutely should not attempt. What we’ve offered here is some basic upkeep for you to start doing.

At least, you should have a better idea when to call a plumber rather than waiting for something potentially dangerous to go away on its own. And before long, you should begin to feel more confident about the functioning of your water-heating system.

If you found this article helpful, keep an eye on our blog for some other topics of interest. There’s always something!