As well built as today’s storage-type water heaters are, they still only last an average about 8 to 12 years, according to Inspectapedia.com (and others). Once they reach their golden years, you’ll start to see signs that your water heater is on the outs – inconsistent hot water, leaks, discolored hot water and unusual noise being just some of the telltales.
But why does a water heater fail in the first place, and is there anything you can do to slow or prevent a water heater breakdown? Here are some insights from our water heater experts.
Causes and fixes of common water heater problems
Problem 1: Internal rust – An anode rod – a steel core wire surrounded with either aluminum, magnesium or zinc that mounts to the top of your heater – helps prevent your water heater’s tank from corroding from the inside-out. It does this by “taking one for the team,” drawing the corrosion process to itself rather than the tank lining (the anode rod is sometimes called a “sacrificial rod” for this reason). A typical anode rod will last about five years – if you use a water softener, that number can get cut in half. Once an anode rod rots, it needs to be replaced quickly to prevent accelerated tank rust.
Solution: Make sure your water heater maintenance pro checks your anode rod when he inspects your equipment; do this a minimum of once every other year.
Problem 2: Sediment buildup – When water is heated, mineral deposits – sediment –separate and settle onto the bottom of your water heater tank. Over time, these sediment deposits accumulate, reducing the efficiency of your water heater and ultimately damaging the tank.
Solution: Flush your water heater once a year.
Problem 3: High water pressure – Overly high water pressure can damage your water heater, pipes, and appliances. If water is leaking from the overflow pipe on the side of your water heater, you could have a water pressure problem.
Solution: Keep the water pressure on your heater no higher than 80 psi, and consider replacing your temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve.
Problem 4: Improper sizing – If your water heater is too small for the demands of your home and family, it will overwork to do its job, leading to wear and tear and a potential premature breakdown.
Solution: Contact an expert to make sure your current water heater is right-sized for your home and lifestyle.
Problem 5: Age – Once a conventional (storage-type) water heater reaches its second decade, it’s living on borrowed time. Keep an eye out for some of the telltale signs of water heater mentioned above, plus any other obvious signs of diminished performance (higher energy bills, for example).