No one wants to wake up to a flooded house or basement or the inconvenience of a daily shower without hot water. However, many people aren’t aware of how long their water heater should last or the signs that it needs to be replaced.

What is the average lifespan of a water heater? That depends on several factors, such as the type of water heater, its location, and the type and amount of water it uses. There’s no clear-cut answer to the question due to the number of models available, the amount of use, and the pH of the local water supply. The following information may help you determine if your water heater is nearing the end of its lifespan or if there’s another problem that needs to be addressed.

What are the Different Types of Water Heaters?

The two main types of water heaters are those with a storage tank and those without one. However, there are several categories in those two types, and the type of water heater you have will play a major role in its lifespan. Some of the more common types include:

  • Storage water heaters
  • Tankless water heaters
  • Solar water heaters
  • Condensing water heaters
  • Heat pump water heaters
  • Consider the type of water heater when you’re deciding whether to repair or replace.

    Storage Water Heaters

    This is the most common type of water heater, especially for residential applications. As its name implies, a storage water heater maintains a large, glass-lined steel or stainless steel vat of water at a predetermined temperature. It provides hot water in the amount of time it takes the water to traverse the pipes. Unfortunately, you’re limited to the amount of hot water in the storage tank; when it’s gone, you’re stuck with cold water. In addition, the water is kept hot 24/7 whether you use the hot water or not, so this type of water heater is not always energy efficient. Since it’s in constant use, it may have a shorter lifespan than some other types.

    Typical lifespan: 10 to 15 years
    Variables affecting lifespan: Hardness or softness of the water, the mineral content of the water, and the volume of water used

    Tankless Water Heaters

    A tankless water heater, sometimes referred to as an on-demand water heater, generally has a longer lifespan than a storage type because no water is stored, so there’s no liner to corrode or break down. In addition, since hot water is generated only when needed, a tankless water heater is typically considered more efficient than the storage tank models.

    Since a tankless water heater is rated based on the number of simultaneous users, there’s a significantly lower likelihood of running out of water. However, some tankless units can be installed in an exterior location, so make sure that it’s protected from the elements and debris that can fall on it since these items can abruptly end the water heater’s lifespan. In addition, if your tankless is installed in a crawl space or a garage, it may have to work harder to heat water, which can shorten its lifespan.

    Typical lifespan: 20 years or more
    Variables affecting lifespan: Water quality and hardness, installation location

    Solar Water Heaters

    Solar water heaters are complex installations with many variables, but they can last 20 years or longer. Factors that can affect the longevity of your solar water heater include sediment buildup, rust and corrosion of the metal, and normal age-related deterioration.

    Fluid leakage and an insufficient water supply can also adversely impact your solar water heater. Manufacturers recommend routine maintenance every three to five years to prevent leakage in any of the components. Also, dusty panels and loose wires can shorten the lifespan of your solar water heater.

    Condensing Water Heaters

    A condensing water heater is a high-efficiency tankless water heater that functions the same as a conventional tankless water heater. The condensing model is even more efficient because it uses a dual heat exchanger to maximize energy. However, this type is also significantly more expensive to purchase than a traditional tankless, so it’s usually installed in commercial applications.

    Typical lifespan: About 10 to 15 years
    Variables affecting lifespan: Water quality, water hardness, and location of tank

    Heat Pump Water Heater

    Environmentally friendly heat pump water heaters work the same as refrigerators but in reverse. They pull heat from their surroundings to warm up the water in the tank. However, they’re more expensive initially and can be disadvantageous during cold months, so they’re usually installed in warmer climates. A heat pump water heater also requires a tank, which makes it subject to the same issues that cause failure in a conventional water heater, such as sediment or mineral buildup.

    Typical lifespan: About 10 to 15 years with good maintenance
    Variables affecting lifespan: Hard water, the mineral content of the water, and lack of proper maintenance

    Fuel Sources and Longevity

    Each of the above types of water heaters is usually available in a variety of fuel sources that include natural gas, propane, solar, geothermal, electricity, and fuel oil. The type of fuel generally doesn’t affect their longevity since that’s determined primarily by the installation, the mineral content of the water, and the amount of use the water heater gets.

    Extending the Lifespan

    As with any appliance, proper maintenance will extend your water heater’s lifespan and save money. If your water heater has a tank, it should be drained annually to reduce corrosion, remove any scaly deposits, and improve the quality of water you receive.

    A tankless water heater is actually a misnomer because there is a very small tank that water passes through when it’s being heated. Even though it’s small, the tank should be cleaned annually to eliminate sediment and any granular particles at the bottom. Ideally, a water filtration system is a good idea for a tankless water heater, but many homeowners don’t install one.

    If you have a heat pump water heater, clean the tank once or twice annually, depending on your water quality.

    If you have a solar-powered water heater, you need to clean the tank annually and make sure the solar panels don’t need to be repaired or replaced. This can substantially extend the life of your solar water heater.

    A condensing water heater should be cleaned annually, and the gas import valves should also be cleaned. This is not a DIY project. Gas valves should only be cleaned by a professional.

    Don’t wait until your water heater fails before you service it. If you notice that your hot water supply has diminished, if you see leaks around the heater, or you have discolored or gritty water, then your water heater may have a problem. Don’t wait until you have an emergency to get your water heater serviced, even if it hasn’t lasted as long as you think it should have. Not all units are the same, and yours may not last the same length of time as that of a friend or neighbor.

    Need Your Water Heater Serviced?

    If you want to extend the lifespan of your water heater and you live in Tigard or the surrounding areas, then contact Specialty Heating & Cooling LLC to schedule an appointment. If you need air quality solutions, we can help with that, also.

    We’re a full-service, award-winning heating and cooling company, and we’ve been serving the Tigard, Oregon area since 1985. We guarantee all our work, and all our technicians are NATE-certified and vetted, so you can be comfortable allowing them into your home. Give us a call today to get an inspection and an estimate for a new water heater.

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