When and How to Replace a Water Heater

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How to replace a water heater in a few easy steps. The article is perfect for the owners of an old electric or gas water heating unit that is rusty and is about to leak; or have been using the same unit for many years and not sure about the replacement - when and how. Here are some tips for easy replacement.

Most of the tank-type electric and gas water heaters have a warranty from 6 to 10 years while lasting approximately 10-15 years. So question is, should you wait till the unit dies or is it better to replace a water heater before something happens and make damages to your property (like flooding) or affect your health.

What you should know before replacing a water heater

When the water heater leaks in an unfinished basement or garage it is not as dangerous as if it is installed in the attic. The first signs of a problem that might lead to the replacement are if you see a puddle of water at the bottom and around the heater, the rust from the hot water faucet, corrosion on the tank and connections...

Here are some examples when there is no need to replace a water heater:

  • There is a rotten egg smell - it happens because of the bacteria growth inside the tank. Here is more about this sulfur odor and the solution.

  • If there is no hot water - the dip tube might be broken.

  • If the pilot doesn't want to light up, the thermocouple might be broken, but if the problem is with the FVIR and flammable vapors, then the heater has to be replaced.

  • If the burner does not ignite - check the thermostat.

  • If the ECO (Energy Cutoff) switch was activated.

  • Smoking and carbon formation - the thermostat might need replacement.

  • Sediment and limescale build-up, unless it is really bad and cannot be removed.
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How to prevent early water heater replacement (examples)

Regular maintenance which includes the inspection and anode change, sediment flushing or vent and combustion chamber cleaning will definitely prevent premature failure and will get several more years of the efficient water heating.

If you find the puddle of water underneath the unit, check if the pressure and temperature relief valve is releasing some water due to the temperature and pressure build-up. Regular testing will ensure that the TPR valve is still operational.

Bulging might also happen, which is the result of the extremely high pressure, and it can lead to deformation and potential cracks in the metal tank. More water will be released as the crack opens when the water is heated and narrows when the metal contracts and water cools down. This is why an expansion tank must be installed - only closed heating systems.

The high pressure within the municipality piping and home plumbing might also lead to loose fitting connection and potential leak. Installation of the water pressure reducing valve can fix this problem.
If the unit's breaker switch keeps tripping off, you should inspect and test the heating elements and thermostats, they might be broken, or you might need to replace a weak breaker.

The unit should be drained at least once a year. If not, sediment and other deposits will build up and coat the elements making the heater work less efficiently and produce rusty water.

Another suggestion from manufacturers and professionals is to install a drain pan with an alarm if it is leaking over the top.

When is the right time to replace a water heater

You must replace a water heater if it was flooded, or parts, such as the gas valve, pilot assembly or main burner have been submerged in water.

Every tank-type gas water heater today is equipped with the FVIR system, which is designed to reduce the risk of the accidental ignition of the flammable vapors (gasoline, for example). Water heaters that are subjected to this problem will show the discoloration of the flame arrestor, and that is the sign when the unit needs replacement.

As seen from the above, there are many reasons for early water heater replacement, but the main reason against is off-course money. Follow the suggestions found here to prevent any accidents to the property because of leaking or spending money on a plumber for frequent repairs. If your water heater is old, and you find a great deal, go for it. Keep in mind that after 10 years or so, your heater is old while new ones are more advanced and efficient. Another option is to go with the tankless units since they last at least 20 years.

How to maintain a water heater

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