When should you replace your water heater?

Courtesy: Energy Star® “Ask the Experts”

The water heater is one of the most overlooked appliances in the home.

Typically, an unassuming cylindrical tank tucked out of the way—usually in the basement or garage—we don’t think about it much, until we must.

Suddenly, our hot showers don’t last as long. Or the water coming out of the tap is more lukewarm than hot—or worse yet—completely cold! That’s why replacing your water heater before it’s too late can help you avoid a major headache when it fails.

When should I consider replacing my water heater?

If you suspect your water heater is more than 10 years old—it is time to consider replacing it before you’re left with an emergency decision.

To determine the age of your water heater, you’ll need to identify the Brand Name and Serial Number for your unit. In some cases, the date of manufacture is printed on the same tank label where the serial number is located. If not, you will need to consult an online water heater industry resource to determine how to read the serial number in a way that will decode the manufacturing date. The following are good resources for looking up your water heater serial number and figuring out your water heater’s age:

• Building Intelligence Center (https://www.building-center.org/water-heater-table-of-contents-age-manufacture-date-serial-number/)

• International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) (https://www.nachi.org/water-heater-dating-chart.htm)

• AO Smith (https://aosmithinternational.com/manufacturing-date-device/)

• Bradford White (https://www.bradfordwhite.com/find-your-model-and-serial-number)

• Rheem (https://www.rheem.com/how-old-is-my-water-heater/)

What are the signs my water heater is failing or may need significant


Sometimes water heaters can appear to be working fine and then fail without warning. Most times, though, there are early signs your water heater may need help. Some of the more common red flags for possible water heater failure are:

Visible corrosion. Corrosion is a sign the water heater is breaking down. Whether the corrosion is around the water lines or on the unit itself, it is a sign of deterioration that can lead to weakening the system and contributing to the water heater failing.

Water leaking. Leaks from any joints, seals, or seams of your hot water heater is usually an indication there is a problem (potentially caused by corrosion, as mentioned above). Hot water heaters are designed to be a “closed” system and any moisture outside of that system is an indication something is breaking down. Water leaking can get worse and not only be damaging to the water heater itself, but potentially the area and things around it.

Rust in your water. Rust in the water is usually a sign the interior of the water heating system is corroding and breaking down.

Lack of available hot water. Aging and poor maintenance can cause sediment to build up inside the tank in a way that reduces capacity. Chemicals and minerals in our water can contribute to the corrosion and breaking down of the inside of the tank. The sediment and particulates can then build up and reduce the available water to be heated and used by your home.

Rumbling noises. Water heaters are designed to operate consistently, quietly, and reliably. If your water heater is making unusual noises, rumblings, or vibrations, it is likely straining to operate correctly. Very often rumbling can be attributed to a build-up of sediment on the bottom of the tank, which can lead to bigger problems. Any noises should be checked out.

Ignoring these issues can lead to sudden failure of the water heater, cold water, and in some cases, tank rupture and water damage to the floor and carpets. The other downside to sudden failure is you may have to schedule an emergency replacement with the plumber, which can be more expensive, and typically limit your replacement options to inefficient models with high operating costs. (Editor’s Note: To learn more about Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric’s water heater program, please visit https://swce.coop/swce-field-services/save-money-and-energy/