Unfortunately, the first time you are aware of a problem with your water heater, it is when you have a giant puddle in your basement or when you get up in the morning to take your nice hot shower and step into icy pellets of water.
According to Murphy’s Law, your water heater will go out just before your family arrives for the holidays, the day before you are leaving on vacation or on a Friday night before a three day weekend when everything is closed or consider an emergency with excess costs.
Maintain your water heater
One way to break Murphey’s Law is to schedule regular maintenance, it’s not difficult and will save you money and a cold shower in the long run.
- Flush your water heater tank once a year to remove sediment. This will make your water heater last longer and perform better which is a bonus because it will operate more efficiently and save you money.
- Check the anode (or sacrificial) rod every three years. It is an aluminum or magnesium probe inside of the tank that collects corrosive elements. It costs about $30 to replace and you will know it needs replacing when it has cracks or eaten away.
Bad signs to look for:
In addition to maintenance, there are some signs to be aware of that will give you an indication that your water heater is about to fail.
Age of water heater
Do you know how old your water heater is? You can find the age by the serial number on the manufacturer’s sticker located on the upper part of the water heater. The serial number has the date the water heater was made but it doesn’t look like a date the way we are familiar with. An example of what the date code will look like is “F051052638”. In this case, “F” represents the sixth month of the year, as “F” is the sixth letter of the alphabet. The first two numeric digits are 05 and that represents the year, 2005. This tells you that the water heater was made in June 2005. Each manufacturer has a similar date code but you can also check the manufacturer’s website to learn their method.
If your water heater is over 10 years old, it would be wise to start considering a replacement. If it is located in an area where a leak will not damage anything, you can wait until problems develop, although this is not recommended. Suppose your water heater is located where a leak will cause damage, consider replacing it when it is older than 10 years. If you see symptoms of future failure you will want to do this sooner.
If you find rusty water while the hot water is being run, it can be a sign that the water heater is rusting inside and may begin leaking soon. If you have galvanized pipes you could have rusty pipes. To test to avoid replacing a working water heater is to drain a few five-gallon buckets of hot water out of the water heater and if by the third bucket the water is still rusty then more than likely the water heater is the problem and not rusty pipes.
Sediment builds up on the bottom of the tank as the heater ages and as that sediment is heated and reheated that hardens. When this happens it usually begins banging and rumbling when it heats up. This lets you know that it is not going to work much longer.
Layer of hardened sediment
The layer of sediment also means that the water heater isn’t going to operate as efficiently and will use more gas or electricity to heat your water. The extra time it takes to heat the water will also cause more wear and tear on the metal tank and the metal will become more brittle, crack and develop tiny holes. If you start to hear rumblings and grumblings from your water heater, keep an eye out for small leaks. If you do find one then it may be time to begin planning to get a new water heater.
Conventional water heaters are pretty simple. The gas or electricity heats the cold water in the tank and a thermostat heats the water. As the water heats to 120-140 degrees, pressure builds up inside the tank. Then when you turn on the shower, hot water comes out. Not too many moving parts to go wrong so diagnosis is fairly easy when the water heater doesn’t work correctly.
- Circuit breaker on electric heater trips
- Pilot light on gas water heater goes out
- Burner or heating element fails
- Valve sticking
- Thermostat breaking
It is relatively inexpensive to repair or replace any of those parts. A plumber can fix these issues for anywhere from $150 to $300.
Prevention is always the best course and will go a long way to avoid a surprise cold shower or water damage that will likely happen.