5 Signs Your Hot Water Heater Is On Its Last Legs

Nothing is worse than running out of hot water mid-shower. If you have a household full of teens, you know where that water went. If not? The culprit may lie in your hot water heater itself. Heaters only last into their teenage years themselves, so if you haven’t bought a new one since your kids were in diapers, it may be time you started looking around for a new one.

Of course, age isn’t the only indicator. A handful of tell-tale signs will reveal if your hot water is approaching the end of its life, like if there’s less hot water, or if you notice banging noises and a funny taste in the water. Want to know more? Here’s the skinny on hot water heater failures—and how to tell if your unit is toast.

woman showering

It’s Getting Up There in Years

The lifespan on a hot water heater is typically only about 10 to 15 years, tops. So if yours qualifies as a senior citizen in water heater years, it’s probably time to replace. Not sure of its age? Look at the serial number. The first three digits actually contain a coded date. The month is expressed as a letter of the alphabet at the beginning of the serial number (A for January, B for February and so forth), and the year is indicated next by the two digits that follows (15 equals 2015, for instance). That way, you can identify exactly when your unit came off the line.

Your Hot Water Has a Rusty, Metallic Taste, Color or Odor

A lot of different issues can cause rusty water. But if it only happens when you turn on the hot water tap, it’s usually an indicator that your water heater is going. Why? It means that the inside of the tank is corroded—and that leaks are imminent. But you don’t need to panic quite yet. First, give it a few days. Occasionally, incidents with the public water supply can cause temporary discolorations that go away on their own. Next, try flushing the water heater (something you should do about once a year anyway). Family Handyman has a helpful video with instructions how to do just that. After that, if you’re still having issues, it may be time to start shopping around for a new unit.

It Keeps Making Weird Noises

Either you have a monster in your basement or your hot water heater is going. Either way, some sort of intervention is inevitable. Strange rumbling, banging, cracks and pops coming from inside the heater usually comes from build up around the bottom of the tank. Your water contains traces of mineral sediment that collect over there time. The heating and reheating of this sediment eventually hardens it into a thick, unyielding coat of gunk, meaning your heater has to work harder to do its job—and of course, leaks and other issues are only a short way away.

It Just Doesn’t Work Like It Used To

Sediment buildup doesn’t just effect your water heater’s acoustics, of course. It also impacts its performance. You might notice temperature fluctuations, or maybe it seems like the water doesn’t stay hot as long as it used to. Or in some cases, the hot water might go out altogether—although you should check the pilot light and the circuit breaker first. Of course, all of that rigamarole adds up to higher energy bills,. So if yours have recently skyrocketed, that might be another sign as well.

It’s Leaking

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a hot water heater failure before it progresses into a leak. But unfortunately, for many homeowners, the first tip off occurs when it starts to spill water all over the basement floor. Fortunately, most leaks start small, with a manageable pool of water around the heater itself. In this case, there’s often a small fracture in the water heater tank. When the water becomes heated, the metal expands—and the crack along with it—causing water to drip through the fracture. Once the water cools, the crack shrinks again and often, the water stops leaking. Of course, the water could be coming from loose connections, too, so check those first before you decide it’s time to buy a new tank.

Want your new unit to last just a little bit longer? Make sure to perform some regular maintenance, then, such as regularly flushing the tank, checking the connections and pilot light, and testing the pressure valve. Other things you can do to extend its lifespan? Change the anode rod every five years and install a water softener to reduce wear and tear. Do that, and your next tank should last you for ages—or at least until the kids are out of college!

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