As with many home maintenance timelines, the answer to the question to how often do you change or update your hot water tank? Is it depends. It depends on the quality of the tank installation you have. It depends on the quality of your household water. It depends if you regularly perform maintenance on the heater. It should be noted that I’m not a licensed plumber. However, I do draw on many years of performing my own home maintenance and repair. If you have serious hot water problems or don’t know how hot water systems work, you might want to seek the help of a professional plumber.
One of the first things to learn is the age of the hot water tank. If you don’t have records of the year and month it was manufactured or installed, this can take a little investigation. It could be as simple as locating a tag on the tank with the manufactured date or it could require decoding the serial number. The code won’t be straightforward. It’ll be something like “A041048638” where the first letter “A” is the first letter of the alphabet and stands for January. The second two numbers “04” mean 2004. You can look up the manufacturer’s website to decode your tank.
The number of years the tank is under warranty is also a consideration. Most tanks come with a 5 or 10 year warranty. Just because the warranty expires doesn’t mean it needs to be replaced but there are financial reasons why manufactures don’t give longer warranties. Water heaters that are over 10 years old should be considered for replacement. Still, consider where in your house the tank is located and how much inconvenience you are willing to put up with if it fails. If the tank is located in the living area and will damage floors by leaking, you want to consider replacing it before it leaks. If it is on a second level, consider that a leak will damage first floor walls, ceilings, and both the second and first level floors. If the tank is in the garage on a concrete slab, it probably isn’t as big of concern as long as you don’t mind going without hot water a day or more until it can be replaced after it fails.
Rust in the hot water is also an indication of a failing tank but not always. If discolored water is coming from both the hot and cold water faucets, the problem is probably your in-house plumbing pipes or the public water supply (or well). A temporary disturbance in the public water might cause a temporary discoloration that isn’t a concern. Discoloration could also be from sediment settling at the bottom of the tank.
Rumbling and noise coming from the hot water tank is another indication it is failing or needs maintenance. The noise is typically caused from sediment buildup on the bottom of the tank. Sediment build up contributes to early failure. It also decreases the efficiency of the heater because it takes longer and more energy to heat the solid sediments. Finally, if you already have water leaking around the tank and neither the incoming or the outgoing plumbing fittings are leaking, the tank is failing.
No hot water or not enough hot water? Your heating element (or gas thermocouple, if your device uses natural gas) may be failing or broken. It can also be caused by a failing thermostat that is no longer turning on the heating element. If the water isn’t as hot as you want it, you can turn up the thermostat. For most households, the ideal temperature for hot water is between 120 and 140 degrees. If you have the know-how, you can replace the heating element and/or thermostat.
If the tank is older it could be about to rust through and/or it has rusty water sediment building up. Part of your annual maintenance should be attaching a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and draining the tank outside (turn off the power or gas supply). Run a couple of hundred gallons of cold water (until it runs clear) through the tank to flush out the sediment. If the discoloration soon returns, your tank is probably about to rust through and needs to be replaced by a water heater repair company.
Another cause of water discoloration could be the Anode Rod needs replacing. Most tanks have a steel outer tank with a thin glass lining to protect the metal from corrosion (some have a plastic liner that don’t use an anode rod). The corrosive materials in the water attach to the anode rod. When corrosives completely coat the anode rod, sediments begin building up at the bottom of the tank. Replacing the anode rod can increase tank life and even double it.
You should also test the temperature-pressure-release valve periodically (every year or 18 months). The pressure valve is usually located at the top of the tank and designed to release water pressure if the tank overheats. Most have a plastic PVC pipe running down the side of the tank. Place a five-gallon bucket at the bottom of the PVC pipe. First, turn off the power and cold water supplies. Lift the valve's tab to let some water out, then let go. If water keeps flowing, drain the tank partway, unscrew the old valve with a pipe wrench, and install a new one.
People experienced with home electric and plumbing systems (gas for some) can save money by replacing their own hot water tank. Or if you don’t have experience, you might have a friend with the right tools that can teach you how to do it. You determine the type and size of the replacement unit by reading the data plate on your current tank. At the same time, consider if your family size or hot water needs have changed. Check local building codes before you get started to ensure compliance. If you’re not comfortable, call a pro. Lastly, you may consider a new water heater installation such as installing tankless water heaters instead of having to replace your tank once in a while. At Dayton's Heating and Cooling services they can help you get a tankless water heater installation if you wish to have it.
Please comment with your own maintenance tips, insights, experiences, and thoughts.
Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for seven years. He also draws upon 35 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, a few short miles from a national forest. In the Olympic Mountains with the Pacific Ocean a couple of miles in the opposite direction.