When to Repair and When to Replace: Your Guide to Water Heaters

When to Repair and When to Replace: Your Guide to Water Heaters

Photo By STEKLO at Shutterstock

Your home’s water heater is a true workhorse. Knowing when to replace the unit and when to repair it can make a difference between a simple fix or an expensive water heater repair. Read on for more information about water heater care.

Tankless Versus Tank Water Heaters

There are two types of water heaters, the traditional tanked ones, with boilers, and “tankless” water heaters that heat the water as it comes into the home. Depending on the size of your household and the amount of hot water you need for daily life, you may opt for tankless, as these have an unlimited hot water supply.

Traditional water heaters have a large boiler, where hot water is stored. This gives you a fixed amount of hot water at any one time. Perhaps one of the most common water heater repair issues with a tank storage unit is when the boiler leaks or bursts.

A tankless water heater is about the size of a suitcase, and only provides hot water when you turn on the hot water tap or start a load of dishes or laundry. Tankless heaters are more energy-efficient and take up less room.

The type of water heater repair that you require depends on what type of unit you have, and whether it’s an emergency or a simple fix. Age is another factor in whether you need to replace the appliance or fix it. A gas water heater typically lasts about 8 to 10 years, while an electric one can last up to 15 with preventative maintenance. Tankless water heaters can last up to 20 years with proper maintenance.

Common Water Heater Issues

Conventional water heaters are fairly straightforward machines and as such, there are only a handful of things that can go wrong. Common issues include:

  • Heating element or burner fails
  • Broken thermostat
  • The circuit breaker for electric heaters breaks
  • The pilot light on gas water heaters goes out
  • Valves stick

These water heater repairs are fairly simple and inexpensive; your plumber can probably fix these in just a few hours. Other, more intensive repairs may take a full day and cost quite a bit. If your water tank is leaking or is more than 10 years old, you may need to replace the tank.

Preventative maintenance can reduce the severity of water heater issues. Your unit should be drained, flushed, and cleaned once a year. However, if you live in an area with hard water or mineral deposits, you may wish to schedule this water heater repair service every 6 months.

Signs You Need Water Heater Repair

One of the most common indications that you need water heater repair is a higher utility bill. However, as the seasons change, the extra energy a faulty water heater may not be readily noticeable. There are other signs that your water heater has a problem, including:

  • Leaks: The boiler of a conventional water heater wears down over time. Pressure build-up in the tank or aging material can cause either small leaks that barely allow seepage or larger leaks that can damage your house. Signs of leaks include water puddling around the base of the unit or corrosion on the side of the tank. Smaller leaks may be hard to detect, as the heat emitted by the unit can cause the water to evaporate.
  • Knocking sounds are caused by sediment build-up. The sediment hardens and moves around the tank, causing a gurgling, rumbling, or knocking sounds. Regularly flushing your water heater removes sediment deposits.
  • Poor water quality: a rusty tinge to your water, cloudy water, or cold water all indicate the need for water heater repair. Rust indicates corrosion in either the tank or a sacrificial anode rod that needs to be replaced. Cloudy water indicates sediment build-up in the tank. If you aren’t able to get hot water, it may indicate a broken heating element.

When Replacement Is the Only Option

Even with the most dedicated preventative maintenance, sometimes replacement is your only option. Some people may choose to upgrade from a conventional to a tankless water heater, while others choose to simply replace the unit they have with an updated one. Converting from a conventional water heater to a tankless one may not be possible. Older homes may require rerouting and replacing pipes to accommodate the switch. Your plumber can tell you for sure.

Leaking water heaters should be replaced immediately. Other indications that your unit needs replacing instead of water heater repair are if the unit is more than 10 years old, if it hasn’t been properly maintained, or is showing signs of wear.

Even if you don’t have a tankless water heater, a new conventional water heater is more energy-efficient than other ones. Your costs for a new unit will depend on the style and size you choose. Energy Star water heaters may cost a little more but can also pay for themselves with energy savings over time. Tankless water heaters typically cost the most to replace but offer bigger savings on your utility bills and even qualify for a federal tax break.

Other Costs of Water Heater Repair and Replacement

Replacing or repairing a water heater doesn’t just involve the cost of the parts of the unit itself. Water heater installation isn’t a typical DIY project and requires the services of an experienced plumber. Other things to consider when installing a new heater may include upgrading the water heater mount, replacing the drain pan, or replacing or upgrading the pipes. You may also need to upgrade the size or type of the venting system.

An experienced plumber can determine what you need to remain compliant with building codes. A good quote will include outlining al the costs associated with waste heater replacement.


bluefrog Plumbing + Drain has the experience and training to diagnose issues with water heaters, perform quality, efficient water heater repair, and unit replacement. Give us a call or visit us online to discuss any sign of water heater repair you need and we’ll give you a unique, fair estimate. Don’t wait till it’s too late – schedule your appointment today!

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