You may be having problems with your water heater – maybe it’s not heating the water as well as it used to, or at all, or maybe it is leaking or having other issues.
The first question is, should you replace your water heater or try to fix it? And to answer this it is important to know how long do water heaters last. Once you have a feeling for the average lifespan of a water heater, you can make a better, more informed decision.
How Long Does a Water Heater Last?
The simplest answer to this question is that the average water heater will last around 10 years, or you can say anywhere from 8 to 12 years.
This lifespan will depend somewhat on various factors and conditions, like:
- The quality of the water heater
- The amount of use it gets
- The environment it is in (is it exposed to the elements, to extreme temperatures or dampness, etc)
- The quality of the water
- The quality of the installation
- How often and how well it is maintained
…but overall the above average figure is a good guide.
We can also ask how long does an electric water heater last, and how long does a gas water heater last, but in fact there is very little difference between the two, and the 8 to 12 year guideline is fairly accurate in either case. That said, it can be seen that electric heaters can last a bit longer than gas-powered water heaters, though again this can be easily offset by the quality of the unit and other factors.
Is It Better to Repair or Replace Your Water Heater?
This is another question I should answer as simply as possible, because I strongly believe that if you are near the end of this 8-12 year cycle it is better to simply replace your water heater.
An old, damaged or malfunctioning water heater will be much less efficient and more expensive to run, will not provide satisfying water temperature, and can even be unsafe.
Yes, you can do some troubleshooting and maintenance, including:
- Draining and refilling the tank
- Cleaning the exterior
- Testing the relief valve
- Resetting the thermostat – especially with electric water heaters
- Making sure the gas or electric lines are in place and the water heater is getting power
- Please make sure not to even go near gas or electric lines if you don’t know what you’re doing, and any real work or even investigation should be done by a qualified professional!
- Making sure water pipes are not leaking and the flow into and out of the water heater is unimpeded
- Again, please make sure any real work on your water pipes is done by a professional (which is safer, but also may be required to meet building codes), and always be careful around hot water!
But, as my dad would always say, you may ultimately just be throwing good money at bad, and repairs can easily entail a lot of good money! So if your water heater is approaching that ten year mark you really should let it go and get one of the best water heaters – especially if you can find one of the most energy efficient water heaters on the market today.
And even if it is not that old, if your water heater is leaking, if you see rust or corrosion – especially if it seems to be affecting the integrity of the tank – or it is just not heating well anymore, and you’ve already tried to troubleshoot or repair it, it may be time to let it go…
Who Makes the Best Water Heaters?
This is more of an informational guide, and not a proper buyer’s guide to the best water heaters, so I won’t offer any reviews or extended comments on new units, but if you are going to replace your water heater I would at least like to list a few of my favorite choices.
I will include both electric and natural gas water heaters, and in each case I will include my favorite choice for a normal “tank storage” water heater and a “tankless” heater, which is becoming a more and more popular option, and can be considerably less expensive to purchase and to run.
The Best Electric Water Heaters
Electric water heaters are not as popular overall as gas-powered models, but this does seem to be changing, thanks to their safe and easy installation, their efficiency, their safe, clean and low maintenance running, their generally longer lifespan and their slightly lower price.
Best Electric Water Heater Overall
Bosch Thermotechnology Tronic 5000 T 40-Gallon Standard Electric Storage Water Heater
- APPLICATION: Dimensions : 20.25" W x 49.14" H...
- DURABILITY: Two magnesium anode rods for...
- WARRANTY: 10-year tank and parts limited...
- EFFICIENCY: HFO foam insulated, reducing fuel...
- CONVENIENCE: Factory-installed electric hot...
What I Like:
- Very well built and long lasting
- Super efficient
- Corrosion-free design
- Pre-installed water connectors
- Great Warranty
- A bit expensive – though IMO well worth it!
Best Tankless Electric Water Heater
Stiebel Eltron Tempra 24 Plus Tankless Electric Water Heater
- CONTINUOUS FLOW – Advanced Flow Control...
- SPACE & ENERGY SAVER – Its small, sleek...
- EASY OPERATION – Electronic switch...
- TEMPRA 24 PLUS – This specific model is...
- WARRANTIES INCLUDED – Stiebel Eltron’s...
What I Like:
- Lowest running costs
- Great for the environment
- Easy installation
- Low maintenance
- Very high material and build quality
- High volume continuous hot water flow
- None, really – highly recommended!
The Best Gas Water Heaters
Gas water heaters are still in more than half the homes in the United States and around the world, and they do have lower operating costs thanks to the currently relatively low cost of natural gas. They heat and reheat more quickly, will work even during power failures and are a good choice especially if you already have the gas lines in place.
Best Natural Gas Water Heater Overall
Rheem Pro Classic Natural Gas 50 Gallon Tank Storage Water Heater
- Eco-friendly burner, low NOx design
- Meets 50 ng/J NOx requirements
- Recovery: 30.3 to 40.4 GPH at a 90 F rise,...
- 50 Gallon Rheem Professional Classic Tall...
- Comes with Pressure relief valve and brass...
What I Like:
- Very reliable
- Safe construction and running
- Fast heating
- Low heating costs
- Great Company
- Warranty a bit short – though a very well made and dependable unit
Best Tankless Natural Gas Water Heater
Rinnai V53DeN Natural Gas Tankless Hot Water Heater
- Endless Hot Water: Enjoy unlimited hot water...
- Energy and Space Efficient: Space-saving...
- Optimal Water Pressure: High-performance up...
- Enhanced scale detection lessens possibility...
- Guaranteed to Last: 10-, 5-, and 1-year...
What I Like:
- Strong hot water flow
- Full home supply from one unit
- Easy outdoor installation
- Low maintenance
- Extremely well made and reliable
- Great company
- Not enough volume for larger homes – see Rinnai RU130eN Tankless Natural Gas Water Heater
Conclusion: How Long Should Hot Water Heaters Last
In this article we’ve looked at the average hot water heater life, which is about 8-12 years depending on a few different factors.
There are many things you can do to make your water heater last longer, including using it less, maintaining it carefully and consistently and making sure the water supply is clean and soft.
When a water heater reaches the end of its life, though, it is almost always a much better idea to simply replace it with a new unit – repairs can be expensive, and may not make much of a difference, the performance of your old unit may never be good enough, and it will most likely be more and more expensive to run.