Let’s take a minute to talk about everyone’s favorite topic….hot water. Ok, I guess it’s not everyone’s favorite topic. Maybe it’s not even something you think about….until you run out, or are in it, but that’s a topic for another day.

One of our main service requests at Kimberling City Plumbing is about hot water, or lack thereof. I’m asked almost daily, “can you fix it or what can we do?” I’d like to take a little time to help you decide when you should repair your water heater or when you should replace it.

There are several types of water heaters used by people in our area. Chances are, you likely heat your water using gas or electricity. Maybe you don’t know how you heat it, and maybe you don’t care, just as long as you have hot water and plenty of it, you are good. Different types of water heaters stop working for different reasons. 

The hard water in our area can wreak havoc on water heaters, especially electric tank style water heaters. Tank style electric water heaters use heating elements submerged in water to heat the water, and thermostats to maintain a proper temperature.  The calcium and minerals in our water collect on those elements, causing a loss in efficiency and eventually, element failure. It’s hard to know exactly how long a water heater will function without needing maintenance.

Water Heater in Closet

I’ve seen electric water heaters function for 20 years, or longer, with no issues and no maintenance requirements. On the contrary, I’ve seen water heaters make it a couple of years and have the elements fail. Typically, residential water heaters carry a six-year warranty on the parts and on the tank. That means, any mechanical issues that happen within those six years, the manufacture has your back. Typically, any electric tank style water heater is repairable; you have elements, thermostats, and a tank, basically.

Now, there are other components such as dip tubes and anode rods, but I’ll get into their functions in another article. The elements and thermostats can be replaced, but if the tank leaks, there is no repair. I always tell my customers, especially if their water heater is over 10 years old, that the unit can be repaired or rebuilt, but at that age, you are running a higher risk of a leaking tank. I hate the thought of a customer spending the money to clean and rebuild their 16-year-old electric water heater with new heating elements and thermostats, and then two months later, the tank starts leaking, with no repair options at that point.

I always like to inform my customers that for roughly $400 more, you could be starting from scratch with a new unit. I said all of that to say this, my typical recommendation is that any water heater up to around that 10-year mark is definitely worth putting the money into a repair, especially if you have a water softener. Anything in that 10 to 12 year period is a grey period that could go either way. However, if it is 13-years-old or older, I almost always recommend a replacement. Of course, there are always variables which can change your situation and, of course, just because I recommend replacing the unit, doesn’t mean we won’t repair it for you.

Due to the different way a gas water heater functions, the lifespan on those heaters tend to be a bit longer. A gas tank style heater functions using a burner that doesn’t make direct water contact, unlike submerged electric elements. Due to the lack of direct water contact, gas heaters tend to last a bit longer. Gas water heaters, however, tend to fail for other reasons such as inadequate gas supply or improper venting. We usually recommend replacing gas water heaters around that 15 year mark, but it’s not uncommon for us to see heaters that have been in service for twenty plus years. Again though, most residential water heaters carry a six-year warranty and gas water heater parts are readily available, most of the time.

I mentioned inadequate gas supply and improper venting. A lot of times we see gas heaters that are installed incorrectly or operating in an unsafe manor.  If all of the issues cannot be corrected, we usually recommend installing an electric water heater.

There are several options that are available when you get ready to replace your water heater, too many to discuss in this blog entry. However, we are always happy to discuss your options to upgrade to a tankless unit or a large capacity water heater, both of which we will discuss in future entries. Hopefully now, though, you are more informed about when you should repair your water heater, or when you should just go ahead and take the plunge on a new one.

Thanks for reading and check back often for more discussions from The Plumber’s Tool Bag.