How Long Does a Water Heater Last? Replacement Cost and Advice

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A common misconception is that a water heater which has stopped functioning has to be replaced. The truth behind the myth is that the only part of the water heater which necessitates replacement is a leak in the tank itself.

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Most common water heater problems involve components that can be replaced, and typically it is much cheaper to fix a water heater than replace it . Now, if your family’s needs have outgrown your water heater, it may be time to step up to a tankless unit or one with a larger capacity tank even though a repair on your current one may be simple.

How Long Do Water Heaters Last?

As a rule of thumb, water heaters are not designed to last much beyond about 10 to 15 years (more or less). So to answer the question of “how long does a water heater last?”, it really depends.

If you know how to flush a water heater and perform the steps once a year as well as maintain the unit according to any other manufacturer’s recommendations, you can get several more years, but the tank will still fail eventually.

Water heaters with a fiberglass tank, however, can last substantially longer, and high end models may even come with a lifetime warranty on the tank. Damaged tanks cannot be repaired, regardless of the materials they are made from.

See Also: Compare Water Heater Warranties

While it may be tempting to buy a low-price model, keep in mind it may only come with a 5 or 6 year warranty. It’s worth it to spend a bit more up-front for a model with a 10-12 year warranty. They often include heavier duty anode rods which are the most important component when it comes to keeping the inside of the tank in good shape.

Of course, you could also upgrade the anode rod in a lesser unit but there’s some more work and cost to it as well.

Why Tanks Fail

There are two primary causes of a failed water heater tank.

Reason #1 – Overpressurization

The first is overpressurization, where the psi of the water in the tank exceeds specifications. There are two causes for overpressurization, excessive heating and too much pressure at the inlet. To avoid these situations, keep the hot water temperature at 140F or lower for overheating issues, and install an adjustable valve at the inlet to decrease the flow for the second.

A water heater expansion tank is a must if your home runs on a closed water supply system. When the water in the tank heats up, it expands (thermal expansion) and that water needs somewhere to go. In an open water system, that pressure pushes back into your city’s water supply.

In a closed system, the extra pressure is relieved by temporarily flowing into the expansion tank. If that pressure has no where to go, your tank can literally burst.

corroded-water-heater-tankReason #2 – Sediment Buildup

The second, and most common, reason that tanks fail is because of sediment buildup in the tank. Chemicals and contaminants in the water will eventually cause corrosion or even rust inside the tank, and that will lead to a leak.

Once a minor leak occurs, pressure inside the tank will force water through the flaw, slowly increasing the amount of leakage. Even a cheap water heater will last longer if it is properly cared for.

When purchasing a new tank, make sure the model includes a good quality anode rod. Anode rods attract contaminants out of the water and delay corrosion. They literally sacrifice themselves to save the tank from becoming corroded.

The water heater anode rod will become caked with contaminants over time, which will cause the rod to be eaten away and eventually need to be replaced, but this component is very inexpensive when compared to the cost of a new water heater.

Gas or Electric?

Electric water heaters typically last a year or two longer than gas models, but not always. Gas heaters are touted as being more economical and environmentally friendly than electric, but they also have more components that may wear out or fail. Unless you have a reason to change from one type another, it is probably easier and cheaper to replace the old unit with the same type.

There May Be Hidden Costs

When you replace a water heater, you are also expected to bring the water heating system up to current building codes. While the cost of doing this is not directly part of the cost of the water heater, the two should be calculated together to find an estimate of the total expense.

While installing a water heater is likely cheaper than what a plumber costs, you have decide whether the effort is worth it. Unexpected costs may include some or all of the following:

  • Water Heater Mounts and/or Brackets
  • Type and Size of Ventilation System
  • Drain Pan Under the Unit
  • Upgrading Plumbing (pipe) to Code

Choosing a New Unit

Upgrading to an energy efficient water heater will save a great deal of money over the life of the unit. Modern water heaters are up to 20 percent more efficient than older models, and many heat faster as well. Where fiberglass insulation was once the norm, most water heaters made today use a foam version that is more effective.

It is true that Energy Star water heaters cost more than regular models, but the cost will be absorbed quickly in the form of less energy usage and higher performance. Generally, you want to start looking at the most efficient type of water heater you can afford and then compare with similar models.

Also, look for models which include a high-quality anode rod. Preferably a large-diameter hex anode or one with a half-length outlet rod in the hot port.

How Do You Know When To Replace a Water Heater?

Like other appliances, repair or replace are generally your two options when a problem presents itself. Since the tank is the only part of the system that can actually force you to replace the water heater, be sure to troubleshoot before you buy a new unit.

Water heaters that do not generate enough hot water can be repaired by replacing the thermostat or other components, and replacing all of components of any given water heater will generally cost less than half of what a new unit will run. In general, unless the unit is more than 10 years old or is leaking from the tank, you can probably fix the one you have.

How Much Does it Cost to Install a Water Heater?

The cost to install a tank-type gas or electric water heater varies quite a bit. The main factor is the cost of the water heater itself. The cost of labor is fairly standard dependent on area and contractor, but you will almost always pay more for rush service.

Using the figures from, most homeowners spend between $767 – $1,446 for a newly installed water heater (as of September 2019). The average being $1,104 based on over 21,000 respondents.

The figures from HomeWyse are somewhat higher but in a smaller range. Depending on location, they say you should expect to spend $1,067 – $1,237. Unless you are quite confident in your skills, it’s best to let a professional handle water heater installation.

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  1. Great information. My tank was leaking, so I turned off the gas and water supplies, drained the tank, and called the home warranty people. However, it’s going to be a few days until they can replace the tank. However, when using a faucet or the shower, I can hear the water flowing into the tank. I’ve had to drain it twice since the first time. Why does my tank keep filling up when using other faucets?

  2. I have a 13 year old GE water heater. the drain valve is broken and no replacement parts are available my question is will an expandable freeze plug hold inside that tank in place of the drain valve

    • If you’re talking about a replacement of a tank-type water heater, yes that seems a bit high. It does depend on the area and if there are any unusual circumstances but I definitely suggest getting a couple more estimates.

  3. I was quoted $4,300 to replace a 40Gal with a 199.000 BTU Rheem. The bid did not specify which Rheem model, but going off the pricing for the models in the 199.000 btu range available to your average joe, the highest pricepoint was under $1500. Is $3,100 for (parts?)/Labor sound reasonable for a standard indoor installation?

    • $4,300 definitely seems to be on the higher end. I’d suggest getting a couple other quotes. Also, make sure they’re not trying to sell you a 9.5 GPM model if a 6 GPM model would suffice. Only mentioning that since you’re coming from a 40 gallon.

  4. Plumber suggested replacing the gas valve control. Water was leaking from that spot. I believe the heater is 9 years old. Does that advice make sense?

    • It’s very possible. Although at 9 years, I’d be tempted to replace the entire water heater depending on what you’re being quoted.

  5. I just had a guy give me two quotes on an 8.5 yr old unit (bradford white with a honeywell thermostat) where water was gushing (heavily) from the thermostat…he said you can try to replace the thermostat for around 4-5 hundred or replace the entire thing for 1200. What do you think is the best route to go?

    • I say get another quote from someone else to replace the thermostat (should be closer to $200) or replace it yourself. Replacing an electric thermostat is actually pretty easy. Follow the instructions here or check out one of the many “how to” videos on Youtube. If everything else is fine, there’s no need to replace the entire unit for that age of water heater.

  6. Aloha,
    I got a A.O. Smith, model: EEH 52 917, I thinks its about 18 years old. Which came with the house when first bought it years ago. I took notice a strange foul odor coming from laundry room and seen the top panel of heater which had a “wet rusted color” dripping down the side to the bottom panel. I quickly unplugged the unit and shut off the main power outlet for water heater. I removed the two screws holding this panel and notice part of the thermostat was burnt and melted. Plus, notice the insulation surrounding the thermostat was heavily saturated with water.

    Can someone please explain what’s happening? Any advice is greatly appreciated.


    • Aloha Eddie,
      In short, you have a dangerous situation going on! Electricity and water don’t mix. Please call a plumber. It’s time to replace your unit.
      Take care,

  7. Do you think it’s time to replace? The water heater came with the house when I bought in in 1988 and seems to still be working fine. As far as I know it was the original when the house was built in 1978! We never new about draining it for maintenance, so never have. My plumber was here for another unrelated issue and when he saw the water heater, he about fell over! I am thinking maybe it is time, but … When is the best time of year for good prices on electric water heaters? Thanks for your great info, very helpful!

    • Every now and then I hear about a water heater lasting for 30-40 years but it’s pretty rare. As long as the tank itself is in good condition and showing no signs of corrosion, it can last many more years (although parts may need to be replaced). The reason why I would replace it now is simply due to the fact that today’s models perform much better and are a ton more efficient than what you currently have. Also, it’s hard to say what the inside of the tank looks like but doing a drain/flush will give you a good idea.

      I don’t think there’s a “best” time to buy a new water heater, but as with any appliance, around major holidays (Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc.) are usually good times. January and November also seem to be good months to buy a water heater.

      • Hello. The tank in my house is also original. My house was built in 1979. There are no leaks yet, and I replaced the heating elements and drained the tank to clean it several years ago. Otherwise, I have done no maintenance on it. I do believe there may now be a problem with the dip tube, as a hot shower starts getting cool fairly quickly. Considering the age of that unit, should I replace the tube if it is needed, and clean the tank, or consider replacing it? It is an 80 gallon Rheem electric.

        • I would lean toward replacing the dip tube since it’s a fairly inexpensive part and you say you have no other issues. The replacement cost of an 80-gallon unit won’t be cheap so that factors in as well.

  8. Is it still recommended to drain the sediment once a year? I did it with my old gas water heater and it lasted 20 years. But new gas water heaters all seem to have nylon drain valves. The first time I drained my new one I could hardly get the valve to close again, and it definitely won’t hold up if I do it again.

    • Yes, flushing the tank yearly is still recommended. The plastic drain valves are junk. I would simply replace it with a brass valve (preferably a lever-type with ball valve).

  9. I have a 12 year old Bradford White “Defender” Series water heater, here lately the water does not seem to be as hot as it use to get. This is a self cleaning system. Should I try turning the heat up first? The main question is Replace or Repair???

  10. -When you mention rust, where is the rust on the water heater? The only rust on my water heater is at the drain valve and there is a line of rust around the tank right under the drain valve (I don’t have a drip pan so I don’t know if it’s rusted underneath the tank.)
    -The top of my tank is fine and smooth, just like brand new. It’s a 18-19 years old tank.

    • The rust you have to worry about the most is inside the tank. Since you can’t exactly look inside, you can gauge the amount of rust you have when you drain/flush your tank. For an 18-19 y/o tank, I would expect the water coming out of the drain valve to have a cloudy maybe redish color.

  11. I have a 14 year on Rheem tank water heater that’s also used to heat my home. I never drained it and it won’t drain know because of the sediment inside the tank. But it still gives me hot water. Cost the replace is 2500 or 3000 for a new gas Bradford White. Is it good ideal to replace?

  12. I have a Bradford White electric hot water heater. I’ve had it for the 19 years I’ve owned my home. Who knows how long it was there before that. The elements went bad. Get a new one or replace the elements. The tank is still good with no leaks.

    • Even if you have no leaks, you may have some corrosion inside the tank. To get an idea of the condition inside the tank, I’d recommend draining your tank before making your decision. If the water comes out a rusty color, it indicates corrosion and it might be worth it to replace the heater before a leak develops. If the water comes out mostly clear, go ahead and replace the element if you’re still happy with the heater.

  13. Hey, can anyone tell me where I can go online to find out the age of my tank? The label on my current water heater does not indicate any information regarding age. I would like to know if my tank is still under warranty. So far every contractor I have spoken to refuses to give me that info…gee I wonder why that is. I should also state that my electric water heater started spewing water from the bottom heating element yesterday so I had no choice but to shut off the water supply. Can anyone offer some advice regarding their experience with this particular situation? Thanks in advance.

  14. I have a 50 gallon Reheem water heater that I had installed about 9 years ago when I moved into my home. Three days ago I woke up to no hot water. I had a plumber friend take a look & he said the pilot wasn’t staying lit. He first replaced the “thermocouple” but that didn’t solve the problem. I then ordered a new “control valve” & had it overnighted. Today he installed that, but to his surprise, that didn’t work either. He is saying that the burner turns on but then the flame goes out in a strange blue trailing fashion, as though the gas is being dispersed outwards. Even though he says the tank is in great shape, I’ve come to the conclusion (or at least my wife has) that it’s time for a new one, but was wondering if you had any thoughts? Thanks for any advice.

    • Thermocouple and control valve replacement are the most common issue but since that’s not the case, I’d consider the pilot tube is partially blocked or there is a venting issue. Since you mention the pilot light appears to be trailing outward, I’d lean towards a vent blockage of some sorts.

  15. Just looking at my water heater a 50 gallon Ruud. I noticed that it was installed on 4/2/99. I’m thinking I should probably replace it.

  16. I’ve got an A.O. Smith water heater, model GCV 50 100. Build date was 2/7/08. Having issues keeping it lit. Occasionally goes out and relight and it might work for a few days. Should I replace gas valve or just replace the entire unit since it’s over 11 years old.

  17. I’ve got an AO Smith GCV 40 300 for 8 yrs . 8 days ago water went cold. Being a widow and by myself, I was determined to find a fix for this.. I pulled the burner assembly out cleaned the burner and flame sensor ( the code on the front was telling me a bad flame sensor) Neither of these helped..I then got information to check the thermocouple.. after 7 days of no hot water I finally pulled the entire burner assembly and took it to a small Ma & Pa plumbing shop near home. He immediately noticed I don’t have a thermocouple, but a thermo pile, and I could only replace the whole assembly. Naturally nobody stocked this so I ordered it. It is due to be delivered today, I have been very excited at the thought of having hot water back. This morning I went down to flip laundry before work only to find the water heater leaking. There are no words for my disgust. How is it water heaters used to last 20 years? Not to mention they are now 4 times as expensive. I am learning if there is a 6 year leak warranty… budget for replacement at 7 years ! 🙁

  18. Just spent the last few hours mopping up water from my basement. Our water heater seems to have a leak at the bottom of the tank underneath. Is that something that’s repairable, or do we need a new water heater. It’s about 9 or 10 years old.

  19. I live in a 4 unit townhouse condo. 2 years ago the city code made us install a backflow valve in the building. That might be when an expansion tank was installed- probably not in 2003 when built. It’s in the end unit, not mine. Water was leaking from the supply side. It was coming from the inside up- not supply down. I was EVENTUALLY able to remove the supply nipple. The whole thing was on an angle, not vertical, and the inner tank threads were bulged! If that is what a backflow valve and too small an expansion tank can cause, I am definitely getting one installed with my new tank in a couple days

  20. I had a Ruud water heater in the house I bought in 1982. The house was built in 1969 and the Ruud finally leaked in 1999. The plumber was totally amazed at the longevity ! The tank he put in had a 7 yr warranty and leaked at 8 yrs. The next one he put in had an 8 yr warranty and is still going at 11 + yrs, but I’m thinking about swapping it out for something more efficient. I’m sure that Ruud had one hell of an anode! We also have very soft water here in Maple Ridge ( near Vancouver B. C.)

    • Rheem makes a “plastic” water heater that requires no anode (good if you’re using a water softener). Lifetime warranty. More expensive, but worth the price. One should still drain 2-4 gal per year to drain off sludge.

    • I have a o Smith promax water heater and it keeps tripping the emergency switch and making the water extremely hot. I changed the thermostat but that was not the problem I called a plumber he told me It needs to be replaced without even touching it just because it’s 12 years old what should I do next

  21. I found a leaking just start today. How much time do I have to replace the tank? Could I still use 3-5 days? I am worry about the tank burst and cause damage to my basement.

  22. I’m glad you mentioned that water heaters last about 10-15 years. My water heater has not been functioning properly this week and only produces lukewarm water. Since it is about 13 years old, it may be worth it to purchase a new unit rather than try to repair the old one.

  23. I have a 50 gal Ruud PowerVent gas water heater; manufacured in 09/2009, installed 03/2010. The T/P valve was leaking a few weeks ago and I had a big puddle on the ground. I dumped out about a gallon of water and everything was fine. This morning, I woke up and same issue again!

    I was quoted $150 to get the valve replaced. Another plumber recommend replacing the entire unit, since the expansion tank may need replacing as well; quoted $2350.

    Any thoughts? Should I just do the T/P valve for now (isn’t this a simple DIY job?) or should I go with replacing the whole tank? I’ve found differing opinions on whether $2350 is average or expensive.

    If I do get the tank replaced, thoughts on getting a stand for the unit as well? Is this something that can be stuck in after installation or does it need to be installed with the stand in place?

  24. We have a Rheem 50 gallon tank. We have to have our water line coming into our house replaced. They convinced my mother that she needs to replace her tank as it was made in 10/2005 but hasn’t been in the house over 8 yrs. Looks great works great great heat no leaks no rust self cleaning. Are we getting screwed here?

    • If they’re simply telling you that the water heater needs to be replaced simply based on its age, I’d look for a different company to do business with.

  25. We have a Bradford White Defender 40 gal gas water heater that is slightly over 10 years old. This morning the hot water was cold. When I went into the basement there was water all over. I shut off the cold water supply valve and cleaned up the mess. But I noticed the water is leaking from the top of the heater. It seems to be coming up from where the cold water supply line connects to the heater.

    Does this mean that the pluming inside is shot and I should replace it? Or are there some basic things I can try before I call a plumber?

  26. Factual misconception is that the tank leaking is the only reason to replace a water heater. There have been instances where I have had to replace a water heater due to a dip tube breaking inside of the water heater preventing water from escaping the heater at full capacity. Also size of your anode rod does not constitute better quality. You may need a different anode than the one pre installed due to water chemistry. There is so much that goes into plumbing a water heater correctly and up to code. Your best rule of thumb is to flush your heater 3 times a year and have the anode rod replaced every 4-5. Don’t expect the tank to last longer than the warranty period if you don’t maintain the unit.

  27. Hello.
    Our 3.5 year old Giant water tank start leaking last year and it was replaced with Bradford White in July 2019. Yesterday March 17th 2020 our 9 months old BW leaked in the basement. I called plumbing company who installed it last year and they said this issues could be caused by our water softener and offered to replace it together with the tank. Do you think it’s a 2nd defective tank or it is water softener destroyed second tank?

  28. The thing I love about gas is having hot water during power failures. After 14 years the original that came with our new house failed. I wanted to install a tankless, but they all require electricity now. So we stayed with the tank.

  29. I live in a condo and am concerned about the age of my water heater. I don’t want it to develop a leak into the unit below. It is a GE Smartwater Serial GC 0406213940. I was trying to find the age, but none of the serial numbers I can find start with GC. Is there a risk of it starting to leak if there are no signs that it isn’t working?

    • GE water heater serial numbers are a bit harder to decode. Here’s a good decoder.

      Basically, the first letter identifies the month and the second letter the year. The tricky part is that the year letter rotates every 12 years. So in your example, it was manufactured in April of 2018 (or 2006 or 1994 or 1982, etc). Doesn’t seem like GE thought this through very well.

      You can always contact GE to get the accurate date.

      An internal leak is not very likely but if you drain the tank and notice rust colored debris coming out of it, that’s a good sign you may have some corrosion inside. For external components and fittings, a few small droplets of water would be the first sign of a bigger leak.


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