Water Heaters Don’t Last Forever. Here Are 4 Signs Your Unit Has Outlived Its Lifespan

Reviewed by Joseph Wood
Updated August 3, 2022
woman washing dishes in the sink
Photo: Olga Gimaeva / Adobe Stock


  • Your water heater won’t last forever.

  • If it’s older than 10 years, it likely needs to be replaced.

  • If you’re running out of hot water, you might need to repair it.

  • If your hot water heater is in a bad location, you may need to get a new one or relocate it.

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You love sinking into warm, freshly washed sheets at the end of a hard day. And there’s nothing like a hot shower to start your morning off right. You can thank your trusty water heater for these little luxuries. But if you want to keep enjoying these perks, then you need to know how to recognize the signs that your water heater needs repair or replacement so you can take action ASAP.

How Long Does a Water Heater Last?

You can expect your hot water heater to last anywhere from 8 to 10 years, but its life expectancy can vary widely depending on many factors. Larger families place a higher demand on your water heater, which can shorten its lifespan. If you have hard water, then your system may accumulate sediment more quickly and wear down faster.

4 Common Signs You Need to Replace Your Water Heater

1. It Has Outlived Its Life Expectancy

All water heaters reach their limits eventually, some faster than others. This is especially true if your system hasn’t been well-maintained, such as by flushing and draining the hot water heater at least once a year.

Tank-type water heaters have a limited lifespan and a matching warranty of six, nine, or 12 years, which is usually a good indicator of what to expect. So if your hot water heater has aged past its prime—for whatever reason—then it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and opt for a replacement.

2. You’re Running out of Hot Water Too Quickly

running shower in bathroom
Photo: sutichak / Adobe Stock

If you find that you’re running out of hot water before you can get those dishes washed, the laundry done, or the kids bathed, then you may need a replacement or repair. 

If your family requires a lot of hot water each day, then the issue could be that your tank capacity is simply not large enough to meet the demand. In that case, you might choose to replace your standard tank heater with a tankless model. 

Of course, it won’t come cheap. You can typically expect to pay around $2,200 for just the cost of a new tankless water heater, and around $5,000 installed. Standard tank water heaters cost on average between $850 and $1,570, and up to $3,500 installed.

On the other hand, if your hot water heater is relatively new and has been well-maintained, you might be able to resolve the issue with some fairly simple repairs. You might simply have a buildup of sediment, which can usually be resolved just by draining and flushing the system.

Then again, you might have a slightly more complex issue, such as a problem with the heating element. In that case, you should call in a local plumber. In addition to inspecting and replacing heating elements as needed, a plumber can also check your tank and pipes to ensure everything is clear and running smoothly.

3. Your Water Heater Is in a Bad Location

If you find that it takes an eternity for your water to get warm, then it could be that you need to relocate your tank. When it comes to getting ample hot water fast, water heater placement really does matter. The closer your tank is to the points of service, such as your faucets, clothes washer, and dishwasher, the shorter the distance your hot water will have to travel through the pipes. And that means your water will be warmer and it will reach you faster.

But that’s not the only reason placement matters. If your water heater sits in a hard-to-access area, then you’re going to have a hard time inspecting it, maintaining it, or spotting and repairing leaks when they occur. And that can lead to significant water damage and costly repairs. 

If your water heater is hard to reach or too far removed from your points of service, then you might want to place it in a better spot in your home, such as an easily accessible garage or basement close to bathrooms, the kitchen, or the laundry room.

“Better than relocation, another way to solve this problem is to install a recirculation pump,” says Joseph Wood, Expert Review Board member and Boston-based Master Plumber. "They provide instant hot water and cost very little to install or operate.”

You can install a recirculation pump and access hot water faster for about $200 to $400.

4. Your Utility Bills Are Outrageous

If you find that your power bills are costing you an arm and a leg, it could be either that your water heater isn’t working properly or that you need a more energy-efficient model. If your existing system is already designed to be energy efficient, such as having an Energy Star label, then it could mean that your system needs a repair. 

For instance, if contaminants are clogging your tank or pipes, then your system will need to work harder, driving up your energy costs. If flushing and draining the system don’t work, then you should consider calling in a prof for an inspection and repair.

If your hot water heater isn’t designed for energy efficiency, and most older models are not, then it may be worth your while to replace your system with one that is. 

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