Water heaters are essential to any home, but there will always be a point when your unit stops working correctly or starts leaking and needs a replacement. Exactly how long this will take depends on the type of unit and how often it is maintained. Here is a complete guide on how long each type of water heater usually lasts in Michigan and the steps you can take to get the most out of your unit.
Average Expected Lifespan for Different Types of Water Heaters
There are several types of water heaters, and each one has advantages and drawbacks relating to cost, energy efficiency, maintenance, and expected lifespan. The most common type of water heater is a tank-style unit. These are powered either by gas or electricity. Tank-style water heaters are the cheapest option, but they are also the least energy-efficient and have the shortest average lifespan.
A new electric tank water heater will usually last for around 12 years but could potentially function for as long as 15 years. The expected lifespan for gas tank units is usually only up to 12 years, but these units are cheaper to operate than electric ones.
Tankless water heaters are becoming increasingly popular because they require less maintenance, are less prone to leaking, and ensure you never have to worry about using all of your hot water. While tankless units are quite a bit more expensive than tank-style water heaters, they are far more energy-efficient and can help reduce your energy costs by anywhere from 10% to 40%, depending on how much hot water you use daily. Tankless water heaters also typically have a much longer lifespan than any other type of unit. A new gas or electric tankless water heater should last at least 20 years. Some tankless water heaters may last for 30 years or more.
Heat pump water heaters are a relatively new type of unit. These units use refrigerant to capture heat from the surrounding air, then use this heat energy to keep the water inside the unit’s tank hot. Heat pump water heaters are generally the most energy-efficient, as long as they are installed in an area that does not get too cold. However, they also tend to have higher maintenance requirements and do not last as long as tankless units. In most cases, you can expect a new heat pump water heater to last for around 15 years at the very most.
If your home has a boiler and radiant heating, you also have the option to choose a passive water heater. These units work somewhat similarly to a heat pump water heater. The difference is that instead of using hot refrigerant, a passive water heater uses the hot water from your boiler to heat the water inside its tank.
Passive water heaters require almost no maintenance and do not use any energy. However, the fact that these units still store water inside a tank means they can eventually start leaking. Most passive water heaters will also only last for up to 15 years.
Ways to Protect and Extend the Life of Your Water Heater
No matter what type of water heater you have, you must have it professionally inspected and maintained regularly. Without regular maintenance, the lifespan of a water heater can often reduce by almost half.
The required maintenance tasks for your water heater vary depending on your unit. Tankless water heaters generally have minimal maintenance requirements. The main thing you need to do with tankless water heaters is to have them flushed and cleaned every year or two. Flushing and cleaning a tankless water heater is similar to descaling a coffee maker. This process loosens and removes mineral deposits and limescale built up on the unit’s heat exchanger or inside its pipes.
All tankless water heaters have a metal heat exchanger that almost instantly becomes extremely hot, and this heat transfers to the water that flows over the exchanger. In an electric unit, the heat is produced by an electric resistance coil, while gas units have a burner that provides the heat. In either case, it is important that the heat exchanger does not become coated in mineral deposits because this will insulate the heat exchanger so that much less heat flows out into the water. If the heat exchanger is covered in mineral deposits, your water may never get as hot as you need, and your water heater’s energy usage could increase by up to 30%.
Traditional tank-style water heaters, passive water heaters, and heat pump units require additional maintenance compared to tankless models. The most important thing is still ensuring you have the water heater flushed and drained at least once a year to remove all the sediment that has built up inside the tank. Sediment always naturally occurs in a tank-style water heater because heating the water causes some of the dissolved minerals it contains to undergo a chemical reaction. The minerals then turn into solid particles that settle at the bottom of the tank. If a water heater is not flushed regularly, the sediment will eventually prevent it from heating properly.
Flushing is important for all tank-style water heaters, but it is especially crucial for gas units since they heat directly from the bottom. If there is lots of sediment at the bottom of the tank, it will absorb much of the heat from the burner and cause the unit to warm the water more slowly. The sediment can also corrode the steel tank and cause it to leak.
All tank-style water heaters have a glass lining that prevents the water from directly contacting the tank. Unfortunately, the glass lining can only withstand temperatures of up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit before it starts to degrade. When there is a lot of sediment present, it can become extremely hot and damage the glass lining, leading to possible tank corrosion.
In addition to having your unit flushed, you should have a plumber inspect the unit’s anode rod and replace it as necessary. The anode rod is a long steel wire coated in magnesium, zinc, or aluminum. When water enters the tank, the dissolved minerals react with and corrode the coating on the anode rod instead of reacting with the steel tank. In other words, the anode rod basically slowly sacrifices itself to protect the tank.
Eventually, the metal coating on the anode rod will completely dissolve, so you should replace it approximately every five years. If your home has hard water, the rod will degrade more quickly and may need to be replaced every two to three years. If you do not have the anode rod replaced, your tank will corrode more quickly and be susceptible to leaks.
At Bel-Aire Heating & Cooling, we can help you with any water heater maintenance, repair, or installation services. We also offer heating, cooling, and indoor air quality services. To schedule any water heater or HVAC service in the Portage, Grand Rapids, or Three Rivers area, call Bel-Aire Heating & Cooling today.