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How Long Do Water Heaters Last, and When Should You Replace Yours?

It’s time for your morning shower − and the water is freezing. Or, worse, you come home from a weekend getaway to find your water heater sprang a leak that ruined your floors.

Because a water heater doesn’t need a lot of attention, it can be easy to forget about until something goes wrong. That’s why it’s important to know how to maintain this essential plumbing fixture, and when to replace it.

The average life of a water heater

How long does a water heater last? That depends on the type you own, its age, how well you maintain it, water quality and how often you use it.

  • Tank style (gas or electric): Eight to 12 years
  • Gas-burning tankless: Up to 20 years
  • Electric tankless: Seven to 10 years1

Also called “on-demand” water heaters, tankless systems heat water only when needed, which can make them more efficient than the tank style.

When you buy a home, ask the previous owner the water heater’s age so you can plan and budget for a new one. Or, you might be able to determine how old it is by checking the serial number. Normally, you’ll find that information on the top of the equipment, and it begins with a letter and series of numbers. The first letter may stand for the month it was made (A for January, B for February). The next two numbers can tell you the year it was manufactured. For example, C18 may stand for March 2018.When in doubt, check with the manufacturer.

How to make your water heater last

Regular maintenance is the key to keeping the hot water flowing in your home.2

For a traditional tank:

  • Every six months:

    Flush the tank to remove sediment that’s built up inside. Attach a hose to the valve at the base of the unit. Then flush the water outside or to a nearby drain. Be sure to turn off the heater’s power first.

  • Every year:

    Have a professional plumber inspect the heater. They’ll check for broken valves and loose or wet joints, as well as rust.

  • Every two years:

    Most traditional tanks have an anode rod that protects the interior lining by attracting all corrosive particles to itself. As the rod ages, it no longer collects those rust-causing materials, and they end up on the bottom of the tank, where they may eventually destroy the lining. Check the rod to see whether it needs to be replaced. 

For a tankless heater:

  • Every year:

    Have a professional plumber inspect the venting system, burner (if gas), pressure relief, water filter and more.

  • Every two years:

    If your model has heating coils, have them professionally cleaned.

Keeping your water heater running efficiently ensures you have hot water whenever you need it, and helps avoid higher-than-normal energy bills. 

How often should you have to replace a water heater?

Water heaters last until there’s corrosion on the inside. When that happens to yours, it’s on its way out.1 Here are the signs you need a new one:

  • Banging noises.

    Thick calcium sediment on the inside of the tank can cause the unit to make noises.

  • Cold water.

    If your hot showers are shorter than usual, it may mean the fixture can’t heat up as efficiently as it used to.

  • “Rusty” hot water.

    Hot water that looks a little red or orange may be a sign of rust in the water. Keep in mind, this applies to hot water only. If it also happens when you turn on the cold water, that suggests another issue

  • Funny smell or taste.

    Hot water may taste metallic, or smell like rotten eggs.

  • Leaks. Call a plumber!

    A professional can tell whether your water heater has failed or you have a different problem. If it has failed, it’s probably due to a crack in the tank.

  • Higher energy bills.

    Spikes in your energy costs may mean your appliance isn’t working efficiently. If changing the temperature on it doesn’t work, there may be a deeper problem.1

Location can also affect your heater’s life span. A system located in a garage or crawl space, where the temperature drops significantly, will have to work harder to heat the water. As a result, it will tend to wear out more quickly than a unit inside a temperature-controlled house. If your appliance is located in one of these areas, look for end-of-life signs earlier than the manufacturer recommends.

How much it costs to replace a water heater

What you pay to put in a new water heater will depend on the type and size, as well as the expense of professional installation. The estimated average cost for a tank style runs from $650 to $2,500,3 which includes labor and materials. This type holds anywhere from 30 to 80 gallons, with a 40-gallon tank being the most common. While a 40-gallon size is enough for a two-person household, a 60- to 80-gallon tank may be better if you have more than five people in your home. Here’s a breakdown of estimated costs based on size:

  • 30 gallons: $550 to $2,100
  • 40 gallons: $550 to $2,350
  • 50 gallons: $650 to $2,500
  • 75 gallons: $1,250 to $3,500
  • 80 gallons: $1,350 to $3,5003

For a tankless appliance, you could spend from $1,200 to $3,500 (including labor and materials).3

The brand you choose will also make a difference. Many now come with built-in smart features that guard against damage by detecting leaks and automatically shutting off the water. Some also monitor water usage, and let you control the temperature and other settings from your mobile device.4 In addition, some insurers partner with manufacturers to offer savings when you buy one.

Does homeowners insurance cover my water heater?

While most standard homeowners policies won’t pay to repair or replace a leaky water heater, they may cover damage the leak causes. It all depends on the insurance company’s review and details of the loss. Avoid this problem by keeping up with maintenance or replacing your water heater when the time comes.

Planning for it now will ease the expense of replacing your water heater. Keep track of its age, and perform regular maintenance to help extend its life. When you do this, you’re more likely to keep your unit working longer, and most importantly, prevent major water damage in your home.

1 Solved! This Is How Long a Water Heater Actually Lasts,, October 2022.

2 Prevent Water Damage from Plumbing and Appliances, IBHS, 2022.

3 How Much Does Water Heater Replacement Cost?,, August 2022.

4 What Is a Smart Water Heater?,, February 2021.