Signs Your Water Heater is About to Break

If you don’t think much about your water heater, that’s probably a good sign.  If you’re thinking about your water heater, it’s probably because something is not working right (i.e. yet ANOTHER cold shower). If you own a home, there are some water heater signs you need to be aware.  It can save you a lot of time, headache and a lot of money.   As Ben Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of remedy”.

Here are some indicators that your water heater is about to break.  


Your Water Heater is More than 10 Years Old

If you have a traditional tank-based water heater, you should expect it to last for about 10 years. Here is how to tell how old your water heater is:

Find the manufacturer’s sticker (usually somewhere towards the top of the unit)

This sticker should look something like this:water-heater-age

The label may or may explicitly include the date the unit was manufactured. In the case of this GE unit, the date is written explicitly and also encoded in the serial number.  The first numbers in the serial number are the month and date of the device’s manufacture (0911 for 09/11).  When the date is not written explicitly, it is often encoded in the serial number.  For example, a unit may have the serial number F051052638.  In this case, F corresponds to the month. F is the fifth letter of the alphabet, so it corresponds to May, the fifth month. 05 refers to the year the unit was manufactured (2005).

Tankless water heaters usually last about 20 years, about twice as long as a traditional tank-based unit. If you have a traditional tank-based water heater and it is more than 10 years old, it is not a bad idea to start thinking about replacing it.  Even if there are no problems with the unit, it is sometimes wise to replace the unit before the problems start.

Rusty Water

If the rust shows up in the hot water but not in the cold, there’s a good chance that your water heater is rusting on the inside.  However, it’s possible that your water heater is okay, but your pipes are rusting (aren’t you relieved?).  

If you have galvanized piping, it’s possible that the rust is coming from those pipes, and not your water heater. Here’s how to tell: fill up three 5 gallon buckets of hot water.  If If the water is still rusty by the time you fill up the third bucket, the rust is probably coming from the water heater and not the pipes.

Rumbling and Other Noises Coming from Your Water Heater

This is pretty unpleasant for a lot of reasons, one of which is the Freddy Krueger-like images it may evoke.  

Freddy Krueger

The good news is that your basement is probably not inhabited by a demonic dream creature.  The bad news is that your water heater is probably dying a noisy death.  Here’s how it works:

Sediment from your home’s water builds up on the bottom of the tank.  The sediment gets heated and reheated every time the unit is working.  This makes the sediment harden and means that the heater will now have to work harder to heat water.  The extra heat needed to heat the sediment-heavy water will cause the tank to become more brittle and eventually lead to cracks and tiny holes in the unit.  If you see any of these holes or cracks, it’s probably time for a new unit.

Water Around the Water Heater

In Savannah we’re used to seeing condensation around cold bottles of water on a hot day.  But you should never really see water on the outside of your water heater.  If you notice water around the tank, it’s probably from some kind of leak.  If you see a leak in your water tank like this, it’s a good time to call Henry Plumbing.

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