Should You Replace or Repair Your Water Heater?

Plumber inspects water heater and discusses with a client - Mr. Plumber by Metzler & Hallam

Indianapolis homeowners use water heaters every day for uses such as bathing, laundry, and more. Over time, these appliances wear out, which creates the need for water heater replacement.

While we all want to maximize the return on our investments, water heater replacement is best performed before your old model gives out for good. Water heater failure causes serious water damage in a home and is often prevented with smart water heater replacement.

How do Indianapolis homeowners know when it’s time for water heater replacement? The knowledgeable, licensed plumbers of Mr. Plumber share professional advice to help you determine when it’s time to replace your home’s water heater. Contact us today to learn more about water heater replacement options or to have your existing water heater inspected.

Water Heater Replacement: A Water Heater’s Useful Life

The useful service life of a water heater depends on the style installed in your home. In general, tankless water heaters have a service life that is about twice as long as that of a tank water heater.

  • Tank (storage) water heaters offer an average of 10 to 15 years of useful service life.
  • Tankless water heaters offer an average service life of 20 or more years.

When you know how long your current water heater should last, it is easier to determine when water heater replacement is necessary. It is difficult to accurately estimate the service life of a water heater, as how long the water heater is actually going to last is largely dependent on factors including:

Proper Installation

Proper installation of a water heater is not only necessary due to fire and safety code requirements, but to maximize the service life of the unit. Proper ventilation is needed to avoid carbon monoxide buildup associated with gas water heaters as well as avoid ventilation issues that shorten water heater service life.

Water heaters should not be installed in areas of the home that flood or where it may come into contact with water. Exposure to water outside of the water heater system leads to rust on external pipes which affects the unit’s energy efficiency and service life.

Volume of Use

Water heater service life is impacted by how much water is used by your family over the years. When larger volumes of water are consumed by a household, the water heater works more to generate hot water. With more water coming into and moving out of the system, the water heater suffers more from water’s corrosive effects.

Equipment Quality

Basic water heater models typically cost less, but don’t last as long as higher quality equipment. Features on high quality water heaters work to prolong the unit’s life, such as better insulation, porcelain casing, higher-wattage heating element, and thicker anodes to combat corrosion.

Water Heater Maintenance

Water heaters need maintenance just like other appliances. The hardness of your home’s water greatly impacts water heater replacement, as a water heater exposed to harder water experiences more mineral buildup. For tank water heaters, the storage tank should be drained to remove mineral buildup annually, or more frequently in homes with hard water.

Why You Don’t Want to Wait for Water Heater Replacement…

It’s time to start your research into water heater replacement if your unit is nearing, at, or beyond the average service life for its type. Take care of water heater replacement before your existing unit malfunctions or gives out for good to protect your home and family from these hazards:

  • Water damage caused by major leaks or a rusted out hot water tank
  • Lack of hot water when you need it
  • Buying equipment quickly in an emergency situation, which could leave you with a unit that isn’t the best choice for your needs

Signs It’s Time for Water Heater Replacement

Whether your water heater is near, at, or beyond average service life, here are some warning signs you need to watch out for that indicate water heater problems. When you see any of these signs, it’s time for water heater replacement now!


The majority of water heater tanks are fabricated from steel, which means they will form rust at some point. You may see visible rust on the unit, or it may be internal. Corrosion or rust at the water heater’s temperature and pressure valve or inlet and outlet water connections are signs the unit has formed rust.

Rust isn’t always apparent on the exterior of the water heater, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already formed within. If you notice rust-colored water that only occurs when hot water is in use, this is a tell-tale sign of rust within the water heater. Water may also appear cloudy or have a metallic smell.

In homes with galvanized plumbing piping, determining the source of rust-colored water is more of a challenge, as the plumbing pipes themselves are also prone to rust. A good way to determine if rust-colored water is from your water heater or plumbing pipes is to drain the hot water storage tank.

Use five-gallon buckets to drain water from the storage tank. The first buckets are likely to appear rusty with either source. If rust-colored water still drains from your water heater by the third filled bucket, your water heater is the likely source and it’s time for water heater replacement.

A rusty water heater is not a reparable problem. Water heater replacement is the only solution to avoid water leaks. In some cases, rust-colored water is caused by a malfunctioning sacrificial anode rod, which is usually able to be replaced by a plumber.


Water carries minerals and other debris which settle in the bottom of a hot water storage tank over time. It also becomes hard through constant heating.

This hardened sediment within the hot water tank causes efficiency loss and damage to the unit. The water heater requires more energy to do its job with this sediment in place. Since the water heater must work harder to heat water, the metal tank experiences more wear. The metal becomes more brittle and is able to more easily crack and form small holes.

When a water heater tank is filled with hardened sediment, it starts to emit a rumbling, popping, knocking, or banging noise when in operation. This sound is caused by air bubbles within the sediment – the air bubbles start to boil along with water inside the tank.

When you hear this sound, it’s time to for water heater replacement. Also, be on the lookout for water leaks that stem from the small holes that have developed within the tank.

Drain Valve Malfunction

The sediment buildup in the bottom of a hot water tank has the potential to cause another problem – drain valve clogs.  Once sediment settles within the drain valve, it accumulates and blocks the valve from draining when needed. Water becomes trapped within the storage tank and you are then unable to drain the tank for routine flushing and maintenance.

To check drain valve function, follow these instructions:

  • Shut off the water heater’s fuel source
  • Attach a hose to the drain valve
  • Open one hot water faucet in your home and leave it open to rid the tank of negative pressure

If water is able to drain from the valve through the hose, the drain valve is not clogged. If water drains but is cloudy, you have a sediment issue within the tank. If water only trickles out or is unable to drain in any capacity, the drain valve is clogged. A clogged drain valve can mean serious sediment issues within the storage tank which require water heater replacement.

Water Outside the Unit

Water outside of your water heater tank is an obvious sign of a leak. Inspect the area and other sources to ensure fittings and connections are tight and not the cause of the leak, as well as check the temperature and pressure overflow pipe to see that it does not have a leak.

Unexplained water around your water heater often comes from small fractures within the tank. The tank’s metal expands when exposed to heat through the water heating process. This has the potential to cause minor fractures, which allow water to leak. Once the metal has cooled, it condenses, and the leaks typically stop until the process starts over again.

Malfunctioning Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve

Water heaters are equipped with a temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve. The purpose of this component is to release pressure buildup from within the tank if its temperature or pressure becomes too high. This prevents explosions.

Rust, corrosion, and mineral buildup cause TPR valves to malfunction, which causes leaks or a failure to function. When the TPR valve is unable to function, the tank’s water may exceed the boiling point and convert into steam. Steam builds up within the tank and has the potential to dislodge the tank and propel it, causing major property damage and potential injuries.

Call Mr. Plumber for Indianapolis Water Heater Replacement

Since 1946, Mr. Plumber has tended to the plumbing needs of homeowners all across Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. We want to keep your family flush with the hot water you need for everyday use – we offer quick installation and a great selection of new, energy efficient water heaters for your home. Contact us today to learn more about water heater replacement.

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