What Is a Water Heater and When Should You Replace It?

Water heaters are essential home fixtures that help make everyday life more comfortable and convenient. It makes showering, doing the dishes, and other water-related activities more bearable during winter months.

Water heaters are usually powered by gas or electricity. There are four basic types, and the most common type used in residential properties is the tanked water heater. The tanked water heater has a steady supply of hot water depending on the capacity of the tank. As it heats cold water, the heated water is kept hot in the tank until someone opens a water source. Once the hot water has been used, it is replenished with cold water, and then the cold water is heated and stored once again.

The drawback though is that when the demand for hot water is more than the capacity of the tank, it may not be able to produce enough hot water in time. Moreover, it uses up a substantial amount of energy since it keeps the hot water heated to a specific temperature. Doing such demands a good amount of energy. If going for a tanked water heater, gas power can be a good alternative.

Tanked Versus Tankless Water Heaters

Another type of water heater is the tankless water heater. Although tanked water heaters are considered conventional and a more popular choice, a growing number of households are now leaning towards tankless water heaters.

Tankless water heaters are energy-efficient and very convenient to use. It does not need a space for a tank, and it can produce hot water by demand. Unlike tanked systems, there will never be a time that the tap will run out of hot water. This is because the electric heating element only gets turned on when hot water is needed. Apart from space and energy efficiency, tankless water heaters also have a longer operational expectancy compared to tanked water heaters. It is expected to keep on working for a maximum of 20 years.

The drawback, though of using tankless water heaters is the upfront cost. The unit is more expensive to install, vis-à-vis a standard tank heater. If and when it needs repair, it is also more complicated. This means that repairing could be even more expensive too.

Hybrid Water Heaters

Another emerging type of water heater is the hybrid water heater. It is less common, but its popularity is slowly picking up because of the many advantages of its use. The hybrid water heater’s unique selling proposition is its efficient use of energy. It makes use of the warm air inside a room to heat the cold water it has stored in its tank.

The energy efficiency feature of hybrid water allows it to produce the same amount of water but only using up half the energy a conventional heater would typically use. The disadvantage of a hybrid water heater, though is its cost. Like the tankless water heater, it requires a higher upfront cost when compared to conventional water heaters. Households switching to hybrid water heaters though find the investment worth it as they can recover the additional cost through energy efficiency savings.

Point of Use Water Heater

Point of use water heaters, as its name suggests, provides heated water anytime it is demanded. But unlike the tankless, the tanked, and the hybrid, it only gives heated water to one specific water outlet. Usually used for showers, it is a convenient way to get hot water without too much installation trouble. It also does not require additional space.

What it needs though, is a GFCI outlet to ensure that there is a power source. It is water and energy-efficient and can last a long time too. Even longer than the 20 years of tank-less water heaters. If well maintained it can last as long as 25 years. The only drawback to the point of use heater is it only provides hot water to one specific water source.

When to replace a water heater

A home water heating system needs to be upgraded after a certain period. Conventional water heaters usually last for a decade. A hybrid water heater, on the other hand, may also remain operational for the same number of years. The mineral content in the water and sedimentation can cause rusting in the tank that can cause functional issues.

Tankless water heaters last doubly longer. If it is well maintained, it can be used for up to 20 years. Same goes with Point of Use water heaters which can last even longer. Most homes can use it for 25 years.

The key to making the most out of the water heater’s lifespan is to keep it well maintained. Tanked and hybrid water heaters need to be professionally checked periodically. Sediment build-up can cause issues in the tank, and a certified technician can help with these issues.

Here are other signs that a water heater needs to be replaced:

  1. The water heater has been operating for close to or more than its life expectancy. As mentioned above, conventional tanked heaters usually last for a decade. Hybrid water heaters, since they also have a tank, usually last the same number of years. Tankless and Point of Use Heaters last the longest with a minimum 20-year operational expectancy.
  2. Constant leaking from the water heater tank is also another sign that it needs to be upgraded. The leaks may come from the tank itself or the pipe fittings. If this cannot be resolved for long-term repair by a qualified plumber, then this may mean a fracture within the tank. It needs to be replaced.
  3. If the water heater is producing rusty water, then there may be some rust problems within the tank. If it has already been remediated by a professional, but the problem persists then it may be time to upgrade. Rusty water plus hitting the maximum years of operational efficiency signifies it is time to upgrade to a new unit.
  4. Skyrocketing energy bills. When the electric bill is higher than usual, and it is not because of the home heating and air conditioning system, the water heater could be the culprit. If the water heater has reached its maximum operational years and has been causing the bills to go up further, then it is time to replace it. The money used to buy a new model can be recouped with the savings in energy efficiency after a specific time.