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Replace Water Heater before it's Time?
Old 02-11-2012, 02:08 PM   #1
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Replace Water Heater before it's Time?

I was curious if anyone has decided to do this? I own 2 Rental properties and all four water heaters are 9 years old.

In the past when they rusted out, it was not a problem, because they didn't flood the cellar. But they were also only $140 bucks each at Home Depot.

Now they're $400 each and I'm thinking I've been lucky without the flooding issue..so..I'm trying to decide if being pro-active is the way to go..

Has anyone had flooding issues when they let go?
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:12 PM   #2
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I have, my last one emptied itself. But my water heater is in our unfinished basement with a drain less than 10 feet away, so it's no biggie when it lets go. They are easy to replace as you know being a landlord. If my water heater was in a finished area, I'd be proactive (maybe unless you have an adequate containment pan under/around it). Best of luck...
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:47 PM   #3
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Over my lifetime, I've had my share of WHs fail, but it has always been a failure of the heating element or burner OR a non-catastrophic leak. I'm sure they occasionally fail 100%, but I would think that relatively rare, though my experience is too small a sample size. I suppose it's like any other "insurance" you purchase. You need to decide if you can afford the loss or if you want to buy the insurance (in this case, buying a new WH before the old one fails). Of course, it's a little different in that there is a finite chance that a brand new WH will fail in the first month. Just sayin'...

Good luck, and YMMV.
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:47 PM   #4
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I learned the hard way to put the heater atop a pan, such as those available for clothes washers, in turn atop a platform. I attach a drain pipe to the pan, and now spillage flows by gravity to a drain. With this design there's no flooding, but if the heater leaks you might not know until a suddenly higher utility bill. That can be solved by installing a leak sensor that has an audible alarm.
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:49 PM   #5
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Leaks manifest slowly, one drip at a time, heating elements are replaceable.
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Old 02-11-2012, 02:59 PM   #6
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I learned the hard way to put the heater atop a pan, such as those available for clothes washers, in turn atop a platform. I attach a drain pipe to the pan, and now spillage flows by gravity to a drain. With this design there's no flooding, but if the heater leaks you might not know until a suddenly higher utility bill. That can be solved by installing a leak sensor that has an audible alarm.
This is exactly what happened to the heater in our apartment last week. DW noticed that there was a PVC pipe dripping water into a downpipe next to the downpipe that the waashing machine emptied into. When I investigated I saw that the heater was sat in a pan as you describe and the pan was near full and overflowing through a pipe.

In our case I simply called the front office and they sent maintenance around an hour later to fix it. (it was leaking through the heater element seal).
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Old 02-11-2012, 03:24 PM   #7
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A key factor in water heater life is the acidity of the water supply. Acidic water will hasten corrosion such that leaks happen in under 10 years. For such water it's worth considering the heaters with fiberglass tanks.
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Old 02-11-2012, 03:51 PM   #8
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Some place along the line I read where one of the culprits to the water heater problem is the hard water it has to deal with in most areas. I hear the answer to this is to once a year or two, connect a garden hose to the spigot at the bottom and drain most of the water and sediment out of the tank. In the case of electrical heaters, kill the power before you drain the tank. The sediment is not good for the element(s). Fill up the tank and turn on the juice. I've done it recently and it's good advice. I could see the crud coming out of the tank early in the flush cycle and I have a softener. I think it's good advice.
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Old 02-11-2012, 06:03 PM   #9
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My water heater was pretty old when it broke (15 years, maybe? I'd have to check). I discovered that there was a problem by standing in the shower and finding I had no hot water. I discovered that it had failed catastrophically, dumping all the water at once.

Since it was located in a utility closet (open only to the outside of the house, not inside), and since the closet had a concrete floor, it was no big deal. My plumber installed a new one in less than 24 hours.

Had I been proactive, I probably would have got half the life out of it that I did since it happened to last such a very long time. On the other hand, if my water heater was located inside the house I'd want to be proactive.
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Old 02-11-2012, 07:18 PM   #10
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Our water heater was 24 yrs old when we replaced it about two yrs ago. We figured it was time and didn't want to take any chances. Our plumber could not believe we got that much life out of it.
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Old 02-11-2012, 07:45 PM   #11
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Our water heater was 24 yrs old when we replaced it about two yrs ago. We figured it was time and didn't want to take any chances. Our plumber could not believe we got that much life out of it.
Same here. Mine lasted 21 years and I replaced it as a precaution. Installed the new one in a pan with a drain pipe to the floor drain. I got it off Craigslist for $125 - brand new but out of the box.
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Old 02-11-2012, 08:42 PM   #12
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Wow..that's got to be a record..I've been told you can replace the Anode Rod in the tank for about $12 bucks every few years and it helps the tank last much longer.
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Old 02-11-2012, 09:00 PM   #13
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Now they're $400 each and I'm thinking I've been lucky without the flooding issue..so..I'm trying to decide if being pro-active is the way to go..
Everybody wants to be proactive until they bust their knuckles. Or break something on a Friday night.

I know water heaters get a bad rap past the 10-year point, but some of that is the fault of the owners who pay no attention to maintenance. Of course it's also tough to do that type of maintenance when a tenant is standing nearby wondering when you'll be done.

The other poster's advice is good-- have the water heater in a drip pan with a drain. If you want to learn about the leak as soon as it starts then spend extra for the leak detector. Otherwise hope that everything flows downhill out of the house.

I've read plumber's recommendations that when buying a water heater you should first replace the plastic-body drain valve with a brass one that has a real metal handle. The idea is that you'll be more likely to use it every month or two to flush a couple gallons out of the bottom of the heater to move out the sediment. If that plastic valve breaks while the water heater's installed then it's a real PITA to fix.

Another recommendation I've read is to pull the anode rod before you even install the water heater, and reinstall it with Teflon tape on the threads. That makes for easier removal a few years down the road. This is somewhat of a challenge because an empty water heater doesn't have the mass to help you wrestle with a tight anode rod, and a full water heater is a lot easier to apply the torque to. But however you do it, once the anode rod is easier to remove then you're more likely to check it every 2-5 years.

A third idea is to use a whole-house ion-exchange resin-tank water conditioner. They're more expensive than a water heater but they practically eliminate calcium, magnesium, and other mineral deposits in your plumbing (and in your water heater). They're a $500 investment, another $250 if you pay for installation, and a $5 40-pound bag of monthly salt. However their reduced deposits are priceless for using less detergents, cleaning toilets less often, and tripling the life of your water heater.

Our rental's water heater is only 14 years old. We wait until we're between tenants (or until they're on vacation) to check the water heater's anode rod. We flush it every few months when we're over there for maintenance. Our rental home is plumbed for gas so we'll buy a high-efficiency heater in another 10 years or so.

Burned-out elements are cheap & easy to replace. The trick is to remember to refill the water heater all the way up before you turn the electricity back on to the heater element. Oops.

Our home's water heater is solar. We bought it used in 2005 when we replaced our electric water heater, and it's 10 years old. It has some annoying "idiosyncracies" in its design, its pump, and its backup electric heater-- so I'm ready to replace it with a new solar model whenever we get around to finding one we like at a home show. They also seem much more efficient than even 10 years ago.
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Old 02-11-2012, 09:23 PM   #14
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In all my years of home ownership, I have replaced one water heater.

My first house was 7 years old when I moved in and I lived there 12, so it was 19 years old when I left and in good working condition. No maintenance while I lived there.

My 2nd home was new and I lived there 5 years with no problems.

My current home was built in the early 60's and I have been here 9 years. It was previously owned by my aunt so not sure when/if she had it replaced. Two years ago it died and an independent plumber I hired said it was so old, not worth trying to repair. I picked up a new one and my plumber friend installed it. Cost just under $400 installed.
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Old 02-11-2012, 11:01 PM   #15
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Our water heater was 24 yrs old when we replaced it about two yrs ago. We figured it was time and didn't want to take any chances. Our plumber could not believe we got that much life out of it.
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Same here. Mine lasted 21 years and I replaced it as a precaution. Installed the new one in a pan with a drain pipe to the floor drain. I got it off Craigslist for $125 - brand new but out of the box.
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Wow..that's got to be a record..I've been told you can replace the Anode Rod in the tank for about $12 bucks every few years and it helps the tank last much longer.
The plate on mine says 1986. So that's coming up on 26 years. I was going to replace it 12 years ago, as a 'precaution'. I wonder if I would be replacing the replacement now?

I rarely drained the sediment, and stopped altogether many years ago. Afraid I might create a problem, it just doesn't seem prudent to lower the pressure on something like that. Static seems best. I did have to relight the pilot a couple times in 20 years.

I bought a new anode rod. It took so much effort and torque to loosen the old one I was afraid I'd break something (maybe me!). So that anode rod is still sitting there.

Maybe I'll replace it this summer. Maybe not.

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Old 02-12-2012, 06:43 AM   #16
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Wow..that's got to be a record..I've been told you can replace the Anode Rod in the tank for about $12 bucks every few years and it helps the tank last much longer.
I cut the anode rod out of mine when it was new as it caused the hot water to stink (I am on a well). Still, it lasted 21 years and was not leaking when I changed it out.
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