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Water Heater Advice Needed
Old 07-30-2013, 01:27 PM   #1
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Water Heater Advice Needed

My electric water heater was installed in 1999, making it 14 years old.

It is working well, thought the water does not seem as hot as it used to be. Still, I can't really complain about it, but I am thinking it is near the end of its useful life, and it would be better to replace it on my schedule rather than the heater's schedule.

What are your experiences with getting a water heater replaced? How long should an electric heater last? Anything to watch out for before buying a new one, besides capacity?
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Old 07-30-2013, 01:51 PM   #2
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Howdy Chuckanut,

I would guess most electric heaters go at 11-13 years or so. I've replaced one electric and one gas/propane (power vent). The gas one gave up the ghost at 14 years old (while DW was washing her hair in the shower on a cold February day). I would have replaced it 4 years earlier to avoid that day.
We replaced the gas one with a Rheem, 50-60 gallon tank (energy star). We replaced the electric one also with a Rheem I believe. For some reason if I remember correctly there were no energy star electric water heaters available at that certain time.
Both times I bought a second water heater insulating blanket (most manufacturers say this is not necessary. The blanket helped a bit, but not sure if really necessary. Make sure the relief valve is free and not trapped in the blanket!!!
Also I didn't know that they actually need service every now and then. We lived in an area with bad water and I trained myself to empty it once a year and let it drain through the base of the unit. There was always some sort of calcification/debris. I'm not sure if this is still necessary with super modern tanks, but I'm sure someone will weigh in.
I would check energy star ratings and your tank size. Also check into the on demand units. In some areas of the country and in certain uses they make sense. Get at least two estimates, if two licensed plumbers give you totally different stories, be cautious and find a third. It will take time, but it sounds like you have a bit of wiggle room.
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Old 07-30-2013, 02:01 PM   #3
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14 years is considered good for water heaters, although I just got 20 out of my gas heater that I purchased in 1992. I upgraded to a 50 gal tank. The new ones are more efficient and the money I save will likely pay for the new heater.
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Old 07-30-2013, 02:02 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuckanut View Post
My electric water heater was installed in 1999, making it 14 years old.

It is working well, thought the water does not seem as hot as it used to be. Still, I can't really complain about it, but I am thinking it is near the end of its useful life, and it would be better to replace it on my schedule rather than the heater's schedule.

What are your experiences with getting a water heater replaced? How long should an electric heater last? Anything to watch out for before buying a new one, besides capacity?
I'm enough of an expert to say that we had to replace our gas HWH after 8 years. It was in the house when we bought it, so the guarantee was not available. The problem was leaking. I don't think the older glass lined heaters that had 30 year guarantees exist any more, so the new guarantees are much less, and the terms aren't too friendly.
The cost for replacement of our 40Gal Gas heater was $500 installed. Too much, but I don't do plumbing any more.
The smaller HWH at our camp, has a replaceable electric element... about $35.
If the HWH hasn't been drained in some time, it might be worth a try. Crud builds up in the bottom, and on the heating element.

As far as buying? If you're replacing it yourself, you'll probably want to avoid major plumbing changes because of size. Check out the location of the water inlet and outlet. Ideally, the same size and placement of pipes and wiring. Even if you're having it done, the install time would be less without the extra work.
Besides the number of years for the guarantee, check out the terms. Prorate etc.
Personally, I'd try to turn up the temperature control a bit, and wait for a while.
Good luck...
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Old 07-30-2013, 02:24 PM   #5
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Chuck, I had a contract grade gas water heater installed in my house when it was built 10 years ago this September. I just replaced it this month. I noticed a dried wet spot rust water ring on my concrete basement floor which sets 4 inches from by dry walled finished side of my basement. I was unwilling to take the risk that it was only going to leak once and stop. I read several forums before buying, and most tended to agree if you got 10 years that would be in the normal range. I just went to Lowes and took advantage of my 5% cashback, and let them take care of it. It was about $750 for everything including an installed expansion tank. I just got the 6 year warranty one. Installer said to expect it to last about 10 years. It took about 4 days for them to come. If I had wanted expedited 1 day service I believe they would have added an additional $75-$100 to the cost.
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Old 07-30-2013, 02:40 PM   #6
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In one of my previous lives I worked for a plumbing wholesaler and we sold water heaters. The rule of thumb was that the only reason to replace a water heater was if the tank itself was leaking. All other parts could be replaced except for that. We did have areas in the state where water heaters just did not hold up nearly as long and the only difference was in the water. Many times those with issues were on wells and the quality of the water would vary.

Obviously, yours has lasted well but it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning. Then there is the cost of the potential damage should it decide it's had enough and spills it's guts. My experience is that bad things never happen at convenient times.

So, if I were in your shoes I would probably start checking out the new units. BTW the longer warranty units are generally the same heaters with fancier graphics and they charge more to cover the additional risk for a longer warranty period. Good luck with your decision.
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Old 07-30-2013, 02:42 PM   #7
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With 14 years of use, that water heater doesn't owe you anything. Repair is possible but it's like repairing a washing machine these days, six months later you'll be repairing something else. The controls and elements are old and the bottom is most likely full of minerals (like the bottom of a kettle). At least it still operating and giving time, so it's not a crisis. I've replaced quite a few over the years.
Size depends on number of people in the house and their tendency to use hot water all a once ( three kids all needing showers, or laundry day). DW and I get along fine on a thirty gallon tank.
Home Depot or Lowes is the easiest choice. They're set up for just that type of project.....yet your own plumber is certainly an option. It's not really a hard job if your a "handy man and can sweat pipe".
Just make sure if you hire someone the price includes hauling away the old one.
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Old 07-30-2013, 02:45 PM   #8
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Quote:
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In one of my previous lives I worked for a plumbing wholesaler and we sold water heaters. The rule of thumb was that the only reason to replace a water heater was if the tank itself was leaking. All other parts could be replaced except for that. We did have areas in the state where water heaters just did not hold up nearly as long and the only difference was in the water. Many times those with issues were on wells and the quality of the water would vary.

Obviously, yours has lasted well but it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning. Then there is the cost of the potential damage should it decide it's had enough and spills it's guts. My experience is that bad things never happen at convenient times.

So, if I were in your shoes I would probably start checking out the new units. BTW the longer warranty units are generally the same heaters with fancier graphics and they charge more to cover the additional risk for a longer warranty period. Good luck with your decision.
That is an excellent point Bob. That was what I was told concerning the warranty. You just assume it is built better, but apparently it is not. Originally that is why I was going to go with a more expensive water heater. Once I learned all I am really paying for is essentially an extended warranty, I took the 6 year.
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Old 07-30-2013, 02:59 PM   #9
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I don't have the answer (my electric model is 11 years old), but I would just like to publicly thank you for having the wit to call it a water heater instead of a hot water heater.

[one of my pet peeves]
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Old 07-30-2013, 03:04 PM   #10
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Eh, the OP was complaining about a cold water heater.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuckanut View Post
It is working well, thought the water does not seem as hot as it used to be.
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Old 07-30-2013, 03:35 PM   #11
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If the OP is staying for a long time in the house, maybe he should consider a tankless unit. They can run on natural gas or electricity and are pretty good these days. Rannai brand is my choice:

#1 Tankless Water Heater Buyer's Guide | Rinnai

A bit more to buy and install, but only heats on demand.
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Old 07-30-2013, 04:04 PM   #12
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Aja got me thinking. I imagine a byproduct of getting a new more efficient water heater should show up modestly in your bill. I checked and got mine the last week in June. My July gas bill I just got was $10 cheaper than my June bill, and this was only on about 3 weeks with the heater. Mine is on gas and no heat was ran in June or July so increased efficiency even on the lower end heater I purchased was noticeable.
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Old 07-30-2013, 04:42 PM   #13
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WHs in areas with acidic water might last only 5 years unless you make a habit of replacing the anode. WHs with plastic/fiberglass tanks now exist, such as Rheem Marathon, and are guaranteed not to leak for 20 years but cost a bunch more. In those the heating elements may corrode and malfunction before the tank leaks.
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Old 07-30-2013, 04:55 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aja8888 View Post
If the OP is staying for a long time in the house, maybe he should consider a tankless unit. They can run on natural gas or electricity and are pretty good these days. Rannai brand is my choice:

#1 Tankless Water Heater Buyer's Guide | Rinnai

A bit more to buy and install, but only heats on demand.

I looked into talentless tankless water heaters a while back. Most electric ones don't have the power to reliably supply enough hot water on demand. Those that do require extra electrical work to boost the amperage.

Payback is another issue. Back when we were a family with teenagers, their might be a reasonable payback time. (At least two loads of laundry a day, and three showers a day, and a dishwasher cycle a day.) Today, I doubt if it would be worth the extra cost.
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Old 07-30-2013, 05:08 PM   #15
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I looked into talentless a while back.
You're a reality TV show producer? I'm impressed!
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Old 07-30-2013, 06:24 PM   #16
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My electric water heater was installed in 1999, making it 14 years old.

It is working well, thought the water does not seem as hot as it used to be.

Electric Water heaters are very, very simple. If the water isn't getting hot enough, a few likely problems:

1) Check the thermostat. Sometimes with age, they shift a bit, and simply turning it up might help. Or just 'exercising' it a bit by turning it through max/min may free things up.

2) They usually have two elements, and I think each has its own thermostat. One is a kind of slow-keep-warm type, the other is higher power to make up when more water is being drawn. Maybe one is out?

3) The dip tube has fallen apart - then the cold water mixes, and instead of drawing hot water from the top, you gate a mix of hot/cold - just warm.

Easy, cheap fixes, usually. Easier than installing a new one.

Electric Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting

-ERD50
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Old 07-30-2013, 06:38 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post

Electric Water heaters are very, very simple. If the water isn't getting hot enough, a few likely problems:

1) Check the thermostat. Sometimes with age, they shift a bit, and simply turning it up might help. Or just 'exercising' it a bit by turning it through max/min may free things up.

2) They usually have two elements, and I think each has its own thermostat. One is a kind of slow-keep-warm type, the other is higher power to make up when more water is being drawn. Maybe one is out?

3) The dip tube has fallen apart - then the cold water mixes, and instead of drawing hot water from the top, you gate a mix of hot/cold - just warm.

Easy, cheap fixes, usually. Easier than installing a new one.

Electric Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting

-ERD50
Unless of course he has 14 years of lime built up in the tank. I remember my first experience with an electrical one. Someone told me it was the element as the water was only luke warm. Well he was right as I disassembled the element but I was barely able to get it out, and even then it was mangled and twisted. There was no way I could shove a new element in there with all the caked lime in it, so I had to get a new one.
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Old 07-30-2013, 06:54 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
Electric Water heaters are very, very simple. If the water isn't getting hot enough, a few likely problems:

1) Check the thermostat. Sometimes with age, they shift a bit, and simply turning it up might help. Or just 'exercising' it a bit by turning it through max/min may free things up.

2) They usually have two elements, and I think each has its own thermostat. One is a kind of slow-keep-warm type, the other is higher power to make up when more water is being drawn. Maybe one is out?

3) The dip tube has fallen apart - then the cold water mixes, and instead of drawing hot water from the top, you gate a mix of hot/cold - just warm.

Easy, cheap fixes, usually. Easier than installing a new one.

Electric Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting

-ERD50
Thanks. I will try a few adjustments on the thermostat. If that does not work, I will open her up and see if I can determine whether a fix is worth it, or if it is better to get a replacement.
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Old 07-30-2013, 07:03 PM   #19
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Related to the life expectancy of a water tank and maintenance, has anyone actually changed out the annode rod to extend the life of the heater? Just wondering how easy & useful that is.
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Old 07-30-2013, 07:03 PM   #20
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Unless of course he has 14 years of lime built up in the tank.
...
Wooops, you are right, I missed that one. No real fix for that is there - replace?

My gas water heater is going on 27 years now! It is the original from when we bought the house ~ 20 years ago. The only thing I can figure, is that since we are on well water, only softened water goes in, so very low mineral content. It's in the basement with a pan and nearby drain. I was going to replace it 10 years ago, as a preventative, but maybe that new water heater would have gone out after nine years? I'm waiting, but I may regret it.

-ERD50
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