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For homeowners, there’s nothing worse than having to endure a cold shower at the start of your day, or any other time for that matter, because your water heater has gone on the fritz. Down in your basement, a huge puddle has formed, signalling the leak is gaining momentum. Emergency! You now have to decide on the spot. Should you repair or replace your water heater? If you are uncertain if you should repair or replace your water heater, here are some facts and tips to guide you.

A standard storage-tank water heater has a life span of somewhere between 10–13 years. If your water heater is approaching this benchmark, it’s a no-brainer, get a water heater replacement. You will be glad to know a newer model water heater is as much as 20% more efficient. A cost-savings of up to $700 in energy consumption over the service life of the water heater is another good piece of news.

Diagnosing a Sick Water Heater

Standard water heaters are uncomplicated in their operation. Cold water from your pipes fills the tank, and an electric device or gas burner heats the water. A standard water heater is thermostatically controlled, with the water temperature ranging from 120–140 degrees. During the heating process, pressure increases inside the tank. As you turn on the valve, pressure forces the hot water out the valve.

Water heaters are made of only a few movable parts, so what can go wrong is limited.

  • On a gas water heater, the pilot light goes out

  • On an electric water heater the circuit breaker trips

  • The burner or heating device expires

  • The thermostat breaks

  • The valve sticks

To repair or replace any of those parts is not very costly. A plumber will charge anywhere from $100 to $300. However, if the tank has exceeded ten years of service, or a leak is a cause, you best start looking at a water heater replacement.

Water Heater Replacement is the Only Option

Knowing the facts on what has caused the water heater to expire helps you to understand the need for a water heater replacement. Minerals in the water are a corrosive element, and when they act upon steel, your water heater is affected. A water heater that has sprung a leak cannot be repaired. Sorry for the bad news.

But there is a silver lining aspect, being the latest water heater replacement models are many times over more energy-efficient than your current water heater. Manufacturers of new water heaters have created a new technology whereby they inject foam insulation between the tank and its outer housing, creating higher heat retention. And the introduction of glass liners lessens the possibility of corrosion to the water heater tank.

A new standard water heater replacement model will cost from $500 to $1,500, including installation. If you decide to purchase a high-efficiency model, Energy-Star certified, you can experience up to 20% in energy savings.

Tank-less, heat pump and solar water heaters can save you even more, with the added benefit of being eligible for a federal tax credit.

Taking into Account the Additional Costs of a New Water Heater Replacement

It’s not so simple as you might imagine replacing a water heater. It’s more than dragging out the old water heater and connecting the new model to your water pipes. Local building codes have tightened their requirements, asking you to upgrade:

  • The water heater mount

  • The venting system size or type

  • The drain pan below the heater

  • The supply pipes

Before you allow the installer to begin work, get an itemised estimate from him. If you’re familiar with plumbing tasks, the possibility exists you can do the installation of the new water heater replacement yourself. Many manufacturers will include complete instructions on how to install. Don’t forget to check local building codes before you start installing.

Most importantly, before you begin the installation is you shut off the water and gas or electric. Make sure you understand how to vent gas models in the proper way.