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If you are used to hot flowing through your taps consistently and in the right temperatures, chances are you hardly think about replacing your electric water heater until you notice something is off.

Although electric water heaters are built to be durable, they have a definite lifespan. Being alert about your electric water heater lifetime could save you from extreme damages that may result from a burst water tank or flooding as a result of excessive leakage.

How Long Does an Electric Water Heater Last?

Generally, tank electric water heaters last for 10-15 years, while tankless ones can last up to 20 years. The difference in their lifespans is in their design. Since tankless electric water heaters only receive water when the tap is open, there is less build-up of minerals that results in the water sitting on the tank for long, as is the case for tank heaters.

Also, hot water is corrosive, and the longer it sits on the heater’s water tank, the more it wears out the inner lining. Whether yours is a tank or tankless water heater, its lifespan can be cut short too soon due to poor maintenance, among other factors.

Factors Contributing to Faster Deterioration of an Electric Water Heater

Improper Installation

Proper installation protocol for electric heaters requires that the heater is mounted in an upright position in a well-ventilated location. Correct wiring and connection to the right power source are paramount.

Also, installing the electric heater in the wrong location can cause it to wear out fast. For instance, electric water heaters installed in the garage or crawlspace where the ambient temperatures are significantly low results in the heater overworking compared to those installed in a temperature-controlled location.

If the piping is laid down on a surface prone to moisture, it corrodes and rusts fast. The electric water heater and piping should be set up at an accessible location for easy maintenance.

Hot Water Output

This depends on the number of water outlets that the heater supplies water to, the number of people who use the hot water supplied by the heater, and the frequency of usage.

The higher the volume of water the heater supplies consistently, the faster it wears out. For bigger households, it is best to invest in an electric heater with a high capacity.

Quality of the Electric Heater

High-quality electric water tanks are made of corrosion-resistant materials such as porcelain, fiberglass, and glass-lined casing that ensure durability. Others have a thicker layer of insulation.

Furthermore, some manufacturers incorporate a self-cleaning mechanism in their tank design, which reduces mineral and dirt build-up. Although these types of electric heaters come at a higher price, they can serve you for their full 10-15 years lifespan with proper maintenance. A good indicator of a quality and durable electric water heater is a long warranty.

Hard Water

If the water inlet to the electric heater supplies hard water, the heater is likely to wear out faster. This is because hard water has a high concentration of minerals that compromise the unit’s efficiency. In this case, it is paramount that your electric heater is installed with an anode. The anode attracts the contaminants, and you can replace it as often as need be.

Improper and Infrequent Maintenance

Whether your water inlet supplies soft or hard water, mineral and sediment are inevitable eventually. Frequent maintenance involves flushing the system to keep it operating optimally. It also offers numerous chances to identify problems in the system for timely resolution.

High Water Pressure

High water pressure eventually depletes the inner walls of the tank electric water heater. If the water pressure exceeds the recommended PSIs, it can cause the tank to burst. To control pressure, install an adjustable valve at the inlet that you can use to regulate the water pressure of the incoming water.

Excessive Heating

Excessive heating often happens as a result of a faulty thermostat. It results in high water pressure, which compromises the tank’s lifetime.

How Do You Know When to Replace Your Electric Water Heater?

The following are some signs that your electric heater needs replacing.

The Tank Has Outlived Its Warranty

Most manufacturers have tested their products and established an average lifetime for which the warranty covers. If your tank’s warranty is over, it is time to replace the tank. First, because you are no longer covered for damages.

Also, your tank is likely to start showing major signs of wear. In extreme cases, if not replaced, you may experience a total system breakdown or major leakages that lead to flooding. Ideally, you should start to think about replacing your electric water heater at least two years before its estimated lifespan or warranty duration.


Water leakage may be apparent or could manifest as the heater’s exterior being moist throughout. Leakage can also be evidenced by puddles of water on the surface beneath the heater. A moist tank is a sign that the heater’s wall has thinned out significantly.

Some people fit their heaters with a water sensor so that you are notified as soon as there is a leak to prevent extensive damage. While you can buy a bit of time if the leakage is minimal to organize for a new heater, you don’t have too much time before the leakage worsens. To mitigate the risk of flooding, experts recommend that you turn off the water and heater power source until you install a new unit.


Often, rumbling, banging, and creaking sounds are a sign that the heater has a mineral build-up. It is best to clean it up as soon as you notice the rumbling. If it persists, it is a sign that you need to replace the tank.

Sudden Hot Water Outage

If your hot water taps are running cold water even though the heater is turned on, it is a sign that something is not working. In most cases, this results from a breakdown of the electric thermostat and heating element. It might be a simple malfunction, or it could also result from an extensive system failure that requires the unit to be replaced.

Lukewarm Water

If your hot water fixtures are constantly producing lukewarm water, it is a sign that the electric heater is not heating water adequately. Over the years, as the heaters wear out, they tend to lose efficiency leading to minimal heating of the water.

Lukewarm water could also result from a broken dip tube. When this happens, it allows the outgoing hot water to be diluted by the incoming cold water resulting in cooler water. If the lukewarm water results from a broken dip tube, it can be rectified easily and inexpensively without needing to replace the entire tank.

Also, lukewarm water may result if the demand for hot water is higher than the water heater’s capacity to produce. In this case, you would need to replace the heater with one with a higher capacity or opt for a tankless electric heater.

Change in the Local Building Codes

Construction experts are constantly updating building codes to mitigate any risks. As a result, older heater models may be rendered obsolete, necessitating a replacement.

Rust and Corrosion

Rust is an obvious sign that your electric heater needs replacing. Steel hot water tanks are more prone to corrosion and rusting. Typically, rust is first seen around the temperature and relief valve and on the inlet and outlet connection. Once the heater has started to rust, you cannot do much to reverse or correct it. The corroded or rusted parts form areas of weakness where water can leak.

Faulty Drain Valve

If the drain valve is no longer able to drain the water within the tank, it is time for a new heater. The valve may get blocked by sediment build-up that settles at the bottom of the tank.

Dirty Water Coming Out of the Outlet

Red, brown, or yellow water coming out of the taps and fixtures could indicate an extreme accumulation of dirt and rust. Furthermore, this kind of water is not safe for consumption or use for various household purposes, including washing dishes or showering.

Higher Energy Bill Than Usual

Some electric water heaters lose their heating efficiency over time, resulting in the consumption of more power. If your tankless electric water heater bill is significantly high, you might want to replace it with a tank electric water heater, which is more energy-efficient.

Electric Water Heater Maintenance Techniques

Some maintenance technique to promote the durability of your electric water tank include:

Flushing the System

Flushing the water tank at least once every year will remove built-up sediments and minerals that could lead to corrosion or blockage of the drain valve. If you do not flush regularly, the sentiment may accumulate to the point where it is impossible to clean up the tank.

Use Water Softeners If Your Water Is Hard

Water softeners break down some of the minerals in hard water, reducing build-up.

Inspect the Electric Water Heater System Regularly

If your electric water heater has passed its half-lifetime mark, it is important to regularly inspect for signs that indicate that replacement is due. Inspection is especially paramount if the tank has outlived its warranty.

Replace the Anode Rod as Often as Need Be

If the anode rod becomes fully used up or accumulates silt and minerals, these elements accumulate on the inner walls of the tank. Eventually, the tank may start to leak, marking the end of the water heater’s lifetime. Read this to learn about water heater anode rods, and this for steps on how to replace them.

Check the Pressure-Relief Valve Regularly

To ascertain that the pressure relief valve is working well, place a bucket beneath the discharge pipe, then raise the lever. If no water comes out, it means that the valve is not releasing excess pressure and needs to be replaced.

Tips for Choosing the Right Water Heater

When choosing a new electric heater to replace your existing one, consider the following:

  1. Do you want to replace it with a similar one or a different one? Replacing with a similar one has the advantage that you do not need to change the plumping. However, it would be best to try a different type if it was not working efficiently.
  2. Size and capacity. If your hot water needs have increased, you will need to upgrade with one that has a higher capacity.
  3. Installation set up. Consider whether you will need to do new plumbing and electrical wiring to fit the new hot water heater. If that is the case, factor in the extra plumping and electrical costs involved.

Don’t wait until there are apparent signs that your electric water heater has done its time. Constantly inspect it for warning signs and do routine maintenance.

While signs of defects such as a faulty drain valve and broken dip tube can be managed easily and inexpensively to prolong your water heater’s service time, others such as significant leakage and rumbling are red flags that you need to replace your tank immediately. See this post for more info on short vs tall units, and their differences.