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When to Replace a Water Heater

If your water heater is leaking or not heating up, you may be able to repair it rather than replace it. Regular maintenance will extend the life of your water heater. Some repairs, such as replacing a pressure-relief valve or heating element are pretty simple. Follow our tips to troubleshoot your gas or electric water heater issues and learn how long a water heater should last.

Lowe's Associate Installing a Water Heater.

Repair or Replace

illustration of water heater drain

Based on the manufacturer's suggested service life, the life expectancy of a water heater is about 8 to 12 years. That varies with the location and design of the unit, quality of installation, maintenance schedule and water quality.

If your water heater is more than 10 years old, leaks around the base of the tank, and / or works erratically or not at all, it's probably time for replacement. However, before you begin the replacement process, make sure that an electrical problem, such as a blown fuse or tripped breaker, is not the reason for the unit's failure.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Tightening the connections on a water heater.

Perhaps the most common problem connected with a water heater is water that isn't as hot as you want it to be. This is usually caused by a faulty thermostat or a defective heating element. Check the following when your water is not hot enough:

Electric water heater

  • Make sure that the power is connected. Reset the thermostat.
  • Flush the heater to remove sediment from the tank.
  • Insulate the hot water pipes.
  • Replace the heating element or thermostat.
  • Raise the temperature setting on the thermostat.

Gas water heater

  • Make sure that the gas is connected and the pilot light is lit.
  • Flush the heater to remove sediment from the tank.
  • Insulate the hot water pipes.
  • Clean the gas burner and replace the thermocoupler (a safety device that shuts off the gas automatically if the pilot flame goes out).
  • Raise the temperature setting on the thermostat.

Other common problems and possible solutions

  • Hissing or sizzling noises: Sediment may have collected in the tank. Drain the tank until the water clears. Remove and soak elements in a pan filled with white vinegar for up to an hour and scrape off the collected scale.
  • Leaking pressure-relief valve: Replace valve.
  • Leaking water supply pipes: Tighten the fittings. If that doesn't work, shut off the water and replace the fittings.

Water Heater Maintenance

Illustration of t&p valve for a water heater.

Today’s water heaters are manufactured to require little or no maintenance, but these maintenance tips could prolong the life of your water heater:

  • Drain the water heater twice a year to rid it of collected sediment that causes corrosion. This also increases efficiency.
  • Test the pressure-relief valve by lifting the valve’s handle and letting it snap back. This should release a burst of water into the overflow drainpipe. If it doesn’t, install a new valve.
  • Lower the temperature setting on the thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This reduces damage to the tank caused by overheating.

When Replacement Is Necessary

If you're replacing a water heater, you can replace it with the same type of unit. However, upgrade possibilities should be considered. For example, you may choose to increase or decrease the unit's holding capacity to accommodate a changing family. Or, you may opt to go tankless.

When looking for a water heater, consider these features:

  • Gallon capacity (40-gallon and 50-gallon heaters are the most common)
  • Recovery rate (the number of gallons the heater will heat in an hour)
  • Dimensions (width and height — physical space may limit your ability to upgrade your unit's capacity; will the heater fit in the space you have for it?)
  • Energy efficiency ratings (a sticker on the side should list the estimated annual cost of operation for the unit)

Before making repairs or purchasing a new water heater, check the nameplate on the side of your current unit. Here you will find helpful information including the tank capacity, insulation R-value, installation guidelines, working pressure, model and serial number. If you have an electric water heater, the nameplate will also list the wattage capacity and voltage of the heating elements.

This information will serve as the starting point in your search for replacement parts or a new water heater. For help choosing a water heater, read our Water Heater Buying Guide.

Answer these questions to determine whether or not you want to tackle water heater installation:

  • How will you dispose of your old water heater? Check local codes governing disposal of such appliances.
  • Will you be able to physically handle the unit? Water heaters are bulky and heavy. You will need assistance.
  • Do you have the tools necessary to do the job? Water heater installation requires adjustable wrenches, screwdrivers, a hacksaw and pliers. You may also need a propane torch if your installation uses copper pipe.
  • Do you have time to do the job? Once you start replacing a water heater, you have to finish.

For detailed steps on how to replace or install a water heater, read our Install an Electric Water Heater and Install a Gas Water Heater articles.


If you intend to convert from electric to gas or vice-versa, or if you don't feel comfortable doing the repair or maintenance work, hire a professional.


Make sure your home is equipped with carbon monoxide detectors when gas-powered appliances are present.