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Water Heaters 101: Your Complete Guide

Posted on April 27th, 2020

The Homeowners Guide to Water Heaters

When you think of appliances in your home, most often start naming their washer, dryer, and dishwasher, but what about your water heater? In fact, without this trusty unit in your home, two of these three things wouldn’t work as they should. 

So to keep your dishes sanitized, your laundry clean, and your showers hot, here’s everything you should know about your home’s water heater and how to make the most of its lifespan: 

Understanding Your Water Heater Options

Most homeowners use a tank-type water heater. As its name implies, this kind of water heater system comprises a large, cylinder-shaped tank connected to a series of pipes. Tank-type water heaters are standard and can be powered by electricity, gas, or oil. If your unit is fuel-fired, it requires a vent pipe to carry exhaust out of your home.

Tank-type water heaters not only heat water but also store it until it’s needed. That’s why it’s important that your water heater tank is properly insulated. When you’re ready to use the hot water, it will travel through delivery pipes to the appliance or fixture in use.

Don’t see a hot water tank? Then your water heater is tankless. This type of equipment usually relies on a boiler to heat water. The water warms up the coil, bringing hot water to your taps. A big difference between tank-type water heaters and tankless water heaters is that the latter only heat water as needed — they don’t store hot water.

Stand-alone water heaters are also available. Again, these instantaneous water heaters don’t require a tank. Instead, they use a coil and heat exchanger to produce hot water when it’s needed. Therefore, stand-alone water heaters do not store hot water either.

Do Your Part in Water Heater Maintenance 

Once you know the type of water heater your home is equipped with, your next step is to ensure you keep it healthy and working as it should. Though is a significant problem does arise, a professional should be called; there are some minor home maintenance things any homeowner can do: 

Temperature check: The average household should keep the water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid the chance of a major burn.

Test the TPR Valve: The temperature-pressure-release (TPR) valve releases water if the buildup of pressure is too much. Test the valve by lifting it and letting it go to let out some water. If water continues to flow, flip the valve a few more times. If water flow doesn’t stop, a professional might have to replace the valve. 

Note: you’ll want to place a bucket below the TPR pipe if the line is not piped to the exterior of your home.

Flush the Tank: A traditional tank unit can build up sediment on the bottom. An annual flush (or twice a year if hard water is present) should be considered. For more on how to flush your tank, read on here. 

Call a Plumber for: a professional plumber should check your Anode Rod. This device is what protects your tank from aggressive water, and if less than ½ inch thick or forming rust, a replacement will be needed.

You can also expand the life of your water heater by doing some minor home upgrades:

  • Insulating the pipes can cut your energy cost 
  • Low-flow fixtures cut down on water waste
  • Fix leaky faucets when first spotted
  • Upgrade to energy star appliances 
  • Consider cold showers (your health will thank you, too)

Signs It’s Time for a New Water Heater 

Though you should always focus on keeping up with routine maintenance, your water heater does have a lifespan, and when it starts to reach the end of it, you’ll notice a few common signs. If you are experiencing any of the below, it’s time to consider a new water heater

Rusty water 

It is something out of a movie. You turn on your hot water to draw a bath, and you have dark water come out of the faucet. This is rusty water. When you have this happening, it is due to corrosion in your water heater. This is a sign that you are going to have to replace your hot water heater soon. If rusty water is flowing through your pipes, it is only a matter of time before your hot water heater begins to leak.

Not Enough Hot Water 

When there is not enough hot water to get you through a shower, there might be a lack of space in your hot water heater. This is due to built-up sediment. This can be very difficult to deal with, and can many times mean that you need to completely replace your water heater. This is many times the more affordable option.


Most homeowners in the Phoenix area find that their water heaters only last 5 to 7 years due to the minerals found in our water. It tends to cause a buildup of sediment that affects the water heater lifespan. Keep an ear out for knocking or rumbling noises that may indicate residue accumulation.


Leaks in your home can lead to damaged floors. This is a very expensive problem to deal with. The moment you discover that there are leaks in your water heater, you need to address the situation. This can help you save thousands of dollars in the long run by avoiding complete replacements of carpets, tiles, and wood flooring. In fact, it’s always a great idea to examine your system thoroughly. Read what to look for when observing your system here,» Maintaining Your Water Heater. 

Loud Noises 

If you are hearing loud noises coming from your water heater, you are probably going to have to replace this appliance soon. Loud pops and cracks usually mean that you are having an issue with your heating unit. When your heating unit goes bad, it is just a better idea to completely replace your water heater.

Hot Water Has a Metallic Smell or Taste to it

Think of any time that you have tasted your tea or coffee, and it tastes slightly metallic. This is never a good time. If your hot water is tasting metallic, that means that there is metal from your heater seeping into your water. This is very unhealthy and can cause illness. You should replace your water heater immediately if you are getting any metallic taste or smell in your water.

Your Water Consumption

Has your family recently expanded? If so, you’re probably using more hot water than you used to. If you notice a lack of hot water at times, then you might want to upgrade to a larger unit.

Other signs you might need a new water heater:

Understanding the Lifespan and When to Replace

Your water heater’s lifespan varies based on the type of water heater you have and the quality of your water.  A standard water heater lasts 15 to 20 years when powered by electricity, while a gas-powered water heater can last from eight to 12 years.

Own a tankless water heater? You can expect an approximate 20-year lifespan.

Just remember, as long as you choose the right water heater for your home, and follow the above tips, you should reach the higher end of the estimated lifespan.

Water Heater Repairs and Replacements in Arizona

When you need some assistance in the areas of plumbing, heating, or cooling, please contact Plumbing & A/C Medic today to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed technicians!

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