How long does a water heater last?

14 Replies

Hi BP!

I am in the process of buying my first property and we have a 12 year old water heater. The inspector recommends replacing it, but the contractor says it should go on for a long time.

My question is: how long does a water heater usually last? My limited knowledge tells me it should be around 10 years. However, I have seen that the IRS places it in the 27,5 years category, but this seems absurd to me... Any insights?

Thanks so much!


Most water heaters have a 10-15 year useful life. The efficiency of the unit may begin to decline around 10 years but the unit can actually last past this time frame if properly serviced. It's best to replace it now as the repairs on it aren't worth it for an item that old.

It’s not so cut and dry with water heaters. A water heater can last upwards of 20 years but it depends a lot on water quality.

If the property has hard water, it can shorten the life of the unit due to build up of minerals on the interior. This can drastically reduce its efficiency.

Also, if the property has older galvanized plumbing, or had at one point, then there is likely a lot of soot at the bottom of the tank even if it had been replaced in the last 10 years.

From my perspective, if a tank was 10 years old or more, I’d replace it and avoid future issues.

@Lara Chinarro my water heater began leaking all over my garage the day before my birthday last year, so I gave myself an awesome birthday gift of a brand new $1K water heater ON my birthday (sarcasm implied). Not sure how old the water heater was, as it was installed prior to me owning the house. After the new one was installed, I set reminders on my Google calendar to drain about 5 gallons every 6 months as preventative maintenance (recommended by the plumber). I do this at night before bed so we don't run out of hot water when someone's trying to shower. Sorry I can't answer your question about the life of a water heater, but I believe preventative maintenance is key to getting the most life out of it.

@Lara Chinarro forgot to mention that the reason the water heater leaked was due to the accumulation of soot that @Darren Lenick described in his reply. Draining the heater every 6 months helps prevent the accumulation of this soot.

@Lara Chinarro

Where is your water heater located at in the house? If it has a drain next to it, you might be able to roll the dice a little. 

If it's in the utility room in a finished basement, I would change it for piece of mind. That $800-$1200 cost to replace a water heater could end up costing a lot more.

Don't forget also to replace the corrosion rod every five to ten years years to extend the life of your water heater.

Congratulations getting #1.

Now for your question, if it's in the middle of a living area where a leak is going to ruin flooring and/or carpet, or you could be on the hook for damage to a neighboring unit in the building, I'd replace it. If it's in a garage or other safe place (read basement), you could roll the dice.

Our experience: We've had them go out after 8, we've had them go 15+.


At this age it becomes a time bomb that you have no clue when it will go. Like the other said. i also have seen 15 yr+ but i also replaced it as soon as i got the house. Water quality will make a difference but you don't know and can't see the inside of the tank. At this point it more a question of how much risk you can tolerate. Because if and when it blows not only you have to replace it but also deal with the damage and the tenant. For peace of mind i would replace it now. The 12 year ish mark is when i replace mind normally. Good luck

Oh, that's great. 10 replies on when to replace a water heater, only ONE mentions the corrosion rod (and gets no votes). BP is really not the place to go for knowledgeable residential maintenance advice.

@Lara Chinarro Do a YouTube search on "sacrificial anode water heater".

@Mike S. Yeah, one dude paid attention, and I agree that's pathetic.

Replace your anode every couple years, flush them spring and fall, they’ll last a long long time. First sign of anything resembling a brown water stain below it, replace. Buy bulk insulating wrap, It helps noticeably. Probably plenty of YouTube vids on how to wrap them effectively.