6 Reasons Why Water Heaters Fail

woman looks upset at sink full of dishes

It’s no fun going without hot water. That’s especially true when the seasons change and temperatures take a dip.

But like nearly every other appliance in your house, water heaters fail. And that can lead to cold showers — or even worse, a water leak.

Here are 6 telltale signs you have a failing water heater:

  • You only have cold water.
  • Your water gets warm, but never hot.
  • Your water heater makes a rumbling noise.
  • Your hot water is rusty, muddy or discolored.
  • Your water has a metallic smell or taste.
  • Water is leaking around your water heater.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar… it’s probably time to call a plumber. Wondering why your water heater is failing? Here are some of the reasons – and what you can do help prevent a failure:

1. Internal rust: Sacrificial anodes are highly active metal rods that help prevent your water heater from corroding. Anode rods are consumed in the place of the metal they protect – hence the name “sacrificial.” Over time, they need to be replaced.

The fix: They typically last several years, but it’s a good idea to check your anode rods every year – or bring in a professional to take a look. If they look worn down, it’s time to replace them.

Related: Can you guess the life expectancy of these 5 major appliances?

2. Sediment buildup: When water is heated, mineral deposits separate and settle onto the bottom of your water heater tank. Sediment builds up over time, reducing your water heater efficiency and eventually causing damage. This is especially an issue if you have hard water.

The fix: Flush your water heater at least once a year.

3. High water pressure: Water pressure that’s too high can damage your water heater, as well as your pipes and other appliances. If you notice water leaking from the overflow pipe on the side of your water heater, you may have an issue with excessive pressure.

The fix: Keep the water pressure on your heater no higher than 80 psi, and consider replacing your temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve.

4. Corrosive fumes: In order for combustion to occur, water heaters need to draw in air. Problems can occur if the air quality is poor. Especially dangerous is corrosive air, which can corrode your tank and lead to water heater failure.

The fix: Keep corrosive substances like ammonia and bleach far away from your water heater.

5. Wrong size heater: Water heaters come in a variety of sizes to accommodate the water usage of all the people and appliances in your home. If you buy a water heater that’s too small for your needs, it will need to work more than it should – and that can lead it to breakdown from overuse.

The fix: Talk with a plumber or appliance expert to make sure you buy a water heater that’s the right size for your household.

6. Old age: Water heaters typically last about 8 to 12 years. Any longer than that, and you’re probably on borrowed time. If you’re having issues with rust, a bad heating element or a pilot light that won’t stay lit… old age may be the problem.

The fix: If your water heater is at the end of its life span, consider proactively replacing it with a newer, more energy-efficient model.

Types of hot water heaters

If you’re replacing a water heater, you’ll quickly learn that they come in all different shapes and sizes. There are plenty of choices, so research the option that’s right for you.

Gas water heaters use natural gas to heat the water you need quickly, while electric water heaters use electric coils. Tankless heaters can be electric or gas, but instead of heating an entire tank, they heat water on demand.

Homeowners insurance that goes the distance for major appliances

It’s also important to do your research when it comes to homeowners insurance. Basic homeowners insurance usually doesn’t cover equipment breakdown for major appliances and home systems like hot water heaters, HVAC systems or refrigerators and ranges.

Good news: With Equipment Breakdown Coverage from ERIE, you can get an extra cushion of protection for major appliances and home systems right in your homeowners policy with ErieSecure Home® and the Select bundle, when you also have Sewer and Drain Backup Coverage.*

Want to find out more? Talk to a local ERIE agent in your neighborhood and get a free homeowners insurance quote.

*Coverage is not available if the Select bundle does not include sewer and drain backup. Coverage is capped at $50,000 per occurrence and the policy deductible applies. Claims are subject to ERIE’s surcharge program. Details are contained in the policy. Subject to terms, conditions and exclusions. Not available in all states. Talk to an ERIE Agent for policy details and state-specific policy information and refer to our disclaimer for additional information.

This article was originally published on Oct. 15, 2015. It was updated with new information on Nov. 13, 2018.

Your water heater is one of the household appliances you rely on the most. Learn why it might fail—and how you can help prevent that from happening. /blog/water-heater-failure Erie Insurance

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