Maintain Water Heater to Prevent Problems

Caring for this appliance can extend its life, keep church dry

Church water damage can often be traced to the humble water heater. Sitting quietly in a utility room, this faithful appliance doesn’t appear to need maintenance. But when it breaks down, a water heater can lose 40 to 60 gallons of water in a slow leak or sudden gush. Understanding why water heaters fail and taking preventive measures can extend the life of your water heater and possibly prevent flooding and water damage.

Why Water Heaters Fail

Nearly 70 percent of all water heater failures were caused by a tank bursting or leaking, according to a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Another 10 percent of water heaters failed because their supply lines gave out, the IIBHS study found.

Supply line failures are happening more frequently due to the use of flexible, stainless steel supply lines, according to an article that appeared in Subrogator magazine. Before the year 2000, most water heater supply lines were made of copper pipe.

How Long They Should Last

Most of the failures in the IIBHS study happened once the heater reached the end of its useful life and the tank had begun to rust and corrode. On average, water heaters fail at 10.7 years. About 75 percent of the water heaters studied died by the time they were 12.

The Department of Energy suggests that you begin looking at new water heaters if your current heater is more than seven years old.

Signs that your water heater may be ending its useful life include:

  • leaking water
  • rust on the tank
  • insufficient hot water
  • unusual noises

If your water heater has hit the seven-year mark, or if any of these signs are present, you may wish to have a professional inspect the unit.

How to Prevent Problems

Regular inspections and maintenance are your best defense against water heater problems. Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask a plumber to flush sediment from the tank annually. Having too much sediment in the tank can cause the water heater to work harder, leading to an earlier demise. It can also cause the anode rod to work less efficiently, contributing to tank corrosion.
  • Have a plumbing professional inspect your water heater’s anode rod every two years while the appliance is under warranty. After the warranty expires, do annual inspections. Why? The anode rod attracts corrosion to itself, protecting the steel tank. Once the rod has corroded, it no longer protects the tank. Replacing the rod can add years to the life of your water heater.
  • The plumber should also inspect shut-off valves and examine water heater piping during the yearly visit, making sure valves work properly and that there are no signs of leaks.
  • Consider replacing flexible stainless steel water heater supply lines with traditional copper pipe. Supply lines can fail unexpectedly, causing water to spew everywhere. Installing copper pipe costs about $4 a foot, plus a half-hour of a plumber’s time.

On average, each water heater failure causes at least $4,000 worth of damage. By keeping a close eye on this hard-working appliance, you can extend its life and replace it before it bursts.