Angie's List | Water Heaters: Repair or replace?

A well maintained water heater can continue to deliver you gallons of hot water. On the other hand if you neglect your water heater you most likely will see the dollars disappear from your wallet. There are a few things you can do to help prolong the life of your water heater.

Your water heater is the third largest energy consumer in your house. It represents about 15% of your utility bills each month so making sure you have an efficient water heater is important.

A lot of times people don't think about their water heater until it breaks and evidently it breaks in the morning when everyone is trying to shower and you have to get out of the house. So you want to take special care of it because it actually loses efficiency over the years because sediment builds up inside the water heater which can actually reduce the capacity and can lead to problems unsuspecting to the homeowner.

Angie Hicks offers, "An easy maintenance tip for your water heater to ensure its best efficiency is to drain a quart of water from the water heater once every three months. This will help to reduce sediment from building up in your water heater and make sure that you are getting maximum capacity out of your water heater."

4 ways to increase water heater efficiency:

  • Use low-flow faucets and shower heads throughout your home to decrease the amount of water, and energy, used. This will make your tank of hot water go farther.
  • Check that your water heater tank and pipes are properly insulated. But, don't cover the tank thermostat.
  • Lower your water heater base temperature to 120 degrees. Your shower will still be steamy and you will save energy on heating the water.
  • Drain a quart of water from your water heater tank every 3 months to remove sediment that slows down heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater. Follow the proper steps suggested by your manufacturer since the type of tank you have can determine the best procedure.

If your water heater is 10 years or older it is probably only running at 50% of its efficiency. It might be a good time to consider replacing it. The good thing is that there are plenty of options these days from gas, electric and even tankless water heaters. Depending on the company you use a 40 gallon gas or electric water heater can run anywhere from $700 to $1,300. A tankless water heater is usually twice as much as a traditional one, but can also last twice as long and save you money in the long run.

Plumbing Contractor Mark Weilhammer tells us, "Anything more than about 8 or 9 about 10 years is a good life, after that you are going to start hearing it rumbling and carrying on and most people never maintain, they just put them in they sit for ten years, trouble free for 10 years and all of a sudden they start leaking and occasionally you'll have one really causes you some grief."

Mark continued, "Mostly the thermostats, gas valves we flush them out and new elements, in electric water heaters new elements in electric water heater. New gas valves and new thermo coping on gas water heaters."

When asked about cost for repairing a water heater Mark adds, "It really matters who you call between a family owned company and a franchise you'll get anywhere from $125 up to $600 to fix a water heater it just depends on, the average price should be $250 on average somewhere in that range."

There are a lot of choices when it comes to water heaters these days and the first thing you want to do is evaluate how much you are spending on your utility bills and how much you might want to spend on your water heater; you could go with a tankless water heater or an electric water heater. And depending on your bills and how much you are willing spend on your water heater there are a lot of choices that can really make your house much more efficient.

Angie's 4 tips for hiring a company to install a water heater:

  • Stay cool:  The need for a water heater replacement generally arises when the hot water stops flowing, making it an emergency situation. Rather than hire the first company you find in the yellow pages, take an hour to call around and compare prices. If you can hold out until normal business hours, you will avoid the after-hours emergency service charge.
  • Consider the options:  Talk to the companies about new innovations and systems that could increase your energy efficiency. Spending a little more on the unit may pay off in monthly energy savings if you plan to be in your home for 5 or more years.
  • Don't over invest:  If you plan to sell your home in the near future, don't spend a lot on a fancy system. A water heater is considered standard when purchasing a home. Like furnaces and roofs, a new water heater may be appealing to potential buyers, but it's probably not going to increase your asking price.
  • Understand the process:  Replacing a water heater can be cumbersome and involve many gallons of water. Make sure you know how it will be done. The units are very
    • heavy and navigating small staircases can cause damage to your home. Check that your company is insured to cover any damages.

    You can reduce your monthly water heating bills by selecting the appropriate water heater for your home. While storage units are the most popular type of water heating systems, tankless systems offer energy savings by providing hot water only when it's needed.

    If you want to get a tankless water heater it's probably going to be twice as much as a regular water heater or a traditional water heater, but the key here is how much savings you are going to get in your monthly utility bills. Tankless water heaters are much more efficient.

    Why consider a tankless water heater:

    • Tankless water heaters provide hot water as needed, eliminating the standby energy losses of a conventional tank – which constantly uses fuel to maintain water temperature, even when not needed. They can be used for a whole house or a specific tap.
    • Tankless water heaters also save space with a compact design. Just be sure the water heater is within roughly 50 feet from a power source and can be mounted on an interior or exterior wall.
    • Tankless water heaters are better for the environment because a rusty tank doesn't end up in a landfill.
    • Tankless water heaters last more than 20 years – about twice  the lifespan of storage water heaters.

    We talked to consumer Bruce Flanagan about his decision to replace his current water heater. Bruce said, "We had a tank water heater and it was beginning to get a small leak, but we also had some carbon monoxide problems with a draft with it, so it was time to replace it, so then we started looking at tankless."

    When we asked him about the cost of going tankless he told us, "As I recall, the tank water heater was going to be around a thousand installed, and this was around the $3000 area, installed.  But then you did have some green discounts and credits that came with it when you did that, $3000 or so."

    Bruce also adds, "From a safety standpoint, it is a closed exhaust system, so we no longer have the carbon monoxide concern.  But also it's kind of neat that when the kids and grandkids are here, we can have 5 or 6 people take a shower right in a row, and the water stays as warm at the end of the last shower as it is the first of the first shower, so it is nice to have the consistency of temperature."


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