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6 Signs Your Water Heater is Failing

Hot water heaters are one of the most consistently used pieces of equipment in the home. Even when you’re sleeping, your water heater is working to keep several gallons of water hot and ready. Most water heaters tend to last between 8-12 years under optimal circumstances.

It’s important to have an understanding of what to look for to determine when the unit is approaching the end of it’s life span. Below are 6 key signs to look for when determining how much longer a hot water heater should last.

Hot Water Supply Diminishing

You may notice your hot water runs out earlier than usual and isn’t replenishing itself very quickly. Perhaps the water heater is continuously running to keep up. The build-up of sediment and corrosion can slow down how quickly it heats water and limits its ability to keep the water supply warm. If you discover you have no hot water at all, your heater may have failed.


An aging water heater that is suffering from corrosion and build-up from the water flowing through it will start to get hardened sediment on the bottom of the tank. It is stirred up when water heats or moves through the tank and makes noise. Not only is the sound of the sediment inside the heater annoying, it’s also a good indicator that your heater is no longer working efficiently because the sediment makes it more difficult for the heating element to keep the water heated. This leads to the metal getting corroded and brittle with increased potential for leaks. If your heater is making noises, be sure to get it checked out.

Moisture or water around the heater

A tank that’s corroded and cracked will start to leak. Most tanks will rust from the inside out, and there might not be any visible evidence that it’s failed. Some condensation on a water heater is normal, but if it’s running down the side of the tank or pooling, it’s a sign of trouble. Even just a little dampness on the floor beneath or near the water heater could indicate a problem. Before you replace the heater, inspect fittings, connections, and pipes that are leading to and from the tank to ensure they aren’t the problem. If there is a lot of water, you should call a plumber right away.

Rusty or discolored water

If water coming from your home’s fixtures is brown or reddish, check to see if this occurs when you have both hot and cold water flowing or only when hot water is turned on. If the rusty color shows when hot water is turned on, it could be a good indicator that your hot water contains corrosion, and you should check the heater itself. You can draw hot water directly from the heater to see if the rust is coming from the heater versus your pipes.


A lot of water heaters don’t last for 12 years, and if yours has survived longer than that, it may be living on borrowed time, especially if you live in an area with hard water. If the water heater is in a place where it could cause severe damage if it fails, it’s best to consider replacing it before it develops a leak. Manufacturers use date codes for their water heaters, and most will have this information on their website so you can assess how old your unit is.

Corroded Anode Rod

The design of most tank-style water heaters has not changed much in the last 50 years. Tank-style heaters have a “sacrificial” anode rod made up of magnesium, zinc, or aluminum with a stainless steel core suspended in the water that attracts the elements in the water that would otherwise corrode the rest of the tank. However, once the anode rod is corroded, metal elements in your water will start to be drawn to other metals and will start to damage the tank of the heater. The first and most obvious sign that something is going wrong with your water heater is the corrosion of the sacrificial anode rod. Water softeners, acidic water, and other factors can accelerate the corrosion of this element and, eventually, your water heater. Some water heaters are designed to allow a technician to replace the anode rod, and it should be checked every few years. For most residential heaters, it’s impractical to remove the anode rod, so be sure to ask ahead of time if the expense will outweigh the cost of replacing the heater itself. If the anode rod has been corroded and only the steel core or wire remains, it’s definitely time to replace it. If the corrosion has spread the water heater, it may be too late, and you’ll have to replace the entire unit.

Planning for regular maintenance for your water heater, including flushing its water, can extend its life and keep it functioning efficiently. Golden West Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning replaces hundreds of water heaters each year. Give us a call and we’ll help you out!

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