Understanding How Long Do Water Heaters Last

The water heater isn’t exactly a glamorous new purchase for your home. People don’t proudly post these guys on their lifestyle blogs or Instagram accounts.

Sure, the basement lighting might have something to do with it. But, chances are, the water heater exists in your home as one of those necessary appliances you don’t appreciate until something goes wrong.

Knowledge is power when it comes to hot water heaters. Understanding how long water heaters last is hugely beneficial when it comes to planning repairs, budgeting for the future and avoiding a complete breakdown.

No one wants to be stuck showing in cold water, or worse, be without heat when temperatures start to drop.

Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about water heaters:

How Long Do Water Heaters Last?

How long your water heater lasts will depend on whether you’ve got a gas or an electric unit. Gas units tend to last about 10 years, while their electric counterparts may last for around 15.

The answer to the question, how long do water heaters last, does truly depend on the type of unit you have, as well as how well you care for your machine.

How to Make Your Water Heater Last Longer

Water heaters may last longer than expected—it just takes a little extra attention.

Homeowners should drain and flush their water heaters once a year to maintain top performance.

You’ll need to get a service tech over to perform the service. The process involves the tech attaching the hose to your tank, draining out the water and sediment.

This process also involves cleaning out the tank, removing mineral deposits that can insulate the tank, slowing the heating process and causing water to come out cooler than anticipated.

When there’s too much build up, the hot water heater becomes less efficient, costing money and causing headaches.

This process is kind of like changing the oil in your car.  Ongoing maintenance allows the tank to run more efficiently—saving energy (and money) while keeping your unit in tip-top shape.

What’s Going on Inside Your Hot Water Heater?

Let’s face it. Rust is a real threat when it comes to water heaters. Steel-tank heaters, especially.

Most manufacturers install this type of glass (or, in most cases, porcelain) lining to the inside of the tank, which keeps water from coming into contact with the actual steel.

While this does serve as an effective measure of protection, it’s not ideal. Most tank linings are filled with small holes which, unfortunately, leave metal exposed.

To combat this problem, tanks generally come equipped with small anode rods that stick out of the tank. These rods are made from either aluminum or magnesium—metals that degrade more quickly than the tank’s steel.

These rods are considered “sacrificial,” because they serve as a warning sign that your tank is beginning to rust away.

What Does It Mean When Anodes Degrade?

So, it almost goes without saying, but your anodes will go faster than the tank itself. That’s what they were designed for, after all.

But, generally, a tank with a 6-year warranty will come with an anode that lasts about five years. A tank with a longer warranty may come equipped with two anodes.

If you’ve got soft water your anodes may degrade faster than this. Should the tank have some more years left, it may be worthwhile to change the anode rods.

When Is It Time to Say Goodbye to a Water Heater?

The most obvious answer to “how long do water heaters last?”

Generally speaking, it’s when a tank starts to leak, it’s likely reached the end of the line.

While the unit’s serial number might help you figure out how old the tank is, there are a few signs of age to keep in mind:

Hot water doesn’t seem so hot—A drop in temperature could signify a hot water heater is on its way out.

Hot water isn’t clear—changes in color may be the sign of a problem. Water that looks yellowish or has a red tint may mean your tank has rusted. If cold water isn’t clear, too, the problem likely lies in your pipes.

There’s water accumulating outside the tank—This could be a sign of a leaky tank. If that’s the case, then your unit is on its way out. It’s wise to call a technician before getting rid of the heater, as there could be a problem with the valve instead.

Read more common water heater problems by clicking here.

Gas vs. Electric—How Long Do Water Heaters Last?

There are pros and cons for each type of unit—here’s a quick look:


In general, gas water heaters are cheaper to operate than electric units. But, they may cost more upfront, which can be a deterrent for some homeowners.

The cost savings over time surpass the money spent upfront—sometimes in under a year. But, you’ll likely get 10 years, maximum out of your heater.


Electrics are more cost-effective up front but are generally less efficient than gas models. They also have the advantage of lasting a bit longer than gas models.

Electric heaters also use fewer parts and may be easier to maintain. There’s also the fact that they tend to last longer–up to 15 years, in many cases.

Features to Look For in a Hot Water Heater

Brass Valves—Brass beats plastic in the case of water heaters. The metal version will last longer—it’s more durable and provides easy draining.

Long Warranty—Warranties can be as short as three years, or can surpass 10 years. If your budget allows, look toward the higher end of the spectrum—you don’t want to mess around when it comes to heating your home. Indiana winters can be brutal.

Digital Displays—Why take a chance on a water heater that doesn’t provide any details? Digital displays allow you to customize heating settings, modify usage and more—enabling cost savings over time.

Questions About Your Water Heater?

How long do water heaters last? Well, it’s hard to give an exact number.

If you think it may be time for a new water heater, or you’re not sure how much life is left in your unit, we’re here to help.

Masters Heating and Cooling by Van Valer has brought top-notch appliance servicing to the Indianapolis area since 1980. We’ve got the hot water experts on hand, always available for water heater service anytime, day or night.