NJ Home Inspectors and factors that Affect Water Heater Life Span

By
Home Inspector with lookSmart Home Inspections, LLC 24GI00058700

The typical lifespan of a natural draft water heater is about 10 years. There are factors that should be considered that pertain to its lifespan that can provide the New Jersey home inspector and also the buyer with information about potential expenses that would be needed when replacing the water heater. Some of these factors include construction quality, maintenance, usage, and Installation.

Proper installation is vital in maximizing a natural draft water heater life expectancy. When we’re talking about a natural draft water heater were talking about atmospheric drafting of the water heater and not a water heater that vents with a draft fan. Natural draft water heaters will typically vent their products of combustion into a chimney. A natural draft water heater should be installed straight up and down in a well-ventilated area. The area should be well ventilated in order to avoid the possibility of toxic gas such as carbon monoxide entering the living space but also to help improve the overall lifespan of the water heater. A water heater should not be installed in an area that is vulnerable to water infiltration or flooding. Exposure to water can cause the rust damage to the exterior of the water heater and piping significantly decreasing its life expectancy and the efficiency of the water heater unit. A water heater is best placed in an easily accessible area so it can be easily maintained. It also should be highly visible for fire safety requirements and health requirements.

The New Jersey home inspector may wish to ask whether the water heater was installed professionally. An unprofessional installation should be reported on and a seasoned home inspector should be able to point out a water heater installation that was done by a nonprofessional. Some of the problems that a NJ home inspector can look for are the lack of a temperature pressure relief discharge pipe, flexible water pipes used at the top of the water heater rather than rigid piping. Plastic piping that is installed directly into the water heater without the required 6 inches of copper piping as an offset, improper vent sizing, improper gas piping and evidence of water leakage. There are many other potential problems with water heater installations. It is not against code or law for a homeowner to install their own water heater but water heaters as with any venting appliance should be installed correctly utilizing proper code for safety and properly inspected by the governing authority in order to determine if the installation meets all current requirements.

The life expectancy of an atmospheric venting water heater depends a great deal on the volume of water being used by the household. If a household uses larger volumes of water the water heater will have to cycle on more often and work harder thus reducing its overall life expectancy. The more demand cycles are put on a given water heater the shorter life expectancy the water heater will have. In addition, the more cycles a water heater performs the greater corrosive effect the water cycling through will provide on the water heater thus shortening its life expectancy. Water has minerals that will eventually cause damage to and rot out the water heater causing leakage.

As with most household appliances or systems installing a lower-cost water heater is likely to result in a shorter life expectancy of the unit. You get more reliability and longevity typically with a more expensive water heater unit. A good indication of water heaters overall quality is how long its warrantee is for. If a water heater has a longer warrantee, then it is likely to have a more sturdy and durable construction that is made to stand up over years of use. A consumer reporting agency performed a study on many models of water heater units, and they determined that water heater units with longer warrantees were superior in quality. Water heaters that had a 12 year or longer warrantee had larger heating elements and larger burners as well as more sturdy construction and thicker insulation. Electric water heater units that have a larger heating element have a much better resistance to mineral calcification and damage.

Water heaters with a porcelain casing provide an additional measure of protection and inhibit rusting and have an improved level of heat insulation. Some of these models are equipped with a self-cleaning feature that flushes the types of mineral deposits which is an important consideration when choosing a water heater. Water heaters such as this will have a longer overall life expectancy then units without this feature.

The amount of minerals or hardness of domestic water is another consideration when trying to estimate how long a water heater will last. in municipalities where there is high mineral content or hard water, water heaters have a shorter life expectancy than in other areas where the water is soft and does not contain significant amounts of minerals. Mineral buildup reduces water heaters overall life expectancy and efficiency. A way to counteract this hard water buildup is to annually flush the water heater which removes some of this buildup in the water heater. Some homeowners are not going to be able to do this annual flushing, so it is preferable to have a professional plumbing contractor to do this annual maintenance. The issue with flushing the water heater is that water heater manufacturers tend to save costs by installing a plastic water valve to empty the water heater. When flushing is important not to damage the water heater valve which is vulnerable to being damaged. If the water heater valve fails, it is likely that the water heater will have to be replaced. So one must weigh the positives and negatives of performing this flushing.

In some water heater units, the sacrificial anode inside the unit can be replaced. The anode is a metal rod that deteriorates. The sacrificial anode is an essential part of the water heater. It is a long metal rod composed of aluminum or magnesium which extends from the top to the bottom of the water heater unit. Its purpose is to attract minerals in the water through an electrochemical process. It is a sacrificial component that is replaceable. Rather than the minerals attacking the water heater unit itself they are attracted to and deteriorate this sacrificial anode which helps extend the life of the water heater unit.

There is some debate about whether the sacrificial anode should be replaced. Often replacement of the anode will void the warranty of the water heater. Also removing and replacing the sacrificial anode is a procedure that some homeowners may not be able to accomplish themselves. It is debatable whether it is cost-effective to hire a plumbing contractor to replace the anode. It may be more cost-effective to just replace the water heater if it is nearing its statistical life expectancy of 10 years.

There are a variety of factors that influence the life expectancy of a natural draft water heater. New Jersey home inspectors should properly educate their clients as to the typical life expectancy of a natural draft water heater and perform a proper inspection in order to determine if there are any installation deficiencies as well as inspect for evidence of leakage both at the top at the bottom of the water heater unit. A homebuyer should weigh the cost and potential benefits of trying to maintain an older water heater unit versus purchasing a newer unit for their home. Purchasing a newer unit for the home will provide greater peace of mind and will be more efficient than operating an older unit that has heavy scaling and mineral deposits.

Comments (5)

Bill Salvatore - East Valley
Arizona Elite Properties - Chandler, AZ
Realtor - 602-999-0952 / em: golfArizona@cox.net

Great information.  Thanks for sharing and enjoy your week! 

Jan 30, 2023 05:53 AM
Michael J. Perry
KW Elite - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster, PA Relo Specialist

In South Central Pennsylvania we have very hard water which usually shortens the elements in the Water Heater ( and your DW also)

Jan 30, 2023 06:50 AM
Richard Weeks
Dallas, TX
REALTOR®, Broker

Great information, thanks for sharing.  I hope you have a great day.

Jan 31, 2023 02:56 AM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Hi John- We once lived in a community that was just approaching 10 years old. One day, after our water heater went, I noticed as I walked in the neighborhood quite a few old water heaters sitting at the curb waiting for pick up. 

Jan 31, 2023 10:23 AM
Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®
RE/MAX Platinum - Waukesha, WI
Giving Back With Each Home Sold!

Great post!  Thanks for sharing and enjoy your day!

May 01, 2023 06:33 AM