Home insurance

Don’t get thwarted by your water heater

Wednesday, August 23, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

plumber-repairing-water-heater.jpgBecause PEMCO sees so many water losses, we want homeowners to keep an eye on vulnerable spots that can fail and cause you grief – like your water heater.

Water heaters are pretty much out of sight, out of mind. You don't give them much thought until you're suddenly doused with an icy stream while taking a shower. Or you hear someone yell, "Hey, there's a huge puddle of water on the garage floor!"

You can do something to lessen the odds of sudden water-heater failure. One, plan on replacing your tank about every 10 years. Most manufacturers say the average lifespan is eight to 12 years. Two, you can schedule periodic maintenance with a plumber who will check for rust and corrosion, check your anodes, and then flush the tank to remove harmful rust sediment.

My friend Nate had that done, and it cost him $90. Now I'm perhaps more frugal than Nate and would be more inclined to take the do-it-yourself route. Growing up at home, we flushed our electric water heater once a year by running a garden house outside into the back yard. That Rheem water heater lasted the entire time my mom lived in that house, 28 years!

water-heater-warning-sticker.JPGBut I'm also leery of flushing my current water heater because it's powered by natural gas. I don't want to risk changing the gas flow, perhaps snuffing the pilot light entirely. Besides, PEMCO recommends that residents consult their water-heater manufacturer's directions for service steps and frequency, and leave it to the pros.

So what I'll probably do is continue to monitor our big white tank, watching for corrosion or leaks. And it's a smart idea to buy a water sensor and place it beneath the tank, especially if it does do more than simply leak someday – they're known to burst, since water tanks are under pressure.

You might get far more than 10 years out of your water heater if it's serviced annually, or if your home receives "soft" water from the municipal supply. Hard water (having high mineral content) can be rough on hot-water tanks.

dirty-tap-water.jpgMy friend Jessica had a gas water heater that lasted 22 years before it failed recently. The telltale sign: tepid water and low pressure. When the plumber arrived, he found tiny plastic chunks coming out of the kitchen tap, likely from within the failing tank. Yuck. The family had been ingesting that for how long?

On the bright side, you can feel good when you replace your tank, because nowadays they're more energy-efficient. And the installer will ensure it's secured to the wall with safety straps, in case there's an earthquake.

You also might consider replacing your old tank with an on-demand tankless water heater. They're not practical, though, if you have hard water, or if you're served by a private well that pumps water laden with minerals and sediment, which harms tankless heaters.

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