Author Topic: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?  (Read 21937 times)

fallstoclimb

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We bought a house last year and are slowly educating ourselves on homeowner maintenance.  From what I've read, a 24 year old water heater is pretty ancient.  I suspect the previous homeowners, who bought the house around 2006, performed little to no maintenance on the heater.  The owners prior to them had maintenance done regularly.

I hate to replace something that is working perfectly fine, but I'm concerned about a dramatic basement flood when it finally goes.  It is located in the unfinished section of our basement, which is prone to water intake during rains so we keep the floors clear, but I am not necessarily confident a water heater leak wouldn't spill into the finished part of the basement, which has an area rug. 

Would you preemptively replace the water heater to prevent possible water damage? 

If we do preemptively replace it, I would prefer to wait until the fall when we are finally clear of student loans, rather than push our loan payoff back a month.  Is it a bad idea to wait until then?

GuitarStv

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2014, 07:31:21 AM »
Can you move the area rug, or find some way to control where run-off from a heater leak would go?

Our water heater is turning 25 this year.  It's next to a drain in the floor.  My plan is to wait until it dies before replacing.  I set money aside for it when we bought the house.  Four and a half years ago.

fallstoclimb

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2014, 07:36:16 AM »
Unfortunately we don't have a drain in the floor (or a sump pump).

I'll try to explain the layout of the basement.  The downstairs area is a rectangle.  A (little less than) a third of the rectangle is the unfinished section of the basement.  It IS separated from the finished section by a wall, with an open doorway.  At the doorway/wall the area carpet starts.  It's probably a good seven feet from the water heater to the wall and maybe a 12 foot diagonal line from the water heater to the doorway. 

Is it likely the water would floor that far?  How dramatic is it when water heaters go? 

Our dryer is sitting on the floor reasonably close to the water heater, also.  I don't know if that would be affected or not. 

nereo

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2014, 08:24:50 AM »
I am assuming this is your typical water-tank style water heater - the kind they sell at any big-box store.
If that's true, then they are very simple devices.  Basically it consists of the tank, one or two heating elements (immersion-style heaters) and a thermostat. IMO a bad/rusted tank is the only reason you'd want to replace it (other than getting a higher efficiency model) - It is easy and cheap (~$30) to replace a heating element or thermostat if it fails. 

First, check the tank, especially around the base and where the pipes go in and out.  Is there rust?  If so, is that rust just some surface splotches or is it pervasive (you can use steel wool or a pick to check).

Then, look at the pipes going into your tank.  If they aren't leaking or damaged you are probably ok.

Finally, there's the sediment that naturally accumulates *inside* the tank.  I drain mine every ~2 years.  Make sure to turn the power and water OFF, and then attach a garden hose to the valve at the bottom, run it to a drain and then open it up.  You'll need a faucet somewhere open to prevent a vacuum from forming.  Once the tank is drained you can remove one of the heating elements (held in simply by screws) nad get a sense of whether those should be replaced and what the inside of the tank looks like. 
In my experiences, unless the water tank has been sitting in a damp environment (e.g. standing water around its base or on top of a wet carpet) the tanks will last for a lot longer than 24 years.  We recently replaced the heating elements in a satellite lab purchased in 1986.  The tank works fine - only the elements failed.

jpo

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2014, 08:26:22 AM »
You can always try flushing and/or replacing the anode rod if needed.

plantingourpennies

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2014, 10:45:51 AM »
Our water heater was 24 when we bought the place... it lasted 4.5 more years before kicking the bucket.  When it did go, it was a really gradual thing - small amounts dripping from the pipe that extends down from the top.  Even with the dripping, we took a couple of months to figure out what kind we wanted to replace it with since we planned on renovating our garage at the same time. 

Misstachian

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2014, 11:06:45 AM »
Ours (in our rented apartment) split down the seam while I was in the shower, so it was gushing water and we had quite a bit sloshing in our basement until we figured out that it was happening (hey, do you still hear water?) and quickly googled how to shut off the water. I didn't measure, but we probably had an inch or two of water in the room, very fast.

If our unfinished section wasn't set off from the finished section by a step, we would have had a very wet carpet and couch. FWIW, our dryer was fine. If as GuitarStv noted you can somehow control the runoff or put a lip in the doorway that would hold back some of the water if you did flood, that might help your peace of mind. It sounds like most water heater stories thus far are not as dramatic as mine was so I'm not sure if it makes sense to replace preemptively; since we are renters our landlords dealt with it and I don't know the details of how old the unit was. (It happened on Thanksgiving Day as is so often the case with minor catastrophes...so we were leaving town.)

BlueMR2

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2014, 11:13:31 AM »
Our water heater was 24 when we bought the place... it lasted 4.5 more years before kicking the bucket.  When it did go, it was a really gradual thing - small amounts dripping from the pipe that extends down from the top.  Even with the dripping, we took a couple of months to figure out what kind we wanted to replace it with since we planned on renovating our garage at the same time.

From querying my family members on their experiences, I've come to the conclusion that water heaters are one of those things that either fail 10 years in or last forever.  When they did fail, all the experiences were of a small leak to start, however, some people didn't catch it until it was running down the hallways since they had the water heaters in enclosed (non-visible) spaces.  Mine is in the garage and is ancient, so I'm going to let mine keep on keepin' on...  I could be persuaded to replace it with a on demand unit if the ROI on them ever makes it worthwhile.

Nords

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2014, 12:11:46 PM »
We bought a house last year and are slowly educating ourselves on homeowner maintenance.  From what I've read, a 24 year old water heater is pretty ancient.  I suspect the previous homeowners, who bought the house around 2006, performed little to no maintenance on the heater.  The owners prior to them had maintenance done regularly.

I hate to replace something that is working perfectly fine, but I'm concerned about a dramatic basement flood when it finally goes.  It is located in the unfinished section of our basement, which is prone to water intake during rains so we keep the floors clear, but I am not necessarily confident a water heater leak wouldn't spill into the finished part of the basement, which has an area rug. 

Would you preemptively replace the water heater to prevent possible water damage? 

If we do preemptively replace it, I would prefer to wait until the fall when we are finally clear of student loans, rather than push our loan payoff back a month.  Is it a bad idea to wait until then?
Does it get cold in your area of the country during the fall?  Or do you plan to have any houseguests during the next six months?  How many days do you want to be without hot water?

Would you like to replace this water heater at your convenience, or would you like to let it decide when it needs replacing?  I've never had a water heater fail at a "good" time, and they seem to have Murphy's Law detectors that help them pick the absolutely worst possible times to fail.  In cold climates, plumbers get busy when the weather gets colder and things start freezing.  Maybe spring & summer are good slack times for plumbers, or you could decide whether to tackle the job yourself.  There might even be an Easter or Memorial Day sale on water heaters.

24 years, in water heater years, is about 115 human years.  I wouldn't even want to touch any of the valves or the anode rod for fear that they'd break off in my hands... or not shut tightly after use and force a replacement.

lackofstache

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2014, 12:24:54 PM »
I'm with Nords on this one. I'd do it preemptively so that I dictate when it happens. Buy one that'll last another 20 years now rather than dealing w/ the possible flood and increased costs of HAVING to have it fixed. This one isn't an IF it will fail, but WHEN...

Spork

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #10 on: March 25, 2014, 01:19:51 PM »
Unfortunately we don't have a drain in the floor (or a sump pump).

I'll try to explain the layout of the basement.  The downstairs area is a rectangle.  A (little less than) a third of the rectangle is the unfinished section of the basement.  It IS separated from the finished section by a wall, with an open doorway.  At the doorway/wall the area carpet starts.  It's probably a good seven feet from the water heater to the wall and maybe a 12 foot diagonal line from the water heater to the doorway. 

Is it likely the water would floor that far?  How dramatic is it when water heaters go

Our dryer is sitting on the floor reasonably close to the water heater, also.  I don't know if that would be affected or not.

I am sure it's going to vary, but in my sister's house it damaged about (ballparking guess) 1200-1500 sqft.  And in her case, she heard it go, so she got to it as fast as possible.  (She didn't know how to turn off the water, so it took a while to talk her through that.)

The water supply is infinite, so to speak.  It's not just the tank but the city water supply behind it.  If you were to not notice it for several hours, it could be a lot of water.

The big difference is likely to be in the code changes that have happened in the last 24 years.  New code requires catch pans underneath that either route the water outside or have a sensor in them to turn off the water supply.  This is actually a pretty useful code addition (IMO)... so you'll want to make those changes if/when you replace the unit.  You might could (bare minimum) put in the sensor/cut-off if you wanted to stretch out the life.  But, as Nords mentions, your cut-off valve is likely to have turned to snot since it was last turned.

szmaine

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2014, 02:32:55 PM »
Check for rebates in your state...Maine currently has some so maybe yours does.  If you are going to get a high efficiency replacement anyway and there are rebates I'd take advantage of them. Unfortunately federal tax credits expired in December of this year.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2014, 03:21:04 PM »
Without a floor drain (weird) and thus no way to control a leak, I would preemptively replace it.

My water heater is about 20 years old, but there is nothing between it and the floor drain except awful carpet that will go anyways. It is on the schedule of things to be done, but I know even a catastrophic failure will result in close to zero damage.

It does remind me I should probably shut off the water to it when we go on vacations, though.

EricL

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2014, 03:48:51 PM »
I just had a friend complain to me that he spent $107 fixing his water heater.  $80 for a repairman to say he couldn't do anything; $27 for a kit from Lowes that he used to clean out the calcium himself. 

fallstoclimb

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Re: Would you preemptively replace a 24-year-old water heater?
« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2014, 07:16:35 AM »
Thanks for the input, everyone.  No rebates in my state unfortunately but I think you've encouraged me to go ahead and replace it now for the peace of mind.  With no drain and a wall to wall carpet nearby I'd rather avoid the risk of expensive damage.