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How to Extend the Life of your Hot Water Heater

With our house closing in on five years old, there are some home maintenance issues that are starting to crop up. Things like the HRV (air exchanger) motor giving out, window seals breaking, and a few more weeds in the grass.  The most recent problem was a leaking hot water heater, so I called a popular boiler service company to come in and replace it.   In my mind, it’s pretty ridiculous that a hot water tank can wear out after only 5 years of usage.  According to the plumber, it’s pretty common for hot water tanks in NL to give out after 5 to 6 years.  The plumber also added that he replaces six to seven tanks a day – business must be good!

The Solution

While the plumber was replacing the tank, I asked him if there are any possible ways to extend the life of the hot water heater and I was surprised by his response.  He recommended to replace the anode approximately every two years and it will help double the life of the water tank.  Even better news is that the anode is not that difficult to replace even for a beginner like me.

An anode is a long metal rod that starts from the top of the hot water heater and almost runs the length of the tank.  The science behind it is the anode is sacrificial metal that attracts contaminants in the water.  Hot water heaters start to leak when the glass that lines the inside of the tank eventually cracks exposing the metal casing which eventually rusts through.  The problem is that when the anode wears down after a couple of years, the contaminants are free to attack the metal tank.

The Savings

Financially speaking, it can certainly make sense to replace the anode every couple of years.  Lets assume that a typical water heater tank wears out after 5 years, and by replacing the anode every two years will double the life of the tank (ie. 10 years).

  • Price of anodes: $60 each (plus tax) * 4 replacements = $240 (plus tax)
  • Cost of hot water heater installed: $540 (plus tax)
  • Savings: $300

How to Replace an Anode

Based on the description from the plumber, the process is pretty straight forward and anodes can be purchased from any hardware store.

  1. Turn off water supply to the tank (most have a valve at the top of the tank), and turn off the power supply by flipping the breaker;
  2. Drain about 12L-16L (or 3-4 gallons) of water out of the tank;
  3. Find and remove the anode at the top of the tank with a socket wrench; and,
  4. Replace the old anode with the new anode but make sure to use teflon tape around the threads of the new anode.  Tighten with a socket wrench.

There you have it, four easy steps that can save you a few hundred dollars by extending the life of your hot water tank.  This is something that I plan to add to the home maintenance schedule.  Do you have any tips on extending the life of a hot water heater?

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FrugalTrader About the author: FrugalTrader is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies June 24, 2013, 9:51 am

    Our water heater is finally starting to die, but it’s 29 years old. I think we’re safe just to call it dead and replace it. =)

  • Susan June 24, 2013, 11:06 am

    I was surprised to see that a tank has a 5 year life. That seems way too short. I would think 15 would be more realistic. Either way its a non issue for us since we went tankless a few years back.

  • Money Beagle June 24, 2013, 12:46 pm

    Our tank is the original with the house, so it’s about 15 years old. So far it’s holding up well. We have city water which is largely free of contaiminents and I think that often leads to issues, or if you have high iron content that doesn’t help. I’ve heard that you can drain it, but that you should do that from the beginning. Since we never did and I never saw anything about the previous owners having done it, we haven’t done this, as it can actually lead to problems if you start doing it after it not being done regularly. I’m hoping for another 15 years!

  • Jamie June 24, 2013, 1:52 pm

    FT, Why didn’t you go tankless?

  • FT June 24, 2013, 2:01 pm

    @Jamie, I considered it, especially after this post:
    http://www.milliondollarjourney.com/the-hot-water-tank-dilemma-shrink-your-energy-bills.htm

    However, after asking a few people around here who had them, they didn’t seem to get a big net benefit, so I stuck with the traditional tank system. Do you have a tankless system?

  • sdm June 24, 2013, 2:13 pm

    Thanks for the tip. Just replaced my hot water tank and will definitely put this on the to-do list for 2015.

    Tankless seems like the way to go , although it only seems practical in places with access to natural gas.

    Also, while looking at my bill post installation I noticed a $90 tank removal charge. Since the fellow hadn’t removed it yet, I asked him to leave it behind to spare me the additional expense.

    The tank may have spent a few weeks in the front yard, but it didn’t cost me a thing when I eventually took it to the local metal recycling facility. (prob. a 20 minute chore).

  • A water tank should last much longer than five years.

    Our water heater lasted 14 years and never leaked. Since we rent, we got a “free” replacement. We also reduced the size from 50 gallons to 40 gallons.

    Tankless was not an option because we couldn’t get the proper venting from our basement.

  • Jamie June 24, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Interesting. I don’t have tankless but I know a few people that do. They like it but I don’t know if the benefit is that much greater. I’ve heard from people selling them that the technology is still a couple years out from being better than tank heater.

    • FrugalTrader FrugalTrader June 24, 2013, 3:17 pm

      @Promod, I’ve been told it has to do with the NL water.

      @Sdm, what was the total charge of the replacement?

  • Rena June 24, 2013, 5:08 pm

    My insurance company has upped our insurance rate since we haven’t changed our tank and it is now more than 10 ys old. I was told that it should last 10 yrs

  • Jon June 24, 2013, 7:11 pm

    For a 5 year replacement you must have some pretty agressive corrosion on the tank. But if thats what the company has experienced then doing some preventative maintenance is a great idea.
    The problem I have had with similar easy/cheap activities that ultimately save money is remembering to do them…I have started entering yearly or seasonally tasks into my Google calendar to remind myself.

  • Al June 24, 2013, 7:51 pm

    Replace with a Geospring heat pump hot water tank. They cut your hot water costs dramatically! You’d pay off the difference in like 1-2 years.

  • Greg June 24, 2013, 10:30 pm

    You should also empty about 4 – 8 litres from the tap at the bottom of the tank every month. This helps to clean out the sludge that forms in the bottom of the tank which causes the tank to corrode. I read the instruction manual with my old tank and that is what is said to do.

    We renovated our house a couple of years ago and wanted to use the space where the tank was, so we installed a Navien NR240. It cost about $4000 including taxes. I don’t think it will ever pay for itself, but we really like it (never run out of hot water) and we were able to use the space where the tank used to be.

  • wendi1 June 25, 2013, 1:18 pm

    We replaced our tank with another tank recently. Tankless was not recommended because of the very, very cold winters we get here – the city water starts off at 4 degrees C for 4 or 5 months of the year, which makes for some odd effects – “sandwiching”, and not being able to get hot water to trickle, for shaving, for instance.

    There is a hybrid water heater, though – it has a small tank (a couple of litres, or so), and a high efficiency on-demand section. I would have installed it if were available in my area.

  • Sarlock June 25, 2013, 2:06 pm

    You must have high mineral water where you are to cause that amount of corrosion in that short of a time. Changing out the anode certainly seems like a good move with water like that.
    All of the hot water tanks that I’ve had failed in the 10-20 year range.

  • Scott June 25, 2013, 9:47 pm

    I’m on a private well and our water quality is horrible. If there is a water quality issue we have it. High iron, sulfur, minerals, hardness 100+ gpg and on and on. The only issues we don’t have to deal with thankfully is bacteria or quantity! It is so bad that Culligan, Boehmers, Reliance, etc will not rent water equipment for the handful of homes in the area. It is a constant battle keeping iron filters and softners running. I change the anode rod every 1-2 years. It is completely gone when I replace it! The tank is about 10 years old, absolutely zero issues *yet* and I attribute that to replacing the anode rod and draining a bucket of water from the bottom of the tank every month or so.

    Phew! It feels good to get that off my chest, sorry for the rant folks :P

    Note to anyone looking to replace the anode rod, it will be a bugger to turn so you’ll need the biggest wrench you can find and only let the pressure out of the tank, don’t drain it so there is still a good amount of weight to hold the tank in place while you free the rod.

  • Tim June 26, 2013, 2:56 pm

    I have a similar problem where I live (Regina)…the water is really hard on water heaters here as well. Changing your anode is fairly common here. Thanks for the reminder…I need to look at mine.

  • L Banks June 28, 2013, 11:13 am

    Where can you buy annodes from?

  • Scott June 28, 2013, 9:07 pm

    Any hardware store should carry them.

  • Dan Malone July 4, 2013, 6:29 pm

    You can also buy the annode in its own independent tube and install it in the supply line to the tank. If you use this method, you simply replace the tube at whatever interval is appropriate, without the extra trouble of having to enter the tank, drain slightly, replace in tight quarters , etc.

    • FrugalTrader FrugalTrader July 4, 2013, 9:52 pm

      @Dan, does that mean that when the anode that’s in the tank does gets replaced by the anode in the supply line? Is that method as effective? The reason I ask is because water does not “sit” in the supply line.

  • The Passive Income Earner July 5, 2013, 12:23 pm

    Our tank failed after 6 years and was still under warranty. Got a new one free but still had to pay for labor. Our problem was that that pressure release valve at the house had failed and too much pressure was making it in the tank.

    I was also told that 10 years is really the safe zone. Insurance companies will start increasing your rate after that because of the risk.

  • Canuck August 5, 2013, 12:53 pm

    Mine is 30 years and still working great—-reason is the elements are on the OUTSIDE of the tank. The one in the discussion is an immersed or a Sacrificial Anode type. It is similar to certain types in RV’s.
    Also no worry in ours as we rent from the Power Company at $6.02/Month and they look after the Maintenance of it, is that a good deal? Most in our area (NBPower) think so.

  • Al August 5, 2013, 8:58 pm

    I’m in a 8 unit condo (4 floors) and the insurance company doesn’t want us going past 10 years. The water is fine though, no softeners required here, so it sounds like the mineral-induced corrosion is the problem on “the Rock”…

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