Replacing Your Gas-Fired Water Heater – Before and After

In my last post, I discussed some new water heater efficiency regulations that will take effect in April 2015. After the new regulations take effect, you can expect to pay more for a replacement tank, and you’ll incur some new installation costs. If you want to replace your existing gas-fired water heater with a new water heater of the same kind, here’s what you should expect.

Before the new regulations take effect, you can replace an aging water heater with another tank that uses the current design. Water heaters typically have a 6 to 10 year guarantee, and in the absence of regular maintenance, these guarantees give a good guideline for how quickly the tank will age. If your water heater already exceeds its guaranteed life, replacing the tank right now – or at least before April 16, 2015 – will enable you to avoid extra costs associated with the purchase and installation of new, higher efficiency tanks.

You may also stock up on old-design water heaters – an odd idea no doubt – but if your home falls into that severe category where modernizing to a new model would be cost-prohibitive, this may be a good option. Keep in mind that the warranties will not be valid in years to come if you’ve had a tank on the shelf for 15 years!

The downside of sticking with old technology is that you won’t be able to take advantage of higher operating efficiencies. The reduced operating costs of a new tank may help you recover some of the increased expense of purchasing and installing a new tank, but the return-on-investment period for a new tank remains to be seen. Because of the required installation modifications, you may not actually see any savings until you replace your first “new” tank ten or twelve years from now. Gas Networks customers can claim a $100 rebate on a new water heater (new design) with an efficiency factor of .67 or greater. The rebate won’t cover all of your installation expenses, but it will definitely soften the blow.

If you decide to replace your current water heater immediately, your best, most economical approach is to begin performing regular maintenance on your new water heater. With regular maintenance, a standard water heater can last 25 years or more.

Regular maintenance includes removal of sediment build-up in the tank through an existing drain at the base of the tank, and regular evaluation and replacement of the sacrificial anode(s) that help prevent corrosive natural reactions from damaging the inside of the tank. The longer your tank’s guarantee is, the less frequently you’ll need to replace the anode(s). With periodic anode replacement, a water tank can have an indefinite lifespan.

Unfortunately, you can’t start loving an old tank. If your existing tank has been neglected over the years – performing maintenance now is too little, too late. If the anode on your water tank has already been exhausted, the tank itself has begun to corrode. Nothing can stop, slow or reverse this process. Your best bet is to replace your old tank, even if it hasn’t failed yet, and commit to a regular maintenance program with your new tank.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on the availability of replacement anodes for your tank. If the manufacturer stops making the anode(s) for your tank, you may need to bite the bullet and install a new system when your existing tank fails.

Finally, manufacturing might be an important consideration for you. Currently, all tank-based water heater brands sold in the US are made by just three manufacturers: A. O. Smith, Bradford White and Rheem/Ruud. These companies also manufacture their tanks in the US. (While Rheem/Ruud is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Japanese company, its manufacturing facilities are located in the US.) If purchasing US-made goods is important to you, choosing a tank water heater will help you achieve this objective.

In the next post, we’ll examine electric water heaters, and the pros and cons of going the electric route. In the mean time, if you need assistance with an aging water heater, please call us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We can provide a wide range of options for all of your domestic hot water needs.