Updated: May 23
By Jason Allred CPI® January 2021
What if your inspector tells you the water heater is over 10 Years old, it needs a plumber to look at it, and it may need replaced? There may be underlaying issues with the unit your inspector may expect to find.
You did it!! You got through the home inspection process, as you open the report, you browse through each section. Some things you were expecting, and some things you were surprised by. As you scan the plumbing section, you are praying there is nothing big. Then all of the sudden you see it, right under the section heading entitled "water heater," your inspector informs you that the water heater is older than 10 years old. You probably sort of read the reappearing phrase, "recommend further evaluation from a qualified plumber."
Like some perspective buyers, you may just add it to the list. Or like other's you may have a knot in your stomach,, you may be worried that asking for a new water heater may be a deal breaker. Just know there are some underlaying issues we as home inspectors are concerned about when we see an older unit.
When I inspect a water heater I am looking at more than just the age. Is there corrosion on each supply line? Are all the components installed correctly? Where is the water heater located? There are so many factors that determine the lifespan of the water heater.
"Inspect the Expected"
Here are some factors that may extend or shorten the lifespan of your water heater.
According to the EPA each American uses 82 gallons of water per year. (EPA.GOV) Depending on the size of the water heater and the size of the family in the home, will determine how much water is used. A 40 Gallon water heater normally suited for 2-3 people, which services a larger family, may have more mechanical wear and tear.
Anode rods should be replaced on average of about 5 years. From an inspector's point of view I try to determine if there are labels left behind by previous plumbers, and it is rare that I have a seller provide me with documentation. So often times a plumber will be able to determine what condition the anode rods are in. (Jones, 2019)
Nick Gromicko, co-founder of InterNACHI and Certified Master Inspector, also teaches that construction quality is important to the longevity of a water heater. Manufacturers, which produce units with thicker walls and larger heating elements typically will not develop as much mineral build-up or scum.
I always "inspect the expected," using the information I have trained with, and what I continue to study. Like all other inspectors who have your best interest, if we recommend a plumber to evaluate your water heater, there are likely enough issues to raise concerns. According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), 69% of all water heater failures resulted in slow leaks or sudden bursts causing significant water damage to the home. On average water damages are estimated at $20 million nationwide. As I always relate to my clients, a $2500 water heater is better than paying a $2500 deductible and being out of house and home until the repairs are finished.
With that--rest easy, get the qualified tradesmen to give you peace of mind, and enjoy your home buying experience.
Environmental Protection Agency. "Statistics and Facts" https://www.epa.gov/watersense/statistics-and-facts
Gromicko, Nick. "Estimating the Lifespan of a Water Heater." International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. https://www.nachi.org/lifespan-water-heater.htm
Jones, Ronald "What Does An Anode Rod Do?" Empire State Plumbing Water Heater Experts. https://www.empirestateplumbing.com/about-us/news-and-events/34154-what-does-an-anode-rod-do.html