Running out of hot water is not fun — and it’s even worse when it floods your home from a broken hot water heater. Fortunately, these heaters rarely die without providing obvious warning signs. According to Lowes, the average lifespan of a hot water heater is 8-12 years. Sometimes elements within the hot water heater can be replaced to extend its life, but if yours keeps breaking down — replace it. Newer units heat water faster with less power required, and local utility companies may offer rebates for installing energy efficient units.

According to homeguide.com, new hot water heaters can cost $600-$4,400, depending on how high-tech you choose. Opting for a tankless, gas, solar, or hybrid hot water heater will put you on the pricier end of the spectrum. On top of this, plumber installation costs can run $200-$1,700. In addition to watching for the warning signs, another wise move is to budget for this costly replacement or purchase a home warranty that also covers this appliance.

If your hot water heater is climbing in age, use these seven “red flags” to alert you to call the plumber and avert a expensive home disaster:

1. Leaking water.

Leaking water is never a good sign around the house. If the hot water heater is failing, water will begin appearing around the pipes, dripping from the tank or pooling under the tank. The cause of these drips can be valves that are not fully closed or loose connections promising an easy fix. But if the leaking continues, call your plumber.

2. Unit age.

If your hot water heater is old, be alert. Many companies place an installation date label on them. If you don’t find this, write down the brand name, serial number and then research to discover when it was made.

3. Quickly running out of water.

If you are getting less hot water than you used to, this indicates that your unit is filling up with sediment. Therefore, a good maintenance practice is to regularly flush your hot water heater to remove built up sediment which reduces the volume of water the unit can hold. If you don’t do this, you may end up with corroded or clogged valves.

4. Fluctuating water temperature.

Another red flag of a failing hot water heater is inconsistent water temperature. The culprit could be a worn-out thermostat, which is a cheap fix. However, if the heating elements are broken, that is a bigger problem.

5. Murky water from faucets.

Murky or rust-colored water flowing from your shower or faucets indicates a problem. Hot water heaters have an anti-rust coating, but this doesn’t last forever. When it wears thin, rust grows quickly. While rusty water will not harm you, it is unpleasant to taste and can discolor and damage appliances. If the problem is mild, flush your hot water heater and replace the internal corrosion reducing anode rods.

6. Weird noises.

Strange noises emanating from your water heater can indicate poor water flow, changing water pressure or sediment and mineral deposits clogging it up. These noises could also indicate loose valves or connections.

7. Reduced water pressure.

Decreased water pressure in your home causes sediment to build up faster. This may also indicate the need to install a water softener, as hard water clogs a system faster than soft water.

We rarely give our hot water heater much attention. But being mindful of these warning signs can help you avoid a costly disaster.

Reen Waterman is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist with his weekly column “About the House.” He writes and co-hosts a daily radio program heard in 91 countries at www.YourRefreshedLife.com. An avid outdoorsman, Waterman is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the American Writers and Artists Institute.

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