Q&A: Should we fix or replace our old water heater?

Consumer Reports News: June 04, 2008 12:09 AM

Our storage-tank water heater is on the fritz. Should we get it fixed or buy a new one?

It depends on the nature of the problem and whether your water heater is still under warranty.

Storage-tank water heaters are fairly long-lived, and most are backed by a 10-year or longer warranty. But when one does give out, it usually happens suddenly; you’ll probably notice water leaking out through a corroded spot in the tank. (Note to self: The typical storage-tank water heater holds 40 gallons of water, and a hole in the tank is really the same as an open spigot—the water will keep flowing until you shut off the supply So consider buying a wet/dry vacuum to deal with this type of mess.)

While you can’t salvage a corroded, leaking tank, a leaky drain valve or temperature/pressure-relief valve or a worn-out electric heating element can be repaired. But replacing the heater might make more sense.

First, get a repair estimate. Then weigh that amount against the $500 to $600 you’ll pay for a new heater and its installation. The $100 per hour you’ll pay a plumber for a repair will quickly add up to the cost of a new water heater. So put your money toward installing a new unit, especially if the warranty on your current model has expired.

Essential information: Learn more water heaters, including details on buying a new model. Read about actor/activist Ed Begley Jr.'s energy-efficiency efforts, and look for our report on tankless water heaters in the October 2008 issue of Consumer Reports.

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