Replace or Repair Tank Water Heater

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by odyinpdx, Sep 26, 2009.

  1. odyinpdx

    odyinpdx New Member

    Messages:
    1
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    Hi,

    Thanks to all for the great information.

    I was looking for some advice on whether to repair or replace our water heater. Let me preface by saying any repairs will be "outsourced" to a plumber. I can probably drain the tank and change the temperature. That's about it.

    Our current water heater is a Bradford-White 50 gal natural gas (M150L6N10). It was installed about 12 years ago (It is in the garage). During the summer (Portland, OR) it works well. There is plenty of hot water. However, the past couple of winters it has been very tempermental. On some mornings there is enough hot water (two showers), but on others we are racing to finish our showers before the water turns cold. I am not sure if there is any correlation to the outside temperature.

    Any thoughts on whether it is worth fixing a 12 year old heater or might be wrong with it (we haven't done any maintenance on it over the years). I received one estimate of $860 to replace with another BW, but haven't had anyone come look at the old one.

    Thanks,
    Brian
  2. Runs with bison

    Runs with bison Member

    Messages:
    892
    Location:
    Midwest
    I can't speak to the maintenance of your specific unit, I'll bet others here can. If it hasn't been blown down any, anode has not been checked, and no cleaning has been done of the central chimney then it could be losing a lot of capacity and have a lot of sediment/corrosion products inside. There might be a pile of scale fallen on top of the burner too. Seems worthwhile to have someone do maintenance on it with a back up plan of replacing if it isn't repairable.

    There are several workarounds you can try that will make it behave as if it had some additional capacity:
    1. Increase the water temperature a few degrees. What are you running at presently? Don't go to excessively high temps especially if there are small children and no tempering system, but you probably have some room on this.
    2. Try some of the newer low flow showerheads. You will probably have to order them online as the big box stores never seem to have anything worthwhile of that nature. I'm using a Roadrunner and two HighSierra's for my showers. At 1.5-1.6 gpm compared to 2.5 gpm for the standard "low flow" showerhead (not really low flow since they have been the standard for a long time), it is like having another 60% capacity or so. Plus, it will save you money on water, sewer, and gas and pay for itself in less than a year typically.
    3. Insulate any hot water lines you can reach. This will reduce ambient losses and give you an extra degree or two at the tap. The pipe insulation is cheap and easy DIY...IF the piping is exposed or you can find access in a fashion to slide the insulation down the line between rafters, etc.
    4. Consider insulating the tank itself with a wrap around jacket (these are available in the big box stores.) This might not give you any noticeable effective capacity increase, but it will reduce your storage heat losses, meaning the burner fires less frequently just to keep the tank hot. And realistically, if the temp is falling close to the burner firing temp now, if you cut the losses by 1/2 or 1/3 then the starting temp of the water will be higher for you.

    In the past year I've done all of the above (except for increasing water temp.), and replaced the old top loading washer with a front loader. My water heating gas use is half of what it was this time last year...and ~30% of that remainder is storage losses.
  3. jdgoodman

    jdgoodman Journeyman Plumber

    Messages:
    32
    Location:
    Seattle
    If its 12 years old i would replace it.
  4. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,459
    Location:
    MD
    I get a 15 yr avg. replacement time for gas WHs with only 6 out of 21 being replaced at 12 yrs. But, you have symptoms.
    The water from your pipes in winter is colder than the water from your pipes in summer, which may account for your summer/winter performance difference.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2009
  5. D'Brie

    D'Brie Apprentice Plumber

    Messages:
    44
    Location:
    NW Washington State
    I agree, consider a new B/W tank.
  6. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,358
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Unless the problem with a 12 year old water heater is a very simple and inexpensive repair, it isn't smart to mess with it. Get a new one.
  7. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,459
    Location:
    MD
    Replacement strategies also depend on if they "fail gracefully" with plenty of warning :eek:
    as opposed to exploding in the middle of the night and you all get to be on the morning news. :eek:
  8. Runs with bison

    Runs with bison Member

    Messages:
    892
    Location:
    Midwest
    From a distance you really can't make a call on whether it is time to replace or not. Usage, local water conditions and such vary so much that without knowing the history of tanks in the region this could be a "young" 12 year old tank...or an "old" 12 year old tank.

    It hasn't been maintained at all and is showing some effective capacity problems. If the OP has someone come out to give it a good servicing they should be able to determine if it would be best to just replace it. With something that can run about $800+ installed I wouldn't rush to condemn it without inspecting it.
  9. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,459
    Location:
    MD
    With enough datapoints you can gauge the odds.
    Below is a collection of data on HVAC equip. replacement times.
    E.g., only 3 out of 43 lasted 57 years or longer and only 2 out of 43 fail within 6 years.

    HVAC replacement in years
    how many have reached this age|age reached in years
    1|1
    1|6
    2|7
    3|10
    3|12
    1|13
    3|15
    2|16
    1|17
    3|18
    7|20
    1|22
    1|25
    1|26
    2|30
    2|35
    1|36
    1|40
    1|46
    1|50
    1|56
    1|57
    1|58
    1|80
    n = 43
    sum = 791
    mean = 791/43 = 18
    median = 19

    There are other equip. replacement strategies based on yrly repair/maintenance cost and price when new.
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