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Like any appliance, your hot water heater will grow old and wear out. But before it reaches a disastrous sudden death, you should learn the warning signs that it’s critically ill.

First, check its age. Today’s models are built to last about eight to twelve years, and their birthdate is often stamped right on the tank label. If it’s not obvious, it’s also usually coded into the first two numerals in the serial number’s sequence of letters and numbers. Example: Serial Number C035898715 was built in 2003. If your tank is over the average age limit, replacing it is appropriate because it’s time.

When a hot water heater stops heating water, it’s a pretty sure sign of trouble. If you’re getting cold or lukewarm water from the hot water spout, first check the thermostat. If it hasn’t been changed from its normal setting, and the heater is old, it’s time.

If you begin to notice that the hot water appears rusty, muddy, or has flakes in it, it’s definitely time.

You may be able to replace parts like thermostats or heating elements if your heater is still young. However, if it’s older this would probably be a wasted expense because when these parts are worn, it’s obviously time.

The water heater is a pretty quiet fixture when it’s operating properly. If you begin hearing more and more frequent repetitious thumps and clangs from it, typically this indicates it’s time.

As sediment builds up on the bottom of the tank, it forces the heating element to work longer and harder. This extra heating time strains the metal again and again until the most blatant sign that your heater’s days are done appears – a leak.

If you’re lucky, the leak may be small and only a trickle of water escapes. However, the corroded hole or crack is often large and the sudden escape of water creates a disaster. If your tank is in a basement and near a drain, damage to anything on the floor might be minimal. Often, however, the tank is in a closet on the ground floor and a sudden flood of water will ruin everything it touches.

Sure our lives are hectic, but keeping an eye out for any of these signs is a wise move. If one shows up, replacing your hot water heater can prevent a disastrous leak. So go. Check the date on your tank right now because, well, it’s time.