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Hot tips for electric water heaters

Are there ways to maintain an electric water heater to make it more efficient and last longer?—Max 

Certified home inspectors estimate a water heater’s life span is about 10 years, while some manufacturers suggest 12 to 13 years. It’s wise to replace a water heater before it fails because sometimes failure includes a ruptured tank or a massive leak that can do a lot of damage.

The life span of a conventional electric water heater with a tank depends on factors such as the volume of water cycled through it, the hardness (mineral content) of the water and the tank’s interior coating.

There are a few ways to increase the efficiency of your electric water heater, starting with insulation. You can insulate the first 6 to 10 feet of easily accessed hot water line where it exits the tank. If the tank is warm to the touch or is in a cold location like the garage, consider insulating it with a heater blanket; check the owner’s manual first to make sure doing so won’t void the warranty. (If you have a gas or propane water heater, many manufacturers do not recommend that you insulate them, as it could block the unit’s air supply.)

Keep the water temperature to 120 degrees or less. This will help save money on your heating bill and ensure longer life for pipes and gaskets.

Most experts also believe that draining the tank every year or two is an important water heater maintenance practice. provides an excellent step-by-step guide. There is a caveat to that advice, however: If the tank has not been drained in six to seven years, you should avoid doing so because draining could remove sediment in a way that can create a leak.

Watch the warranty

Many water heaters come with a warranty as long as 12 years. Presumably, a longer warranty indicates higher quality and the chances of longer life. These warranties usually cover only the cost of a replacement tank; they typically do not include the cost of labor to install it or the costs from flood damage if the tank fails.

PAT KEEGAN and BRAD THIESSEN write on energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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