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Question DetailsAsked on 1/12/2014

How often should a hot water heater be replaced? Is it possible the bottom would fall out all of a sudden?

I ask because it is installed in attic and would create terrible mess. It puts out hot water OK but I have heard of instances where the bottom of these fell out suddenly. There is a drip pan underneath to collect any drips form bottom leaks, and it is checked once a month or so. Would bottom leaks start first or could bottom fall out suddenly? Would slow leaks from bottom give a warning?

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2 Answers

Voted Best Answer

Bottom can fall out if very badly corroded, but I would say about 90% of the ones I have seen or heard of (including pipe failures at or near the top of the tank due to corrosion) have started with a drip, then a slow leak, then gradually progressing to a larger leak, giving fair warning. A key thing is to periodically inspect the firebox for very heavy rust accumulation or drips, and all the pipe penetrations and fittings (hot, cold, relief valve, thermostat, electric hesting elements) for leakage before it gets out of hand.

My personal rule - I buy 8-10 year warranty heaters, if annual bottom drained water is clean I count on 20 years max, if getting rusty then replace at 15 years. Exception - commercial stainless tanks I would not replace until rust or chloride corrosion products shows up in drained water - commonly 30+ years life.

At a minimum - buy a couple (so if one fails hopefully other works) of LOUD battery-operated (or plug in with battery backup if outlet close by) water alarms with long sensor leads - from about $5-10 battery, $15-20 plug-in. You should be able to rig it so the detector is in the drip pan, but the alarm unit is where you could hear it fairly well - may mean a small hole in ceiling somewhere so the alarm can be mounted on a wall inside the house itself so it can be heard easily.

If you don't like that idea, there are wireless ones that alert a remote alarm unit, or ones that connect to your burglar/fire alarm system if you have one.

At least with a water alarm you would know immediately if you have a leak making it to the pan - a month or so between inspections is a LONG time to expect a leak to stay small.

There are also special flow restricters that measure the pressure difference between incoming and outgoing pipes and sound an alarm if the pressure drops more than a certain amount, but the water alarms are simpler and cheaper.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD


If a water heater starts to leak it needs to be replaced immediately. The average life of a water heater is 10 to 12 years. There are conditions that can shorten the life or extend its life of which I will not go into at this time. I have seen water heaters fail in 6 months and seen them last for 30 year before needing replacing.

You stated that there is a drip pan under the water heater but does the drip pan have a drain pipe connected to drain the water out of the pan? If it does make sure there isn't any debris in the pan, like insulation, that could plug the drain.

Most water heaters I have inspected leak at the top first, but appear to be leaking at the bottom because the water runs down the side of the tank. There is usually little or no early warning that a water heater is going to leak. Some will start with small leaks while others may burst.

You are correct the damage of a leaking water heater can be devastating. Therefore, my advice to you is; if your water heater is approaching 10 years old you may want to be proactive and replace it.


Answered 6 years ago by Homefront Inspection


I spaced - one solution I totally forgot to tell you about, and I installed it myself in my house to go to a floor drain ! You can, instead of running the small diameter drain pipe the drip pans are designed for, install an ABS or CPVC sewer pipe from the pan (using a shower drain for the outlet), running the pipe to either a sewer pipe, or because it is clean water and just an emergency release, in most codes can just discharge straight outside the house, though for hot water has to exit no more than 3 feet off the ground so people do not get scalded if near it when it drains. I had a very short largely horizontal run so I used 3 inch - 1-1/2 or 2 inch might suffice if all vertical down with few bends (use 45's if possible), but obviously if protecting against a catastrophic flooding, the larger you can fit the better - also the further down you can go before going horizontal the better. Be sure to have a bug screen on the outlet if you are going outside with it.
Obviously, the deeper the pan the more drainage capacity it has too, thoguh it cannot exceed the elevation of the floor of the firebox, by code, so that limits you to 3-5 inches or so.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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