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I have a conventional gas-fired 40-gallon hot-water heater in my basement. It currently works fine, and there is no visible rust on it or pipes near it, but it turned 20 years old a few months ago.

I was thinking of having it replaced because I assume it will fail within the next few years given its age. Is this reasonable, or would I be throwing money away to replace something that still works fine?

For context: The water tank sits on top of an old hardwood floor in my unfinished basement (yes, for whatever reason someone installed hardwood flooring directly over the dirt floor in my basement, even though the space is just used for storage), and I'm 75 percent sure I will stay in my house for at least the next 5-10 years.

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The average life of a water heater is about ten years. Newer models are a lot more energy efficient as well. Given the age of your water heater, it has more than done it's duty. You don't have to replace it, but if it's in your budget I would recommend replacing it. You don't want to get in an emergency situation. I would also consider adding a concrete pad or at the very least, a drain pan underneath your new one. That flooring situation is definitely not ideal.

Inspect your water heater:

  • Flush the water to remove any sediment.
  • Have a certified plumber take a look at the igniter and burner to make certain everything is safe.
  • Check for signs of rust around the bottom of the tank and at all of the fittings. If you spot rust around the water inlet or pressure relief valve on the heater, it’s likely that rust is also inside the tank.

You can find out the exact age of your water heater by looking at the serial number on the manufacturers sticker:

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    If you plan to DIY, and have money and are that worried, buy a new one and instal t or store it in case of emergency. My water heater is 20 years old and looks new. It gets cleaned/drained annually. Is it efficient? Probably not anymore, but it works. Mine is in my garage so if it were to leak it would do so onto concrete and flow out a door. But I'm also in my garage daily and would notice a leak. So, its up to you. With regular inspection, draining, and flushing, you can expect a gas water heater to last anywhere from 8-12 years and an electric water heater to last anywhere from 10-15 years.
    – Jeff Cates
    Feb 24, 2019 at 20:39
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    You do realize that the anode (the consumable part that governs the life of the tank) can be replaced in most water heaters, right? Feb 25, 2019 at 3:16
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No you should not replace it until it needs it, if it has been flushed regularly and the anode has been replaced water heaters can last much longer than the 10 year life some expect. With proper maintenance and good water quality I have seen water heaters last even longer so why toss a fully functional water heater that may last another 10 years. Today's appliances are cheaper and in my opinion designed to require more maintenance. You will also probably need a new outlet to power the ignighter, closed fire boxes also require a different type of venting that your current water heater dosenot have. Check into all the cost prior to tossing a functional water heater you may be shocked.

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A pre-emptive gas water heater replacement is NOT a bad idea and here is why:

Water heaters never fail when the time is right, its almost always causes an emergency from a flood to failing while you are away for a trip. A stored extra heater only ties up your money and if you think the warranty will start on a 5 year old water heater when you finally install it, good luck with that.

Lets say your current water heater lasts another 2-3 years. Depending on your circumstances that might be the worst time to have to replace it. Money could be tight - all kinds of things. Put in that water heater you've stored away? Sure, and if it doesn't work out of the box? Good luck returning it.

If you replace it now given its already lasted as long as it has, then you are covered by the new water heater's warranty for 10 years on good brand/models. If you are going to stay in the house for 5-10 years you are covered until that time. If you sell the house before then, that water heater is still covered by warranty and no one expects a brand new water heater when they buy a house, only one that passes inspection. In any case, the difference a buyer will pay for your house if it has a new water heater or one that is 7 years old is zero, its a miniscule percentage of the cost to buy the house. How much more would you add to an offer just because a house has a new water heater? Furthermore, a newly replaced water heater only serves as a flag to inspect deeper because often a failed water heater also causes other damages. That is another thing, waiting for a water heater to fail, even if you have a spare does nothing to spare the costs of the collateral damages of the failed water heater like flooding, maybe even fire and ao on.

Having an extra water heater and waiting until this one fails is penny wise and pound foolish.

When it comes to mechanical things this water heaters, prevention of the failure is always less costly than the recovery. Replacing a past typical use water heater is a preventative measure. Do you wait until your brakes fail on your car before replacing them? A failed water heater can easily be a life safety issue too.

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