5 common water heater questions

Quelqu'un passe sa main sous l'eau du robinet

For the third time this week, you hear someone screeching from your bathroom that there’s no more hot water in the shower. Is your water heater no longer meeting your family’s needs or on its last legs? Will you need to replace it soon?

Without expanding on the broad topic of water heaters – and yes, it’s quite broad – here are 5 common questions on this unit that is so essential to the comfort of your home.

How old do you think it is?

Check your water heater’s manufacturing date on the label or specification sheet which also includes other useful information (more on that later).

1. What are the signs that a water heater needs to be replaced?

It’s showing signs of wear and tear when...

  • The amount of hot running water seems to be decreasing.
  • The temperature seems warm at best.

In both cases, it might be due to a burnt element if it’s an electrical unit.

These are causes for concern:

  • The water isn’t quite as clear and takes on a reddish hue.
  • Rust appears on the bottom of the tank indicating a crack and leak.
  • Droplets form on the unit’s wall.

These signs should be taken seriously, but not because hot water is essential to the comfort of your home. Half of all plumbing-related claims were caused from used hot water tanks according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) (This hyperlink will open in a new tab).. Water damage is expensive. And if your water heater is gas-powered, a potential leak is a definite hazard.

Some insurers refuse to cover risks and damage related to used water heaters. It might be time to check the age of your water heater and replace it if it’s over 10 years old.

2. What’s the lifespan of a water heater?

It depends on all of these factors:

Type of water heater

The most common models are electric or gas-powered, but you may find tank or tankless ones, propane, wood, and solar units...

The lifespan depends on the type of water heater you have. For example, a good quality appliance will work for a minimum of 10 years.

Quality of the appliance

It must meet the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) standards, including the insulation of the tank. Models manufactured in North America are therefore generally tailored better to our needs and realities than those made abroad.

The warranty offered on your unit gives you a good idea of its quality. Low-end products, which are more prone to corrosion, are covered for a shorter period of time(6-year warranty versus a 9-year one).

Quality of the water

Does your water supply come from the city? If so, that’s good for your water heater. Otherwise, if water is from an Artesian well and contains iron, sulphur or limestone, residues can damage your unit and impair efficiency. Proper maintenance would therefore be necessary to get it to run smoothly.


Replacing a water heater isn’t rocket science...It’s less complex, but there are plumbing and electrical standards to respect. Turning to professionals can increase the lifespan of the appliance and reduce the risk of damage or leaks.

Delivery is another thing to watch out for…

To prevent damage, keep the water heater upright when moving it, never tilted over. The manufacturer could void its warranty if the water heater is not transported properly. Ideally, the installers should deliver it.

Maintenance is a must

An electric water heater does not require maintenance if it’s connected to the city’s water supply system. Otherwise, if water supply is from a well, it’s best to have it drained every year depending on the quality of the water.

Gas- or oil-powered combustion units should be drained every year or every 2 years based on the manufacturer’s instructions. This should only be done by professionals due to the risk involved. They’ll check whether the system is still running optimally.

Leasing can be a maintenance-free option to consider

Renting from Beneva’s partner, HydroSolution, for example, can spare you the costs of maintenance and repairs. This is an interesting option for those who don’t want to worry about the state of their unit. Leasing one is also an interesting option if your unit needs to be replaced, but you’re planning to move in a few years.

3. What size water heater do I need?

First, it should be noted that some units do not have a tank. For those with tanks, how many gallons should the unit hold?  Ideally, not a large-capacity unit, as it takes too much energy to run.

So the more gallons the tank can hold, the more expensive it is to buy and operate. If a 40-gallon tank is enough for your family, don’t go bigger.

It may not, however, be enough for your household. How many people live in your house? Do you use a lot of hot water?

You probably do if you run the dishwater half full. Or if you enjoy long baths and showers.

Let’s help you figure out how much you need

For example, a 60-gallon tank would meet the needs of a family of four that uses an average amount of water.

4. What energy capacity should I look into?

Producing hot water is expensive, likely the second highest energy expense in your home after your heating bill.

Here's what you can consider:

  • Electric models, for example, generally require twice as much energy as gas. Often, energy-efficient models cost more initially, but save you money in the long run.
  • Ideally, you should install your unit in a heated area. The colder it is, the more energy it takes to maintain the water at the desired temperature.
  • Look at the First Hour Rating (FHR) on the unit’s specification sheet. It measures how much hot water can be produced in an hour during peak periods. A higher FHR indicates a more efficient water heater.
  • The ENERGY STAR symbol indicates low-energy consumption, and the EnerGuide (This hyperlink will open in a new tab) in turn, indicates the cost of use in a year.

5. I’m changing my water heater. Should I notify my insurer?

The age of your water heater is one of the risks that an insurer should cover. So yes, you should inform your insurer if you plan to change it so that they can keep your file home insurance up-to-date.

Given what you know now, will you have enough hot water to run your home this week? Regardless of the answer, you should probably take a look at your water heater if you haven’t already done so. Chances are it hasn’t moved since the last time!