Buying a New Home? Make Sure to Inspect the Water Heater

You might not give water heaters any thought when shopping for a new home. They don't carry the same appeal as a spa-inspired master bathroom or an outdoor kitchen that will be the envy of your friends at your next summer barbecue, but water heaters are crucial to your daily comforts. As you look through your next potential home, make sure the water heater is on your checklist. Here are some things to keep in mind to avoid expensive issues in the future.

Is it Rented or Owned?

Find out from the seller if the water heater is a rental or owned outright. If rented, ask for a copy of the contract and read it carefully. Renting a water heater is considerably more expensive than buying. For example, a $25-a-month rental for a ten-year contract would cost $3,000. Compare that to the usual price range of $800 to $1,000 to buy a tank heater.

Rent-to-own scenarios can include an expensive buy-out price that neither you nor the seller wants to take on. A contract buyout would be necessary if you plan for renovations that require replacement of the existing heater.

Is it the Right Size?

Have a licensed plumbing and heating professional inspect the heater as part of the home's inspection. This technician can determine if the tank size is adequate for the home, based on the number of hot water faucets, showers, appliances, and family members in your household. You might find that the heater is too small to support your family needs, which means running out of hot water during morning showers or while using the dishwasher or washing machine. On the other hand, you don't want a tank that is far too large because you will spend a lot on utilities to heat extra water.

How Old Is the Water Heater?

The typical lifespan of a tank water heater is ten years. Once a tank has reached this age, it can malfunction or begin leaking with no warning. A leaking tank is not repairable, and can cause significant damage to the home. Look out for signs of deterioration such as rust spots and water stains. If you're not sure of the age of your water heater, your plumber can look it up, based on the manufacturer's serial number. If the tank is near the end of its life, get ready to replace it.

Does it Pose a Risk?

Look at the area around the heater. It's common to place it in an inconspicuous area, like an adjoining garage or utility closet. But an out of sight and mind location can be a problem, because you won't know if it's leaking until it has already caused significant damage. Then you'll find the spike in your energy bill from heating all that water as it pours out of the tank. Exposed sub-flooring, wood framing, and sheet rock walls can all be at risk of permanent damage. If this is the case, discuss options with your plumber for relocating the water heater to a safer spot.

Including the water heater in home inspections will save you a lot of grief. Remember, this unassuming appliance is the reason you're not boiling water over a fire for your bath.