Ask Angi: What do I need to know about my water heater?

Early signs of water heater problems that will call for professional repair include odors in water, rust-colored water, lack of hot water and temperature fluctuations. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Early signs of water heater problems that will call for professional repair include odors in water, rust-colored water, lack of hot water and temperature fluctuations. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Your water heater most likely numbers among the appliances you think about least in your home. But when things go wrong, you'll care about it very quickly, and that gets even more urgent during the winter months.

Here are 10 things you need to know about your water heater.

1. Look out for trouble: Early signs of water heater problems that will call for professional repair include odors in water, rust-colored water, lack of hot water and temperature fluctuations. It's good to catch problems early, since the average water heater repair cost is $600 and the sooner you find the problem, the less expensive repairs tend to be.

2. Inspect it regularly: Every two months, perform a close inspection of your heater. Clear away debris, verify that it's properly ventilated, check the drain pan and empty it if necessary, and look for scorch marks on the base of the heater.

3. Drain and flush it yearly: Sediment buildup poses a threat to tank-style heaters. Drain and flush it every year to keep this from damaging and possibly destroying your heater. A pro can do the work for an average of $75 to $200.

4. Tank or Tankless?: Traditional tank water heaters heat a large amount of water and keep it in reserve in a tank. Tankless water heaters heat the water as it passes through. Tankless takes up less space but costs more to install.

5. Water heater cost: A tank water heater costs around $1,300 installed and has a lifespan of 8-12 years. A tankless heater costs $2,400 on average, but you can expect to get 20 years of usable service life from one.

6. Shutoff valve: All water heaters should have shutoff valves to block water or gas flow in event of a leak. Make sure you identify these valves in advance. A lot of water can spill in the seconds you're fumbling to find it otherwise.

7. Other types: Tank and tankless water heaters are by far the most common models. But you can also seek out condensing, solar, heat pump or point-of-use water heaters, all of which bring their own pros and cons.

8. Smart water heating: Like so many other appliances, water heaters have entered the digital age. A smart water heater monitors usage and expends energy more efficiently, and you can control and check them from your phone.

9. Repair or replace: If you're having trouble with a tank-style water heater and it's more than 10 years old, replacing it is probably the best idea. Rumbling sounds, cloudy water and leaks are other signs to replace soon.

10. Licensing: Licensing varies by state for water heater installers, but usually, you need a licensed plumber to do the work. You might also need a licensed gas pipefitter depending on heater type.

Tweet your home care questions with #AskingAngi and we'll try to answer them in a future column.