Buyer Beware, Part 4: Don’t tank on hot water inspections

In our last post we mentioned that when buying a home in Sydney, conducting a thorough inspection of key plumbing areas can save you a lot of angst in plumbing repairs down the line.

The same goes for hot water heaters, which can be dangerous if left unchecked.

How to avoid landing in hot water

There are two main types:

  • Traditional tank
  • Continuous flow

Tank heaters are large and work by keeping water in the tank at a certain temperature until it is used. Continuous flow heaters are smaller and work by heating the water as needed. If maintained properly, hot water heaters can last up to 20 years but lack of care can kill a heater prematurely at around eight years. With some detective work, you’ll know whether to factor in the cost of a new hot water system before you purchase your home:

Inspect a hot water tank to ensure you won't be paying for a new one prematurely

Hot Water tank

  • Check the date of the water heater, located on top of an electric tank or inside the service panel of a gas heater. They have a life of 8-10 years when poorly maintained or 15-20 years if they have been regularly serviced. If older than eight years, factor in the cost of a replacement.
  • Run the hot water tap.
  • If the water is brown/rusty, the tank may be rusted and will require immediate replacement.
  • If the water is burning hot, there is no tempering valve which is required by law to prevent burns and scalds.
  • Check the TPR (temperature and pressure relief) valve – occasional drip is OK but constant or running water is not.

It’s a gas

If it is a gas powered water heater, there are a few extra checks we recommend you make just to ensure it is operating safely:

  • Assess the condition of the visible gas pipe. Old or worn pipes can leak so if the pipe is deteriorating it will need further investigation and possibly replacement.
  • Identify the gas pipe material. Is it copper (orange), pex (ribbed plastic) or galvanised (black or painted and may be pitted/uneven). Galvanised pipe corrodes and creates pinholes that can leak gas, which pose a serious safety hazard. It must be replaced.

Your water heater replacement would cost anywhere from around $1000 upwards to $3000-4000 if pipework was replaced as well. Inspection costs next to nothing compared to the peace of mind that safe operation brings and it pays to be thorough so you can negotiate on price and/or have an idea of what to include in a post-purchase renovation budget.

Do you maintain your water heater regularly?