To Repair Or Replace

Many water heating equipment breakdowns can be prevented with routine maintenance.

By Dustin Bowerman
From the February 2023 Issue

There’s no standard formula for facility maintenance teams to determine when water heating equipment should be repaired and when it should be replaced. Life for them and facilities managers might be easier if there were, because making the right decision can save time and money, and keep operations on track. On the other hand, wrong decisions can lead to unexpected equipment failure, which can be a disaster for facilities teams.

water heating equipment
Regular maintenance ensures a water heater performs efficiently, while reducing energy costs and providing a consistent performance. (Photo by Rand Construction)

Preventing Equipment Breakdowns

The immediate consequences of equipment breakdowns can include water damage, unplanned down time, customer inconvenience, and emergency repair and remediation expenses. In a worst-case scenario, damaged reputation, legal fees, and insurance costs can severely compound the business and financial impact.

A variety of factors, from the water heater’s application to maintenance and environmental conditions, come into play that make it impossible to impose any hard-and-fast rules. Many sudden breakdowns, however, can be prevented with routine planned maintenance and, when necessary, regular repairs.

Investing in regular upkeep and inspections can have several benefits:

  • Maintenance can help water heaters maintain peak performance levels and last longer.
  • Maintenance and regular inspections can reduce the risk of emergency breakdown.
  • Maintenance is almost always a better value than unnecessary or unplanned replacement.

Over the lifespan of a system, the cost of tune-ups, maintenance, inspection, and repair offer measurable savings in operational efficiency and the premature need for new equipment. Inspections can catch small issues before they become major problems, which in turn helps extend the equipment’s life. In addition, regular maintenance helps ensure efficient performance, which can reduce energy costs and provide consistent product performance. Routine maintenance also plays a part in establishing trusting professional relationships between service technicians and facilities teams.

Equipment Lifespan

Maintenance is not a permanent solution. Eventually, as aging equipment inevitably loses efficiency, the cost of maintenance and repair will exceed the price of replacement. How can facilities managers and maintenance professionals minimize the risk of an emergency water heater replacement? How can they avoid sinking costs by trying to maintain water heating equipment beyond its performance life? How can they balance these two concerns to ensure they’re making the right decision for the circumstances?

Commercial water heaters are incredibly hardworking machinery, with capacities of 80-120 gallons and input up to 500,000 BTU an hour. Industry-standard warranties range from three to five years, but the actual lifetime of a unit can vary widely, based on local conditions, application, and maintenance. It’s not unusual for commercial water heaters to perform effectively for twice as long as their warranty term, but when not sized accurately, properly maintained, or operating under optimal conditions, the product’s lifespan could be significantly reduced.

In many cases, if the tank is not leaking, it pays to repair the water heater. If you’re scheduling regular maintenance, using the heater appropriately, and it’s within the reasonably expected lifetime of the unit, a modest investment in fixing it is usually a better value than incurring replacement costs.

Always keep the following factors in mind, however, especially with older heaters or expensive repairs:

water heating equipment
(Photo by Chadds Ford Climate Control)
  • Will it save money in the long run?
  • Will a new unit add efficiency?
  • Has demand for hot water changed since the unit was installed?
  • Are there new local, state, or federal regulations to consider?
  • How frequently does the heater require service?
  • Will new higher efficiency equipment reduce energy costs enough to pay for replacement installation?

Owner manuals typically offer a recommended maintenance schedule. Sticking to that schedule can go a long way toward keeping your equipment operating effectively. It also pays to check manufacturer recommendations about regular visual inspection of parts and machinery, the integrity of the water tank, and scaling of the heat exchanger. In some cases, failure to perform recommended maintenance may void warranties.

It is also crucial to periodically review the application to ensure you are deploying the proper equipment for the job. In the commercial and facilities markets, using the right equipment for the application is key to achieving desirable performance and maximizing service life.

Expert Advice

While the ultimate decision is yours, an informed expert assessment and in-person inspection can be an invaluable resource. Regular maintenance over time is also important because it allows plumbing professionals to understand the history of the heater as well as develop a feel for your business needs, risk tolerance, and other characteristics that will contribute to the final decision.

HVACChoosing The Right HVAC Contractors

Facilities managers need providers that have the experience and knowledge to provide heating and cooling solutions. Read more…

Facilities professionals should know that they don’t have to make these decisions on their own. Most of us rely on automotive and HVAC technicians in our personal lives. Facilities pros have the same option. Trained and trusted plumbing experts are always available to offer guidance, even for the most complex situations.

Dustin Bowerman, Bradford White Water HeatersBowerman is senior director – field services for Bradford White Water Heaters, an industry-leading manufacturer of water heaters, boilers and storage tanks.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at

Check out all the facility management topics covered in Facility Executive magazine’s Services & Maintenance articles.