Ranking of Water Heater Brands

There a really only 3 main manufacturers of Water Heaters: Bradford White, Rheem, and AO Smith. They all use the same Honeywell gas control valve on most models. The consumers leaving reviews for water heaters are mainly just uninformed. In all reality, who leaves a review for a water heater? It’s the guy that is going at it on his own that insist on replacing parts rather than correcting the environmental issues. 

Water Heaters in KC have a median replacement age of 18 years. Can we really rank any of the models that are rolling off the assembly lines today? We have experienced problems with about 1 in 80 water heaters we install, and most of those do not have ideal environmental situations.

The length of warranty has shown no indication of a longer lasting tank. Our stats actually show the opposite, not due to a lesser quality tank but generally a lower quality installation. Environmental factors such as water pressure, thermal expansion, water quality, and vent size have more to do with longevity than a brand.

1. Bradford White

Average Lifespan: 15.9 Years
Rating: 4/5 stars out of 38 ratings.
more info...

If you are planning to install your own water heater avoid Bradford White. You will not have much support from the manufacturer if the produce was not installed by a Licensed Professional. Bradford White generally has fewer models than competitors, most tanks are 40,000 BTU and have brass drain valves.

The average lifespan for Bradford White has been over 15 years with very few reports of issues. They are by far the most common tank in the Kansas City area.

Bradford White tanks all have a magnesium Anode rod. The magnesium anode is only available through a warranty upgrade with AO Smith / State water heaters. Not only is magnesium safer in regards to leaching into the water but it also holds up better in most areas.

2. AO Smith

Average Lifespan: 17.7 Years
Rating: 4.5/5 stars out of 34 ratings.
more info...

AO Smith has the longest average lifespan due to their domination of the market throughout most of the 1980’s. In addition to their own tanks they produce for Kenmore, Whirlpool, and own State Select and American. Also known as ProLine and US Craftsmaster. 

In recent years AO Smith has taken a large share of the market edging out the competition with lower priced models such as the GCV and now GCG. These models are about 20-30 pounds lighter in weight than a Bradford White.

The majority of AO Smith tanks are manufactured in Mexico. A hollow bottom pan on the AO Smith water heaters make leveling the tanks a problem. In order to level an AO Smith atmospheric water heater you have to bypass the intake.

 We have moved away from AO Smith in recent months for several reasons. Manufactured in Mexico, we see more aesthetic issues out of the factory than the US made Bradford White. The most common issues with AO  Smith are a result of sloppy assembly, crooked nipples, crooked gas valves, and unevenly placed stickers.

We have stopped repairing any AO  Smith water heaters unless it was installed by us.

3. Rheem

Average Lifespan: 12.2 Years
Rating: 4.3/5 stars out of 29 ratings.
more info...

The biggest problem with the Rheem (previously GE) tanks are the quality of the installations. We commonly see 12 year warranty tanks that have to be replaced in under 10 years and the warranty does nothing toward replacement.

Water heaters fail for a variety of reasons, usually related to the environmental factors such as water pressure, thermal expansion, flue sizing, and gas pressure. When a tank fails in under 10 years it usually has something to do with one of the factors above or the way it was installed. Flexible water heater connectors and shark bite connectors have also made up a large percent of the Rheem water heaters that have failed in under 10 years.

Rheem had one of the biggest recalls for their FVIR lockout shutdown. Despite the recall, there are actually many Rheem tanks that lasted for 15 years with no complaints or issues. The newer tanks now sold at Home Depot are similar to the GE tanks that were also made by Rheem. The tanks sold at the box stores bring down the life expectancy even if they are longer warranty tanks.

4. State Select

Average Lifespan: 13 Years
Rating: 3.6/5 stars out of 16 ratings.
more info...

State is one of the brands that was purchased by AO Smith and is a popular choice for many plumbing contractors. The State water heater almost identical to the AO Smith but there were more installed in the Kansas City area in the past 10 years. The 04-07 models have had frequent problems with the pilot. The current State models have the exact same Gas Valve and Pilot Assembly as the AO Smith tank.

State seems to have a decent tank that will last for around 15 years, sometimes longer. Reliability seems to be the biggest issues for this brand, the most common State Select Water Heater Repair issues seem to be a problem with intake.

State can also be a challenge to perform standard repair such as replacing a thermocouple. The State has a fused thermocouple which will means you will have to replace the entire pilot assembly just to replace the thermocouple.

5. Kenmore

Average Lifespan: 16.6 Years
Rating: 4.8/5 stars out of 12 ratings.
more info...

Kenmore is actually a pretty decent brand, there tanks are made by AO Smith. The problem with Kenmore is that you have to buy parts through Sears. That also means that you need to go through them for service instead of using your own plumber.

Back in the 80’s a large percentage of the tanks they sold were higher quality tanks than what is most commonly sold today. We have seen several 25 year old Kenmore units that performed well throughout their lifespan.

AO Smith offers both 6 and 10 year warranties, however both use the same exact tank. Kenmore has 3,6,9, and 12 year warranties. The Kenmore 12 year water heater is the same as a 6 year AO Smith.

The most common Kenmore Water Heater Repair issue is either the intake or thermocouple. Kenmore definitely loses some points in this category for repair. Not only do most models seem to be slightly unreliable but they can also be difficult to get parts for. It’s almost setup in a way that you have to call Sears to service the unit if there’s a problem. The last few times we have tried to get parts for a Kenmore we were told it would take a few days for the part to be shipped. Going days without hot water will usually influence people to go ahead and just replace the tank instead of making a repair.

6. American

Average Lifespan: 15.9 Years
Rating: 4.3/5 stars out of 9 ratings.
more info...

American is another brand that is owned by AO Smith water heaters. American were very popular in the 1980’s and many of those units are still running today. Reliability is somewhat of an issue with the gas tanks after 2004. Perhaps the biggest issue with American is the lack of availability for parts and service in the Kansas City area.

7. GE

Average Lifespan: 12.2 Years
Rating: 4.3/5 stars out of 29 ratings.
more info...

Over the last 15 years GE water heater have been widely sold at Home Depot. They developed an awful reputation for both customer service and reliability.

8. Whirlpool

Average Lifespan: 12.1 Years
Rating: 3.6/5 stars out of 11 ratings.
more info...

Whirlpool has widely been recognized as the most unreliable water heater on the market. It’s no coincidence that they are also sold as one of the cheapest water heaters available and are sold at Lowes. The safety features of this water heater seem to be what shuts down the ignition system in many situations. As a water heater technician, Whirlpool & Rheem (GE) have the most frequent code violations in regards to venting requirements.

There have been several recalls over the last 10 years and customer service is one of the most common complaints. The FVIR lockout is the most common Whirlpool Water Heater Repair issue that will usually require replacement of the tank.

We have replaced several Whirlpool water heaters that are still under warranty but instead of having a new Whirlpool installed the homeowner has decided to invest in a better brand.