Installing a new water heater (getting it up the stairs is the hard part)

By: Alexrussell Dec 13, 2006

So you’ve got the old tank out and it’s time to put in a new one. If you need help taking out the old one, see the first part of this guide. The fact of the matter is, if you can remove an old electric water heater, you can replace one without a step-by-step. But to help you along, I've got a list of tips to make the job as easy as fixing a toilet. Here is a picture of the lines running to the water heater to get you started:

You'll need the same tools to install a water heater as you did to remove the old one. For supplies, you’ll need new copper or steel flex water heater supply lines, water heater straps, a new water heater pan unless it’s in an unfinished basement, and Teflon tape. A drill for straps would be helpful, though I’ve heard of people screwing them into the walls studs with their bare hands. I think this way is much more difficult, however.

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Tips to remember:

1. Keep any pertinent electrical breakers off while doing any of this. You will shock yourself otherwise, and this will hurt.

2. Make sure the new supply lines are long enough to reach the pipes sticking out of the wall.

3. The valve supplies cold water to the water heater, so hook it up to the side of the water heater that says “cold” or “c.” It makes a difference.

4. Make sure the rubber gaskets in the supply lines are in the nuts and pushed all the way up to the copper before tightening them onto pipes. Otherwise there will be a leak.

5. Put the pan under the water heater before filling it. Seems silly to mention, but I’ve seen it done otherwise many times before.

6. As you fill the new water heater, leave the hot side of a faucet open. This will keep pressure from building up inside since air will be able to escape as water flows in.

7. If you have a leak, don’t panic. You may just need to crank the leaky part a little more. If it’s really tight and there’s still a leak, especially in the supply lines, drain the water heater down and loosen and then re-tighten everything. Check the rubber gaskets. If all else fails, call a plumber. He or she won’t charge you nearly as much as if doing the job from start to finish, especially if there’s no old water heater to lug down the stairs.

8. If you've got a gas water heater, it's definitely worth calling in a professional to hook up the gas.

One last thing. There’s still the question of the pressure release valve line. This is technically a drain, even though it will likely never see water unless your tank is about to explode from a buildup of pressure. I have never heard of this happening. As in the picture above, a copper flex line that does not have a downhill grade isn’t the best solution. If you have soldering skills and the existing pipe is copper, go for it. If it’s cpvc, all it takes is a saw and glue to make it work. The point is, unless the tank’s in the basement, this needs to be hooked up. There’s no shame in calling a pro for this. At least you can stand by your installation and prove that not all homeowners are helpless. With this guide and a little effort, you’d be very far from it. And the sooner you get the water heater in, the sooner you can play with the great box it comes in.

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Comments

7 to 14 years is a good timeframe to replace a water heater. However, I rcommend closer to the 7 than to the 14. As a water heater ages it becomes less efficient. New water heaters are inherently more efficient than older models. In the long run replacing your water heater sooner will result in greater savings.

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I'm 95% I'm the guy from in side the electric Rheen water heater box above lol.  That picture is at least 2 or 3 years old. How in the world did u find that picture? anyways I was googlign for Rheem picutes and saw myself in that box.  pretty funny.  anyways.

Great tips!  To bad most people are to old, don't have the tools, don't have the time, to nervous about elctric and gas problems. 

I wonder?  What would u tell these people if the gas valve doesn't hold after they disconnect the gas piping, or if they can't get the water to stop dripping when installing the new one, after they tightened down the main as much as possiable.   ANYONE! can do pretty much any plumbing task when things go smoothly.  (which only happens maybe 30% of the time)
For the other 70% of plumbing jobs that dont go smooth u will need a pro, and by the time u figure out u need one, one might be hard to find. Good luck all do it urselfers!  

 I've dont' even use a tourch anymore, I use my propress gun for all copper connections, and have electric gas tester/ carbon tester.  Weather it's me or another pro, DON"T MESS WITH GAS INSTALLS people to many things can go wrong.   New heights on taller heaters will require smoke pipe adjusting, if the gas piping don't match up from ur old union to ur new water heater gas cock, you'll need a bucket of parts to mix and match to get to get the reconnection correct. 

Installed over 1,200 water heaters for the dreaded home depot.  Started my own company. 
 I install new water heaters for 200 bucks labor!  

onlywaterheaters@yahoo.com 

 Jay-  (the guy from the Rheem box with the backwords hat on top of the page) * licenced and insured*   

Our landlord is in the process of changing our water heater and I, of course, got online to help offer better suggestions to what he was doing (when you hear him ask his accomplice things like "what about removing this thing?" you start to get a little nervous!). Nice write-up! Informative but humorous. Even three years after you wrote it!

Now if only I could convince them the flex pipes would be easier than reconnecting the solid copper pieces... And hope that he's going to fix the deck stairs where the "incident" occurred as they were trying to remove the old one! (at least he got out of the way before it fell on him...)

I appreciate all your comments. I did update this post to specify it's for electric water heaters. I've set dozens of these things, both electric and gas, and the average homeowner should definitely stick to the electric models. It's also a great idea to check with local building codes to see if setting a water heater is something that needs to be done by a licensed plumber. In Seattle, where I am, a homeowner can even run their own water and drain lines if it meets code.

And to answer Vince, electric water heaters do not simply plug in with a cord. The most challenging part is matching up the black and white wires, which isn't that hard. As, for the temperature and pressure valve, a new one should come with every new water heater out of the box, along with galvanized steel nipples to screw into the new tank. Most of the ones I've set even came already wrapped in teflon tape. But it's important that the t&p valve line is tied into a drain specifically for it, usually 3/4 inch copper or cpvc. It's so rarely used, a lot of plumbers don't even solder or glue the joints, though I don't at all recommend that. If the water heater's in a basement with a drain, the pipe can run straight down to the ground.

I also like VintageSwank's comment about tankless water heaters. A plumber I've worked with raves about them and suggested I write them up in a Curbly post. Unless somebody else beats me to it, of course.   

Hey Alex, nice post. A couple of points, however, from someone who has worked on a lot of hot water heaters.

I did not read your older posts, and it looks like this is for an electric hot water heater. I don't have experience with them, as I use primarily gas. I didn't see anything in your post about hooking up the electrical wires or anything - I find it hard to believe that it would just be a cord to plug in.

2. The pressure release valve, if our loyal readers are planning on putting it in themselves, can be taken off the old one and re-used. However, if a new one must be purchased, remember that the pipe shouldn't be more than 12"-18" off the ground. Where I'm from, that's code. Also, I have seen them in action. Very useful when the hot water heater wants to blow up and trickles out hot water out of the spout instead.

3. VS writes of tankless hot water heaters, which are nice if you have a lot of initial cash and/or not a lot of space to work with. I don't like them because (a) I don't have a problem with installing a new hot water heater quickly, and (b) I fear change and will stick to my $240 hot water heaters, thankyouverymuch.

Nice post, overall though!

The bulk and dauntingness of a traditional water heater can be subsided with some of the new options that await home owners out there. I am partial to the great economical and space saving (not to mention light) tankless water heaters. These units get ride of the water storage tank (which is the cause of most problems with water heaters) and has an electronic system that delivers hot water on demand and as much as you need. It's a bit more costly, but the cost savings over time is well worth the initial upfront investment. 

They do come in both gas and electric models and you can find them at almost any local home store.

Vintage Swank
www.vintageswank.com

Thanks for the thorough how-to Alex. I've helped do this before, and it's definitely less daunting than it might seem (especially if you're careful and have the right tools).
Nice post, Alex.  One thing to keep in mind, though: some municipalities require water heaters to be installed by a licensed plumber.  My county is one such place...  though that won't stop me from doing it myself.  I'm just saying.
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