How to Replace a Water Heater Fast and Easy | DIY Tips

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Learn why, when, and how to replace a water heater in a few easy steps. See the 5 warning signs that tell you it is time to replace your water heater.

The article is recommended for owners of an old and failing electric or gas water heating unit that needs replacement.

Water heaters over 10 years old and work harder than before with significantly lower performance and efficiency are the suitable candidates for replacement. Nobody likes cold showers, frequent repairs, and significantly higher energy bills.

Note: Most tank-type electric and gas water heaters have a warranty from 6 to 12 years and, with the regular maintenance, can last approximately 10-15 years.

The article is also beneficial for homeowners planning to install a new water heater and collect information about installation, costs, permits, materials, and labor fees.

Check out the best time to replace a water heater and what needs to be done for the safe and proper installation.

So the question is, should you wait until the unit dies, or is it better to replace a water heater before something happens and damages your property (like flooding) or affect your health.

Highlights

  1. What you should know before replacing a water heater
  2. 5 warning signs that tell you it is time to replace a water heater
  3. Costs of water heater replacement
  4. Common problems that can be easily fixed
  5. How to prevent early water heater replacement (examples)
  6. When is the right time to replace a water heater
  7. How to remove an old water heater
  8. How to install a new water heater

What you should know before replacing a water heater

Rheem gas water heaterRheem gas water heater

The first signs of a problem that might lead to the unit's replacement are the puddle of water at the bottom and around the heater, brown water from the tap, and unpredictable water heating. Here we will explain how to recognize when to start shopping for a new water heater.

5 warning signs that tell you it is time to replace a water heater

Your water heater is old. If your water heater is more than 10 years old, you might already have seen that the energy efficiency and performance are significantly reduced. Older heaters are prone to leaks and frequent element replacements, making them unreliable and expensive to operate. The issue is that most homeowners are not aware of their heater's age and expiration date, so they would act when the major problem occurs.

Corrosion. Most water heater components are made of steel and are prone to corrosion when exposed to water and wet conditions. As corrosion advances, it slowly spreads and eats through the steel, developing leaks and rusty hot water. Inspect your water heater and plumbing regularly because rust is an indicator of oncoming leaks.

Hot water tank leaks. If your water heater is heavily deformed or has a hole in the tank due to corrosion, not only that will leak, but it won't be safe for further use any more. It is unfortunately beyond repair. When the water heater leaks in an unfinished basement or garage, it is not as dangerous as if installed in the attic or on the same level as other rooms.

Bulging. The tank deformation (bulging) occurs when extreme pressure and temperature develop inside the tank. If it lasts long enough, your storage tank can deform for good. A bulging water heater cannot be repaired, and extreme pressure can lead to an explosion.

Sediment buildup. Sediment buildup is a common occurrence found in water heaters no matter the home location, but especially in regions with hard water issues and low water quality. If there are sediments collected in the tank, you might hear hissing and sizzling noises, experience very low performance, or find a drain valve clogged.

How much does it cost to replace a water heater?

The cost of replacing a water heater varies from region to region, plumber to plumber, and depends on the type of water heater, potential upgrades, or changes.

If you want to know how much the water heater replacement cost, you have to obtain the units' price with the installation materials and labor fee.

In Canada, approximately 2/3 of an estimated cost goes on the equipment, and 1/3 goes on labor. So if you get a quote for $1200 for a tank-type heater, $800 is the cost of the device and installation materials, and $400 is how much your plumber would typically charge. A tankless type is more expensive, and the labor costs are also higher. An average estimate is around $3000, but it can go even three times higher.

What is important for you is to get several FREE estimates and see how much plumbers charge in your area – near you, are you going to pay a flat rate or by an hour, and what is included in the price.

According to Home Depot, for water heater installation in the US, expect to pay between $1000 and $3000, including a basic tank-type water heater, materials, labor cost, permits, and disposal of an old unit. National costs are in the range from $1300 to $2000. Tankless water heaters installed can cost you up to $5000.

Consider the following, as these factors can significantly impact the replacement cost:

  • Water heater type
  • Water heater size
  • Do you have to change the fuel source (for example, convert propane gas to natural gas)?
  • How much work is needed to meet the requirements (for example, changing the electric panel or gas pipe size)?
  • Permit cost
  • Disposal fee
  • Any special upgrades or requests

If you need a no-obligate quote for a water heater replacement and installation, check out this site from where you can get FREE estimates.

Can I replace a water heater myself, and do I need a permit?

You can replace a water heater, but it is recommended to check with the manufacturer and local authorities that the installation meets all the requirements. As every city is regulated differently, you should check do you require a permit or not.

Generally, a permit is needed so the inspection can be done and installation approved and that it meets all the regulations, current codes and it is safe for the occupants. And, it is very easy and cheap to get a permit; just check with your local building department.

Also, if you have to make electrical modifications or changes, you might want to see if you need an electrical permit.

Plumbing permits might be required if you have to add or modify an existing plumbing system, even a gas line.

Note: If you are not confident working with natural or propane gas, water, and electricity, call in a licensed technician.

Common problems that can be easily fixed

Also, some issues are common and require component replacement, cleaning, or simply tightening the connections. Here are examples of problems that can be repaired but do not require water heater replacement:

  • Rotten egg smell. The rotten egg odor happens when there is bacteria growth inside the tank. The smell of rotten eggs comes from sulfur bacteria, and the problem can affect any water heater brand. If the rotten egg smell comes from the hot water tap only, the problem is in the water heater.
  • No hot water. One of the reasons for no hot water is the broken dip tube, so water, instead of going to the bottom of the tank where it gets heated, goes right to the tank's upper part and from there through the hot water outlet and further to the tap.
  • If the pilot doesn't want to light up, a thermocouple might be broken, but if the problem is with the FVIR and flammable vapors, then the heater has to be replaced.
  • If the gas burner does not ignite, check the thermostat or the igniter.
  • If the ECO (Energy Cutoff) switch was activated.
  • Smoking and carbon formation - the thermostat might need replacement.
  • Sediment and limescale buildup can be cleaned, but if it is really bad (heavy) and cannot be removed, then the only solution is to replace a water heater.

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How to prevent early water heater replacement (with examples)?

Regular maintenance, which includes inspection and anode change, TPR testing, sediment flushing, or vent and combustion chamber cleaning, can prevent premature water heater failure and will get you several more years of efficient water heating.

If you find a puddle of water underneath the unit, check if the pressure and temperature relief valve releases some water due to temperature and pressure buildup. Regular testing will ensure that the TPR valve is still operational so high pressure inside the tank won't affect it.

Bulging might also happen, which is the result of extremely high pressure inside the tank, and it can lead to deformation and potential cracks in the metal tank. More water will be released as the crack opens when water is heated and gets smaller when the metal contracts and the water cools down. This is why an expansion tank must be installed in closed-loop heating systems.

High pressure within the municipality piping and home plumbing might also lead to a loose fitting connection and potential leaks. Installation of the water pressure reducing valve can fix this problem.

If the unit's breaker switch keeps tripping off, make sure to inspect and test the heating elements and thermostats, they might be broken, or you might need to replace a weak breaker.

The unit should be drained at least once a year. If not, sediments and other deposits will build up and coat the elements making the heater work less efficiently and produce rusty water.

Another suggestion from manufacturers and professionals is to install a drain pan with an alarm if it is leaking over the top.

When is the right time to replace a water heater?

You must replace a water heater if it was flooded. Even if parts, such as the gas valve, pilot assembly or the main burner have been submerged in water, you should install a new heater.

Today, every tank-type gas water heater is equipped with the FVIR system, designed to reduce the risk of the accidental ignition of flammable vapors (gasoline, for example). Water heaters subjected to this problem will show the discoloration of the flame arrestor, and that is the sign when the unit needs replacement.

As mentioned above, there are many reasons for an early water heater replacement, but the main reason against, is, of course, money. Follow the suggestions found here to prevent any accidents to the property because of leaking or spending money for frequent repairs.

If your water heater is old, and you find a great deal, go for it. Keep in mind that after ten years or so, your heater is old while new ones are more advanced and efficient, so you might want to consider a replacement. Another option is to go with tankless since they last at least 20 years, there are no storage water tanks, and every component can be replaced.

Required tools

  • Pipe wrench
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Screwdrivers
  • Soldering torch
  • Tube cutter or hacksaw
  • Multimeter
  • Wire stripper
  • Teflon tape
  • Pipe joint compound

How to replace a water heater (gas and electric type) – Step-by-step guide

How to remove an old water heater

Shut the unit off. Turn off gas on the main gas valve supplying a water heater, electricity on the electrical breaker panel, and water on the main shut-off valve.

Drain. Connect one end of the garden hose to the drain valve located at the bottom of the heater and the other end to the outside drain. Empty the water heater completely. More about draining here.

Disconnect. If the water heater was connected to the plumbing with the copper pipes, you would have to straight cut the pipes right above the shut-off valve, and if the flexible connectors or galvanized pipes were used, unscrew the fittings.

Remove the vent pipe. Remove the vent pipe from the vent hood (gas type). If the gas unit is atmospheric, remove the screws using the screwdriver.

Disconnect electrical wires from the junction box (electric type).

Disconnect a gas line by unscrewing the connection using the pipe wrench, but be careful not to damage it.

Remove the heater. Keep in mind that the tank-type water heater might be heavy, so call for assistance and use the dolly cart.

How to install a new water heater

Location. Put the new water heater in place, providing enough clearance on all sides for ventilation and fresh air intake for combustion. If a water heater is installed in the area with hard water, water must be treated (water softener) and may require frequent flushing.

Connections. Connect a water heater to a house plumbing using flexible copper connectors or rigid copper. You might have to install plastic-lined nipples.

Connect electrical wires from the main supply to the junction box located on top of the heater.

Reconnect the gas line. Be careful not to damage or dislocate the gas valve. Apply the piping compound to the threads of the black pipe and tighten the gas valve to it.

TPR valve. Make sure the TPR valve (temperature and pressure relief valve) is correctly installed. Attach the discharge pipe from the TPR valve to the proper drain.

Venting. Reconnect the vent pipe and make sure there is no leak from the draft hood. Make sure that the new gas water heater receives plenty of fresh air for proper gas combustion. Once the unit is on, check for backdrafting.

Fill up the tank. Open the fixture while filling up the tank with cold water. This will bleed air out of the system. Water should flow freely from any tap.

Power up the heater. For gas models, light the pilot light following the instructions given by the manufacturer, and adjust the temperature on the thermostat. For the electric type, set the thermostat between 120 and 140 F.

Notes: During the removal and new installation, manufacturer instructions, guidelines, and plumbing codes must be observed. Check all the connections for leaks, especially gas. Fill the sponge with a mixture of dishwashing soap and water in a ratio of 50:50 and apply to the fittings. If it bubbles, there is a leak, so connections must be retightened or reconnected.

Depending on your present situation, you might be working with galvanized, copper, or plastic pipes. Copper and plastic are the most popular today, but sometimes you have to either use the same type as found in your home or combine two different types. More info about plumbing and which is better to use, you can find it here.

If you see one or more symptoms as described in this article and unsure whether to repair it, replace it, or get professional assistance, try first to get a free estimate from a local plumber. If it is not too much money for you, it is always better to have it professionally done.

Things to check after replacing a water heater

  • Check that the exhaust gases are safely removed outdoors through the venting pipes.
  • Ensure that electrical wires are correctly connected.
  • Check for gas and water leaks.
  • If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, strap your water heater using seismic stripping.

Again, before replacing a water heater due to the problem, try to fix it first if possible, you might save lots of money. You can use this troubleshooting guide and check out the most common issues and instructions on how to fix them. Maybe something simple is the reason for the unit's failure.

According to the manufacturers, and to answer the common question "how long does a water heater last?" - the water heater's life expectancy is from 10-15 years. With regular maintenance, you could extend its life for a few more years. But eventually, the unit will stop producing hot water, rust and start leaking.

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