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

Learn why, when, and how to replace a water heater in a few easy steps. The article is recommended for owners of an old and failing electric or gas water heating unit that needs replacement.

There are many reasons why a water heater is going bad and cannot be repaired, and these include a corroded tank that is about to leak, a deformed tank, or when the tank is full of sediments and efficiency is very low.

The article is also beneficial for homeowners who are planning to install a new water heater and want to know the cost of a unit, permit, and installation materials, including labor fees.

Check out when is the best time for replacement and what needs to be done.

Most of the 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. 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. Cost of water heater replacement
  3. Common problems that can be easily fixed
  4. How to prevent early water heater replacement (examples)
  5. When is the right time to replace a water heater
  6. How to remove a water heater (gas and electric type)
  7. Installation tips

What you should know before replacing a water heater

Rheem gas water heaterRheem gas water heater

When the water heater leaks in an unfinished basement or garage, it is not as dangerous as if installed in the attic. The first signs of a problem that might lead to the replacement are the puddle of water at the bottom and around the heater, rust from the hot water faucet, corrosion on the tank and connections, and low efficiency due to heavy sediment buildup.

How much does it cost to replace a water heater

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

If you want to know how much water heater replacement costs, 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 can charge. A tankless type is more expensive so as labor costs. 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 from 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 is it hard to replace it? 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 an 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, check with your local building department.

Common problems that can be easily fixed

Also, some issues are common and require component replacement, cleaning, or simply tightening the wire connections. Here are the examples of the 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 the 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 fixture.
  • If the pilot doesn't want to light up, the 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, will prevent premature failure of the water heater 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 the temperature and pressure buildup. Regular testing will ensure that the TPR valve is still operational and 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, or parts, such as the gas valve, pilot assembly or main burner have been submerged in water.

Every tank-type gas water heater today 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 it is, of course, money. Follow the suggestions found here to prevent any accidents to the property because of leaking or spending money on a plumber 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 remove a water heater (gas and electric type)

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.

Installation tips

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.

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 combustion.

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, which must be retightened or reconnected.

Again, before replacing a water heater due to the problem, try to fix it first, you might save lots of money. You can use this troubleshooting guide and check out the most common problems 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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