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How To Plumbing Series for Decatur and Hartselle, AL Homeowners: Water Heater Problems, Part 4: How to replace a water heater

The typical water heater lasts for about 10 years, plus or minus five years in either direction. Down for the cheaper models, up for the higher-quality brands.

Stay in your home for long enough and you’re bound to replace one. If you choose not to go tankless (see the last How To Plumbing post), then you’re faced with:

For some people, calling a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber is the best option. But moderately-skilled DIYers should be able to complete this project. This How To Plumbing post takes a look at installing tank-style water heaters.

Cost Considerations

Installation costs using a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than $500 for installation, plus the cost of the water heater (which itself will run $750 to more than $1,000, depending on the brand, model, and features).

When you hire a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber make sure you are getting the best deal possible for the water heater itself. In some cases, you might be paying full retail price a model that can be purchased at a home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot for $300-$600 less. It also doesn’t hurt to “shop around” to find the best installation and labor price.

To be fair, however, if you’ve worked with a trusted Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber in the past for repair needs, chances are you will get a fair price both on the equipment and labor because keeping you as a satisfied customer is important, especially when it comes to word-of-mouth referrals when neighbors ask who handles your plumbing needs.

Considerations Before You Start

Before you replace your old water heater, there are a few things to consider.

  • Should you replace it with the same size you have now? If you routinely run out of hot water, then choosing a larger model might be called for. If your family size has reduced, then you may be wasting money heating more water than you need and you could make do with a smaller model.
  • The location of your water heater may be inconvenient or inadequate, especially if you are looking to upgrade to a larger tank. This could be a good opportunity to relocate it.
  • You also may want to switch the fuel source from gas to electric or vice versa, and this would be a logical time to make that type of change. Changing fuel types and relocating a water heater increase the complexity of the project and is better suited for a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor.
  • This is also a good time to consider switching to a tankless water heater (which was covered in the last How To Plumbing post). This post assumes you’ve decided to replace a tank water heater with a new tank and you’d prefer to install it yourself.

Selecting a Replacement Water Heater

Before doing any shopping — including poking around on the Internet while watch TV — do this:

  • Record the manufacturer, model, and size (gallons and physical dimensions) of the current water heater, assuming this information is still known (tags get old and fade)
  • Note where the water heater is currently installed, including height, width, and depth dimensions — important if the tank is installed inside a closet or in an attic (is the attic opening wide enough for a bigger model?)
  • Jot down thoughts on how many people will be drawing hot water in the home (you, spouse, two kids, washing machine) and your hot water needs (cooking, laundry, long hot showers). This information is important to understand what size, or capacity, of tank you will need and is something any Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber or a sales associate at Home Depot will ask you.
  • Obviously, if you have a gas water heater make sure you are looking at gas water heaters, unless you plan an energy conversion.

It is immensely frustrating to get home and discover that the new water heater is too big for its installation location, it won’t fit into the attic, its capacity is too small, and it uses the wrong energy type.

Remember, too, to purchase all of the plumbing parts you’ll need, including”

  • pipe fittings
  • hoses
  • solder
  • pipe dope

If you are unsure of all that you might need, buy an assortment of pipes and fittings to allow for unanticipated situations. You can always return them to the home improvement store — much easier than returning or exchanging a water heater.

Removing an Old Water Heater

For illustration purposes, we’ll assume you’re making a 1-for-1 swap, old for new, same size, nothing unexpected.

  • The replacement water heater will go in pretty much in the reverse of the steps to take out the old one. So note your steps as you take the old water heater out.
  • Start by turning off the power at the breaker for electric water heaters or turning off the gas at the nearest shut off valve for gas water heaters.
  • Turn off the water supply at the nearest shut off valve.
  • Turn on the hot water taps throughout your home.
  • Connect a garden hose to the drain valve of the water heater and drain the tank into a sink, toilet, bathtub, or outdoors. Use caution as the water may be hot.
  • Open the drain valve to release all the water from the tank. Once empty, close the valve and disconnect the hose.
  • Disconnect the fuel or power. Test the wires with a meter to make certain the power is off before disconnecting any wires. It’s a good idea to mark each wire as you disconnect it. It is also helpful to take a close-up “before” photograph to refer to when reconnecting wires.
  • If replacing a gas model, use a wrench to disconnect the gas line from the regulator on the front of the water heater. You can also take a “before” picture for reference.
  • Disconnect the water supply and hot water output connections. If these are hard-plumbed, you will probably have to cut the pipes with a pipe cutter. Cut them close to where they connect to the water heater. This is one area where the expected can happen — old plumbing, plumbing that has already been altered.
  • If your water heater has vent, disconnect the vent shroud at the top of the water heater. Also, disconnect any bracing and remove any obstructions to allow removal of the tank.

The empty tank is both heavy and difficult to maneuver by yourself. If you are working solo, account for this and have something handy — like a hand truck — to assist you. It’s best to have a helper to assist with the removal of the old heater as well as with positioning the replacement unit.

Most garbage collection services offer a water heater pick-up program. Contact the city or the garbage service directly and ask. If you purchase the water heater from a home improvement center, ask if they offer a disposal service — even if you do the installation, not one of their contractors.

Installing a New Water Heater

  • Position the new water heater, ideally with the help of an assistant, to align the connection points on the water heater with the connections in your water heater space. This is not easy to do by yourself.
  • Connect the cold water supply to the cold water connection on the water heater. Connecting the the wrong connection will result in poor water heater performance. Connect the hot water output to your home’s hot water line.
  • If your connections don’t already use flexible hoses, it’s strongly recommended that you switch to burst proof hoses now. They are reasonably priced at home improvement centers or plumbing supplies.
  • If your plumbing is old and cannot accommodate flexible hoses, remove the pipe back to a logical point and install a fitting you bought at the home improvement center that allows you to transition from existing copper to flexible hose. This adds a little extra time and cost to the project, but if you are aware of it up front and plan for it, you’ll be glad you made the change.
  • If you use copper pipes, do all the sweating together of fittings before connecting to the water heater to reduce the risk of damaging the water heater connections.
  • Once the plumbing connections are made, turn the water supply back on. Wait as the water heater fills with water. The hot water taps should all still be open to allow air to bleed out. Once water flows from all taps, allow the water to run for an additional minute, before closing the taps.
  • Inspect the connections you made to the water heater for leaks. If everything checks out, proceed to reconnecting the gas or electricity.
  • Follow the the manufacturer’s instructions for connecting power to the water heater and powering up. Use the photograph you took earlier to assist with reconnection.
  • If reconnecting a gas line, it is usually recommend to replace the flexible hose. Old hoses can become damaged by the bending of the hose and internal corrosion can further weaken it. Wrap the male nipple of the connection with gas rated teflon tape or apply pipe dope before fastening the gas line to the water heater.
  • Once the gas connection is made, turn on the gas supply valve and inspect for gas leaks by spraying a mixture of dish soap and water along the hose and all fittings and connections. Watch for the formation of bubbles. If bubbles form, shut off the gas immediately and correct the connections. If problems persist, hire a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber to complete this step and do not turn the gas on until this problem has been resolved.

Next Up

Faucets. Yep, faucets. You use them every day. So how can you repair a faucet?