A water heater provides years of reliable service when properly maintained. Most people do not think about this essential appliance until it stops working. In some cases, replacing parts like the thermostat enables the unit to continue operating. A water heater should be replaced when it no longer meets the needs of your household, is inefficient or has reached the end of its serviceable life.

While replacing a water heater is labor-intensive and requires plumbing skills as well as specific tools and equipment, individuals who are confident with their abilities can perform the job as a do-yourself-project. Before attempting a water heater installation, remember to contact your local building department for any applicable codes and required inspections.

Unless you have a background in plumbing or electrical work, always enlist professional help in order to install any type of water heater.

Select A New Water Heater

It is easier to replace an existing unit with a comparable water heater that uses the same type of fuel. For example, you should install a hot water heater that uses electricity if you are removing an electric unit. Ensure that the new appliance is sized correctly so that it will meet the hot water needs of your household. Select an appliance with a high-energy efficiency rating to conserve energy and reduce monthly utility bills. Measure the distance between the hot and cold water lines on your current unit. Purchasing a new appliance with the same dimensions will make it easier to install the hot water heater.

Removing The Old Appliance

Shut off the circuit breaker that supplies electrical power to the water heater. A gas unit equipped with an electronic ignition will also be connected to a breaker. Close the gas supply valve by turning it perpendicular to the supply line. Turn off the water supply valve leading to the water heater. Connect a hose to the drain located on the bottom of the tank. Run the hose outside or to a nearby sink drain. Open the pressure relief valve on the top of the water heater and the valve on the bottom of the tank to allow water to drain from the tank.

When the tank is empty, disconnect the water inlet, outflow and gas supply line fittings using a pipe and crescent wrench. Use one wrench to hold one side while using the other wrench to unscrew the opposite side of the fitting. These fittings are typically not present on older units, which means that you must cut the supply lines. Remove the flue from the top of a gas appliance. Disconnect the electrical wiring if a plug is not present. Use a hand truck to remove the old appliance. Discard the water heater according to local codes.

Installing The New Water Heater

Read and follow the installation instructions that are supplied with the new unit, including any specific precautions and warnings. Using the hand truck, position the new water heater so that the water lines are aligned as well as the gas supply line and vent if necessary. The water heater should be placed inside a drip pan. Place a 4-foot level across the top of the appliance. Use plastic shims to ensure that the tank is level. Reconnect the fittings with the wrenches. If the fittings are not present, you will need to solder new pipes in place. Reconnect the flue vent if required. Reconnect the electrical wiring or plug in the appliance as applicable. Open the water and gas lines to check the connections for leaks. 

Contact the code enforcement office if an inspection is required. If everything is correct, allow the water heater tank to fill. Open several hot water faucets inside your home to allow air to bleed out as the tank fills. Close the faucets when water flows freely from the taps. Ensure that the flow of water has stopped and the tank is full before closing the circuit breaker and turning on the appliance. The heating elements can be damaged if the tank is only partially filled.

A hot water heater installation generally exceeds the ability of most homeowners. The process requires plumbing skills and work with electricity as well as natural or propane gas if applicable. If you are not comfortable installing your new unit, contact the professionals at Reliance Plumbing and Drain Cleaning for assistance.

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