Is an electric water heater installation something you can do? First you need to make sure you really need a new one. Are you sure your water heater needs to be replaced? Have you checked on possibly fixing it? Water heaters can last ten to fifteen years. Is yours older than that? Installing a new electric hot heater is a big job for a homeowner. Yes it can be done in a day if things go well.
Before you decide on a new electric water heater installation you want to make sure you can't repair the one you have. See the article Electric Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting for things you can check on.
This article covers the installation of a standard electric hot water heater. These are the lowest cost to purchase and the easiest to install. Energy star rated heat pump hot water heaters cost a lot more and are more work to install. We are going with the, 'you are in a jam' reasoning and assuming that you need to get it replaced as economically as possible.
Electric Hot Water Heater Installation - Information
What Can You Save? - A standard 40 gallon electric hot water heater installation should run between $800 and $1,000. Size matters and so does the age of your current installation. An installer may tell you need other parts and this will drive the cost up. Sometimes another $200 to $500 of up selling can take place. A new electric water heater will cost you between $250 to $400 to purchase plus another $25 to $50 in misc parts.
How Hard Could It Be? - An electric water heater installation is a fairly difficult job and will take most of a day if nothing goes wrong. These repairs will have a Difficulty Level of: Difficult. These repairs require a Skill Level of: Determined Handyman. For and explanation of the terms in this section, see 'How to Use This Site'.
Check the Simple Things! - There is nothing simple about installing a new water heater. Check out the article 'Electric Hot Water Heater Troubleshooting', to make sure the water heater is really a goner.
What Can Go Wrong? - An electric water heater installation is a big job. It involves some serious electrical current. Current that is strong enough to cause serious injury, even death. Make sure the power is off before you do anything. The water in your tank will be hot if the heater is working. Cool it down before you try and drain it. Size does matter, and getting a water heater that is a different size that the one you had will require that the hook ups be modified. Not getting the job done will leave you without hot water. Not a savory thought.
Selecting a New Hot Water Heater
Electric hot water heaters come in different sizes. Getting one with that is the same height will make a huge differences on how hard the hook ups are going to be. A key dimension is the height of the top of the water tank from the floor. It is not the end of the world if you can't find an exact match. It just means that you will have to modify the piping.
The next concern is the cost. Gas hot water heaters can range in cost from around $250 on up to $1,800 for a high efficiency model. In this article we will make the assumption that you are going for a less expensive standard model. These should be in the $250 to $600 range.
Watch where you buy your hot water tank. Some online vendors and specialty stores have disclaimers that void the warranty if you install the hot water heater yourself. The home supply stores that cater to do it yourself customers, have warranties without this disclaimer. Obviously they exclude improper installation and incorrect usage.
Water heaters are a big item and will not fit in the trunk of a car. In addition they are glass lined and should be handled with caution.
Some ancillary items that you might need would be: (1) Dielectric unions or nipples. Some water tanks come with these installed. You will have to check with your building department to find out if these are required. (2) Pressure relief valve. Some new water heaters have them pre-installed, others do not. A drip pan, these are suggested and required in some places. You may also need misc. fittings to make the connections.
WARNING!! Electric Hot Water Heaters Use Strong Current That Can Cause Injury or Death!!! Make Sure the POWER IS OFF!!! The Hot Water Can Be VERY HOT!!! WARNING!!!
Removing an Old Electric Water Heater
Removing your old hot water heater is part of an electric water heater installation. The first thing you want to do is turn off the power to the water heater. Shut off the breaker to the hot water heater. Put some tape over the breaker to notify anyone that you are working on it. Next run some hot water in a sink nearby until the water cools down (if the water heater is not working you can skip this step).
Shut off the cold water inlet valve and leave the hot water faucet open in sink nearby. Hook a garden hose up to the drain valve near the bottom of the tank. Run the hose to a floor drain or outside and open the valve. After it has drained down a little way, you can open the pressure relief valve and shut off the faucet.
At this point you can unhook the electric lines. There is a cover plate on top of the water heater where the electric line comes in. Remove the plate. Use a non contact voltage tester to make sure the power is off. You should have three wires that are connected. A black, white and ground. Unhook them after you are sure the power is off. You will want to save the connector that attached the flexible cable to the water heater. Loosen the lock nut and remove the plate. Put the wire nuts back on the bare wires for now.
Next would be the water lines. The cold water inlet and the hot water outlet. Again you should have unions not to far above the tank. Loosen the unions with two pipe wrenches. You should remove the fittings and nipples at the top of the tank as long as they are in good condition. One more item you will want to salvage is the drain tube that extends down from the pressure relief valve.
This is where you need the helper. Get some help to remove the old tank. Disposing of it might be a chore in itself. For now you want to get it out of the way.
Setting a New Water Tank
The next step in an electric water heater installation is unpacking the new unit. It is best to do this out away from the area it is being installed. There should be some instructions that come with it. Read through the instructions and look for any special items that need to be attended to. Be aware of any temporary plugs or shipping braces that need to be removed.
Are you installing a drip pan. Put in place before you try to set the water tank. Using some help again carry the new water tank into the location and set it in position. Turn the tank so that it is oriented the same as the old one. The hot and cold water lines need to line up.
At this point you find out how much trouble you are going to have with the fittings. Check the water line nipples. Are adjustments needed. For a tank that has dielectric nipples installed you will need a coupler and possibly a reducer. The nipple length may be off. Measure from the inlet and outlet on the water tank up to the bottom of the union. Make yourself a little sketch with the dimensions. You may have flexible connections here. Some building departments allow it. If you do that is a lot easier.
Mark your sketch with the fitting types, male, female and union and to what point on the fitting you are measuring to. Oh, almost forgot, size of pipe, either 1/2" or 3/4" or a combination of the two. I know this is a little tedious, but it is a necessary step in an electric water heater installation.
Are you ready for a trip to the supply house? Take your sketches with you and go to a home supply store that does pipe threading and has a plumbing department. Ask for help and explain your situation. They should be able to cut and thread the pipe for a nominal sum. In addition they can get you the right fittings to make the connections. Get some suitable joint compound while you are there.
Installing the Wiring
Hooking up the wiring is pretty much the reverse of what you did to unhook it. As long as your new unit is approximately the same size as the old unit. You will attach the flexible cable connector to the knock out in the cover plate. Use a screwdriver to remove the 'knock out' from the plate.
Remove the cover plate from the new electric water heater. you should have two hot leads and a ground lug inside the cavity. Use wire nuts to hook up the hot leads. Check the wiring diagram in the instructions. There will likely be a grounding lug to hook the ground wire to. Check the diagram. With the wires secure you can put the cover plate on.
Hooking up the Water Lines
Water line hook up in an electric water heater installation is e lot easier when you have the right fittings. Again you should use pipe joint compound on the threaded connections. Be sure to remove the plastic caps. Work from the water tank up toward the unions when tightening things. Make sure the connections are tight. Hook up the unions and that should be it.
Then last item would be the pressure relief valve. Again use some pipe joint compound on the threaded connections. Tighten the relief valve with the outlet turned down. Install the outlet tube that you took off the old unit.
Starting it Up
You have to fill the hot water tank before you can turn on the electricity. Open a hot water faucet nearby and turn on the water. Let the tank fill until all of the air is bled out of the tank.
Check for leaks and tighten anything that is leaking. When the hot water tank is full you can turn on the breaker.
The tank is cold so you will get some condensation. This should stop after a day or so. It will be some small drips of water that may make it to the floor.
Electric Hot Water Heater Installation Summary
Now that was a big job. You might be a little tired, but you likely saved $300 to $500 doing the work yourself. Was it worth it? You will have to be the judge of that. I have heard horror stories of homeowners that were sold hundreds of dollars of additional parts when the plumber came out to actually install the heater. You may have saved even more.
With this experience under your belt you are ready to tackle just about any home repair project. What will you do now? For today a little rest is in order. Tomorrow, who knows.