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View Full Version : How to change a water heater BY YOURSELF (for dummies?) with pictures


FetchMeAPepsi
January 27th, 2015, 05:43 PM
I was all geared up to get Cecilia in the garage and lay some loving hands on her today. I got up early, toted The Blonde off to the airport for a work thing, and came home and ate some lunch with my kiddos. The entire time I was thinking of one thing: Cold weather is taking a holiday, this lucky guy gets to work on my baby. :bananadance:

I got the Powder Puff ready, got The Boy ready, and pulled Cecilia around to the garage. Here we go, PawPaw! (nod to Shelby Stanga!)

I stepped into the garage and my feet hit water. A LOT of water.


What the heck? I pulled the car out and saw the door to the water heater leaking like a river. Inside, my water heater had water finally given up the ghost and had water SPURTING out of the top around the lid. You know the part that is screwed to the outside that you touch when you lean against a water heater? That cap - the WHOLE top of the heater. That's where my water was coming from. Not a pipe or something easy like that.

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My heart sank. I cleaned up the biggest part of the water and some of the mess. In a panic I called Lowes. They were nice enough but said due to my tank's age (1988) my code upgrades would cost over $1000 and the tank could be $400-900 more. No easy way out I guess. I was disappointed but I thought I learned so much already by working on my old truck that I ought to be able to swap out a water heater, right?


As always, this is what I did. You shouldn't do this. You should be smart and hire someone.


For this operation I will need:
7 and 1/2 hours if you're like me (11am to 6:30 pm)
A large crescent wrench
A small crescent wrench or pair of pliers
A propane torch
A garden hose

I'll need to buy:
A new water tank for about 400 bucks
A pack of plumbers solder
Some pipe flux if you don't have it
A pipe cleaner (wire brush thingy)
A fire extinguisher
Plumber's teflon tape


My tired old 1988 Water Tank decal

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I went to the beast and turned off the intake valve. It quit leaking. I looked all around the front, back, and underneath the tank. It looks like they're just tied in by five or six connections. Water intake (cold), water out to the house (out), a flue for the gas, gas to the gas line, a drain pipe, and sometimes a power plug.

I started easily enough. I grabbed this pipe that should have been my drain pipe. It was just laying behind the tank not connected to anything.

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Then I hooked up a water hose to the drain port on the front by the gas settings. I turned the valve but nothing came out. So I turned on some hot water in the house and whoosh, it started pouring down the hose. Success! I let it drain for about a half hour while I kept taking things apart.

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Then I took the two covers off of my gas pilot light.

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Then I followed the gas line from the pilot light to the wall where it turned on. It's here. It's just a valve that turns sideways to turn it off, lined up with the pipe straight to turn on. My picture shows it turned on (valve is lined up with the pipe). Just put a pair of pliers or a crescent wrench on it and turn it crossways to shut the gas off.

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Once the gas is off I checked the pilot light. It wasn't on anymore. Gas off!

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Next I disconnected the gas line.

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That was all the lower stuff since my overflow drain wasn't connected.
I moved to the top and disconnected the incoming water line. Luckily mine was replaced sometime with the screw on type so it was a simple screw off and push out of the way jobbie.

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I thought I'd move to the hot water side next. I peeled back some of the insulation but it turned out this side was still all soldered copper.

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So I pulled the flue off next. It just rises and falls by itself so to keep it from falling on me I propped it up on the water intake pipe.

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The Powder Puff was handing me tools on my ladder here. She asked me if we'd finish in time to work on Cecilia. She didn't like the answer. Look at that pout :(

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She walked off and The Boy wanted to help. I said, "Hand me that crescent wrench" and he ran off to his tool box. Not a lot of help, but his heart was in the right place.

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I crawled back up my ladder and pulled the flue mount off next to make room to torch on the hot water pipe.

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Lighting the torch. Powder puff took this one and was very proud of it, thought it's blurry.

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I was careful moving the heat into the little closet. Lots of flamables in there, like the wall...Anyway, I heated the pipe for a good 15 minutes.

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I never got it to let go no matter how hard I pried on it and torched it. I ended up cutting it off with a hacksaw.

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FetchMeAPepsi
January 27th, 2015, 05:46 PM
After a bunch of sawing it popped free

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Now I pulled the little closet door off so I could pull the heater out easier.

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Powder puff took a pic of my "Ten Demandments while we got ready to go get the new one. She wanted me to share it with you guys. Click for bigger.

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At Lowes we got the water heater, pipe nipples with heat protectors (plastic innards), a pipe cleaner, more propane in case I ran out, an extension to convert the soldered pipe to be a screw-on type, pipe dope, solder, and a pipe cutter. All told it was $440.00

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When we got back the old tank was finally as empty as it was going to get, which means it was full of rocks and sediment in the bottom and weighted about 400 pounds. :ahh:

I wiggle walked it off the stand it sits on and let it fall to the floor, turning it as it fell so it didn't fall on the gas line. Smash!

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After getting the "old tooth" out I stopped and we had some drinks to celebrate while the kids rode the thing like a mechanical bull. I don't drink anything but diet pepsi normally, but I heard a story about Samuel Adams drinking a cider every morning when he got up and thought hmm, I wonder what that's like. So I discovered "Angry Orchard" cider. It's kinda like a sweet apple flavor without the sickly sweetness of apple juice.

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Downed that and off to open the new tank. I cut a little doorway in the back of the tank box with a box cutter and had one of the kids hold the box as I yanked on it. It popped free. I had a new water tank and the kids had a new cardboard outhouse. I didn't have any helpers for a good 15 minutes after that :lolsmack2:

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FetchMeAPepsi
January 28th, 2015, 12:45 AM
While the closet was empty I thought I'd solder the new pipe screw connection on. I grabbed my new fancy schmancy pipe cutter.

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They're easy to use. You just open them and put them on the pipe, then make one circle around the pipe, tighten, and repeat.

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Pretty soon it pops off

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I wish I had that to take the tank out lol. MUCH faster!

Next came the pipe cleaner.

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Clean it till it's all shiny and copper-y

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After it's all clean and spit shined I grabbed the new copper fitting seen here.

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Pull the plug out of the end. That won't be good for water flow!

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I placed a call to the master cleaner, the Powder Puff Mechanic, who by now had ALL the neighborhood kids playing in her new "outhouse". (I'd like to show you a pic of this but I don't have permission from the neighborhood parents. Trust me it was funny as all get-out!)

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Then I jammed it on the pipe I just cleaned to test fit. Looks purty good!

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Then I got my flux brushed on and fired up my torch.

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I forgot to pull out a length of solder, burned the hair off my arm, and had to turn the torch off. Pretend I didn't say that and stop laughing at me. :lol:

Solder pulled out:

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Torch and solder. I had to heat it for 2 minutes (I counted) before it would melt the solder around the joint. And I had to do it twice. the first time it didn't stick. The second time was golden, so maybe 2 minutes wasn't long enough.

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Once it's stuck DONT YANK ON IT. For one, it's HOT. It'll burn your face off. For two it's still gooey and not entirely stuck. Let it cool a bit. I used this time to ready my new tank. First I pulled the little stoppers out of the intake and outflow pipes. These little rubbers are easy to drop into the pipe so unless you use your pinky, you should use a booger picker. You know, one of those screwdrivers with a toothpick on one end.

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Now I grabbed my special plastic lined pipe nipples (snicker!) here. They have a little rubber valve in them that can go either way. I put mine sticking up.

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Schmear some lox on them. Or if you don't have lox you can put pipe dope on there.

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Then I screwed them in hand tight to make sure I didn't cross thread them.

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Finish with a pipe wrench until they're gutentite! (Good-n-tight!)

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Time for the old heave ho! I had The Redhead come out of her babysitting and help me lift it into place.

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I put the flue stand and flue on first. I had to remove it to do the pipes though so eh.

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I got all the pipes tightened well. They have a rubber washer in them so you don't need to dope them up.

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Then I had The Redhead go inside and turn on the hot water faucet to let the air out while I slowly turned on the water inlet valve and let the tank fill up. I stayed right with it too just in case my expert soldering job blew up under pressure. Thankfully it held just fine!

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FetchMeAPepsi
January 28th, 2015, 12:47 AM
With the water connected and working I moved down to the gas line. I had to borrow the adapter from the old tank.

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It was filthy inside. What do they put in the gas line? I can just see some guy poking little bits of boogers and hair in the line from the gas company while he chuckles and says, "This'll teach 'em, Rufus! Heh heh!" I ran my pipe cleaner all over and inside it.

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Teflon tape the threads so it doesn't leak

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I found a plug in the new tank where the adapter goes. Can't forget that.

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And in screws the adapter. I was afraid to go too crazy tight with it because the whole thing is held up with plastic. I thought it might break off in the floor.

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I taped up the other side and attached the gas line.

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Then it was time to turn on the gas...

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I didn't blow up so I pulled the cover off the pilot night. The new one has a push starter like a grill so no more long handled matches.

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It lit with no problems! Suchcesssss!!!!

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Later on I sprayed the connection with soapy water (thanks internet!) to make sure it didn't leak anywhere. All good. I turned up the heat to "HOT" because we have a HUGE family and we go through hot water like we're paid to use it. I had to adjust it to "A", one notch over "HOT" later.

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It fired up and worked!

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I thought I was done but the Powder Puff Mechanic said, "Daddy, what about the Doooo-war?"
Oh, right.

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All that's left is plumbing the overflow spout from the side to the drain hole under it. I ran out of time so I'll do that this weekend. If you're doing this job just pretend that part is your final exam. No help from me on that one! (Hint, it's easy!)



Oh one more thing. Fun fact, the old tank was rated at 168...

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the new one, same size? $100 more per year to operate!

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Oh well. That's "Progress" I guess! :lolsmack2:

jagarra
January 28th, 2015, 04:42 PM
Fetch, always fun seeing you work your projects.
One word of advise when changing hot water heaters, especially electric ones. ALWAYS fill it with water before you apply power to the unit. If you do it the other way around and it is hot when the water hits them heating coils they break. Learned that the hard way, I guess they call that experience.

Andice
January 28th, 2015, 09:32 PM
Good job, Fetch! I've never attempted that particular DIY project. Thank you for posting this. Your new water heater may be a lot more energy efficient - it's just that the cost of gas is up so much higher than in 1988.

GMCDAC
January 30th, 2015, 05:32 AM
You and your team have once again won the battle! In 2012 I had to install a new one in our house. It and the house were new in 2006. Electric water heater. I found out that the only ones I could get locally were sold in "years" meaning 6 year, 8 year and 12 year lifespan. The one that came with the house was a "6 year" almost to the day! Menards was the only place that had an "8 year" and a "12 year" required a higher amp electric service so the "8 year" is what we bought.

In our old trailer house, we replaced the water heater once in 34 years. Now I guess a new one will be on the agenda in 2020! Quality on the decline----probably be a thousand bucks and a "one year" by then.

DAC

Ed Snyder
January 30th, 2015, 06:44 AM
Until recently I had never had a water heater problem. I always assumed that if an electric water stopped heating your water you had to replace the whole thing. But then I educated myself recently when I had to deal with a bad water heater. While looking around at Home Depot at new water heaters, I noticed that they sold kits with new thermostats and heating elements for about $35. I figured if installing those gets me hot water again, that's way faster, easier, and cheaper than replacing the whole thing. So I bought the kit, turned off the breaker, drained the tank, replaced the upper and lower heating elements and thermostats, refilled the tank, turned the breaker back on, and it worked! Nice hot water!

Maybe I'm the only one here who didn't know you could do this. On the other hand, maybe my experience will help someone else avoid having to wrestle with heavy tanks or paying for a plumber to do it for you.

6066gmcguy
February 1st, 2015, 04:29 AM
Had my water rust out the bottom a few years back, it was in a small coset inthe master bedroom, I had it replace and moved to the basement, by a Plumber friend, cost me $600 done.

I removed the leaking unit & tossed it out the bedroom window to the ground below.

6066gmcguy
February 1st, 2015, 04:39 AM
all the piping came up through the floor so it was not a big deal to mount in just below were it was in the basement, and in 20 years when it goes bad, I won;t need to redo the catpet and repair soggy walls.

GMCDAC
February 1st, 2015, 08:21 PM
Until recently I had never had a water heater problem. I always assumed that if an electric water stopped heating your water you had to replace the whole thing. But then I educated myself recently when I had to deal with a bad water heater. While looking around at Home Depot at new water heaters, I noticed that they sold kits with new thermostats and heating elements for about $35. I figured if installing those gets me hot water again, that's way faster, easier, and cheaper than replacing the whole thing. So I bought the kit, turned off the breaker, drained the tank, replaced the upper and lower heating elements and thermostats, refilled the tank, turned the breaker back on, and it worked! Nice hot water!

Maybe I'm the only one here who didn't know you could do this. On the other hand, maybe my experience will help someone else avoid having to wrestle with heavy tanks or paying for a plumber to do it for you.

Hi Ed, hope all is well! My situation was similar to Fetch's and Jolly's. Tank sprung a major leak. Heating elements ain't gonna fix that!

DAC

FetchMeAPepsi
February 11th, 2015, 09:39 PM
I wasn't thrilled to do this project, but I'm glad I did when I did. Blessings in disguise and all that I guess. I just heard that water heaters are going up around 40% in cost due to new regulations coming out in April. They'll still sell out of existing inventory then after that you'll pay alot more for a heater. Something to think about if yours is getting older. Thanks for reading guys.

:threadjacked:- Hey Foley, if you're still around pop in and say hi from time to time!

GMCDAC
February 12th, 2015, 04:35 AM
I wasn't thrilled to do this project, but I'm glad I did when I did. Blessings in disguise and all that I guess. I just heard that water heaters are going up around 40% in cost due to new regulations coming out in April. They'll still sell out of existing inventory then after that you'll pay alot more for a heater. Something to think about if yours is getting older. Thanks for reading guys.

:threadjacked:- Hey Foley, if you're still around pop in and say hi from time to time!

Gee imagine that, the cost of an important, shorter lifespan-engineered appliance takes a big jump in cost. Funny how all the stuff you have to buy jumped up when gas prices jump but never go down with the same relationship. A few of days ago when barrel oil prices jumped a couple bucks and they were frantically changing the signs to a dime higher within minutes. Barrel price went back down like 3 bucks the next day but it's like those panickers forgot how to change that readerboard and pumps---LOL! Ahh getting on a rant, sorry!

Talked to Foley around new years by email and all was well, but I think his area has been getting soaked with rain. Hope everything is ok.

DAC

Onuma
April 17th, 2015, 11:24 PM
:thumbsup:

I put a new one in 2 months ago as well. The old one didn't bust on me, but the insulation & innards were breaking down and getting into the water.

I opted for the Cadillac model. 50 gallons, 12 years, and double insulation. Pricey, but a 10% military discount brought it down to the cost of the one I would have purchased otherwise. Add in a few parts, and the cost was about $600 with me and my old man doing the labor.

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Hobie
April 18th, 2015, 01:02 AM
:thumbsup:

I put a new one in 2 months ago as well. The old one didn't bust on me, but the insulation & innards were breaking down and getting into the water.

I opted for the Cadillac model. 50 gallons, 12 years, and double insulation. Pricey, but a 10% military discount brought it down to the cost of the one I would have purchased otherwise. Add in a few parts, and the cost was about $600 with me and my old man doing the labor.

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I hope that gas valve lasts more than the six months on average they are lasting out here. We get at least two calls a day for the warranty work on those **** things. Keep a close eye on it and please make sure to get all the paperwork in order for the warranty. Since you self installed they (whirlpool) have been real stingy on covering claims.

Onuma
April 18th, 2015, 01:22 AM
Good call. I'm certain I kept everything, and that it was done properly. My father has been working in construction & general contracting for nearly 40 years, so he has the know-how to do things right.

Hopefully there's no such issue to be worried about.