Guest Post: How to Install a Water Heater

Posted by John on January 25th, 2013

Hey everybody!  Hope you all had a great week.  If you couldn’t tell from the lack of posts this week, we’ve been busy.  I’ve started up another grad class and we’ve been hard at work painting our toddler bedroom.  I considered showing the before posts this week, but I think it’ll be better to just have the room completely painted.  We hope to show you those on Monday!

Today we have a helpful guest post from Rachael from DIYMother on replacing water heaters.  We installed one in our first home, going from a 30 gallon to a 50 gallon.  Made a world of difference.    Thanks Rachael!

How to Install Your Water Heater

A common household plumbing project, replacing your water heater can raise many potential dangers. When your water heater begins to leak, you have to replace it quickly. Here are the steps needed in order to properly install your water heater.

Remove your Old Heater

Before you can connect your new water heater, you will have to remove the old one. First, turn of the fuel source (electricity or gas) and then drain the heater tank. Open the hot water faucet to allow air into the system to assist in the draining process. On a gas heater, you will need to separate the vent pipe from the draft hood. The hood should easily lift off after you remove the sheet metal screw that holds it in place. After ensuring the pilot light is out, disconnect the gas line at the heater and cap it off.

You will then remove the heater from its water pipes. If the pipes are connected by removable, threaded fittings, take them apart with a pipe wrench. However, if your pipes do not have a removable, threaded fitting, you must use a hacksaw to remove them. A pipe cutter will also allow you to complete the job successfully. Once draining has completed, you will be able to remove and dispose of your old water heater.

Installing your New Heater

Using an appliance cart or dolly, move your new heater to its location. Then, position the water heater so your piping will reach easily. This is especially important if you have a gas water heater and need to line your heater up properly to reach the gas vent pipe.

For a gas heater, you will need to install the new draft hood. Many heater hoods have legs that insert into holes on the top of the heater, making it easy for you to install. A gas water heater requires proper venting that is no smaller than its draft hood collar. It would be in your best interest replace vent pipe elbows, as your old ones are most likely corroded. Make certain that your vent is perfectly vertical for as far as is possible. When you can no longer keep the vent vertical, the vent should slope upward one quarter inch per foot, with the lowest point being where the pipe goes from vertical to horizontal.

Next, connect the vent pipe with sheet metal screws. At this point, you are ready to make your hot and cold water connections. It is recommended to use flex connectors, which are easy to bend to reach the connection. The way to handle your water pipe depends on the type of pipe your house has. Regardless of size and material, the heater should be fitted with a cold water gate valve. Place this valve in a vertical section of piping to prevent sediment buildup.

When working with threaded pipes, you should have a removable, threaded fitting on both the hot and cold water lines, replacing the old fittings entirely, as your new fittings are manufactured to fit together properly. You will also need new nipples for the top of your water heater. The length of the nipples will depend on the distance from the fittings located at the top of your water heater to your fittings.

If you choose to use flex connectors, you will find that fittings are unnecessary. If your water heater has female-threaded tappings, you will need a pair of three-quarter inch nipples to connect the flex connectors at the bottom. However, if your heater comes with three-quarter inch male-threaded stubs, nipples will not be needed to complete your installation.

Flex connectors fit directly to the ends of the threaded pipe at the top of your heater. Some will install to copper tubing without sweat soldering. If you do sweat solder, make sure to do this before installing your flex connectors. This will help you avoid damage to the connector gaskets.

If you are using plastic piping, you will need “transition” fittings between the plastic pipe and the metal heater threads. Some manufacturers recommend using foot-long threaded steel nipples between the water heater and the transition fittings to create distance between the fittings and the conducted burner heat. Be cautious when buying piping. Do not attempt to hook up your new water heater with PVC, PE or ABS plastic piping, as these types of pipes will not take hot water.

Installing your Relief System

One of the vital parts of your hot water heater installation process includes installing a temperature and pressure relief valve and line. The relief system automatically releases excess heat and pressure in your system. With all of your plumbing installed, you can close the heater’s drain valve and open the cold water inlet valve in order to fill the storage tank. Then, open the hot water faucet to release air trapped in the top of the tank. Next, close the faucet as water will flow from it rather quickly, and then check for any leaks.

Energy Connections

The final step in completing the installation of your new water heater is to connect your energy supply. For gas connections, you will want to add a shut-off valve on the gas line if there wasn’t one already installed. Use a new fitting to complete the gas line installation with a threaded pipe. For flex connectors, you will want to install a male flare adapter into the inlet opening of the water heater’s gas valve. Next, connect the gas flex connector collar to the flare adapter and tighten it with an adjustable, open-end wrench. When everything is complete, see that your thermostat is in the off position. Then, you can turn the gas on to your heater.

For electrical connections, the wires providing electricity to your heater must be the right size and provide the correct voltage and amperage that your heater was designed to use. Unless you know how to work with this wiring, it is recommended that you hire a certified electrician to wire your water heater. When you turn on the heater circuit, make sure to check the electric meter to see that it is spinning, indicating that the heater is functioning properly.

Rachael Jones is a Staff Writer for DIYMother.

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