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DIY - Replacing a Water Heater

12-19-08

Chris Tsutsui

When I bought my house, my home inspector noted that our water heater is old but since it still made the water hot, he didn't note that it needed replacement just yet.  He told me that I should open the drain valve and empty the tank of hard water sediments and contaminants.  I did just that and ended up with huge chunks and small pieces of white chalky residue spew out from the drain hose.  (Garden hose)

The drain valve on a 25 year old water was PVC with rubber gaskets.  The rubber in the seals had hardened and began to decompose since all rubber will eventually dry out and harden.  This was the first leak that I tried to fix, simply by tightening the drain valve by hand.  Of course since the leak wasn't at the PVC threads it still leaked regardless of how tight it is.  This is also a type of valve that isn't exactly easy to find.

What the inspector didn't know is that there were more than one SMALL leaks in the water heater.  I could tell from the huge corrosion crystals all over the cold water inlet I had to clean, just to shut off the gate valve.  I really don't like gate valves and immediately took note that I would replace it with a ball valve.

Leaks drive me crazy and I most definitely don't want the leak to get worse.

This surprised me.  I drained the water heater a second time, this time ALL the way through and the water coming out was brown.  If I ran tests on the water, I am confident there was rust IN my water heater.  This doesn't seem too good at all.

This shot is a view of the top of the water heater.  Please keep in mind I wiped down most of the crystal formations and rust so that I could remove the flex pipes.

Here's the corrosion making its way down the entire side of the water heater.

And finally, the bottom of the water heater.  TOTALLY rusted through the outer casing.  One of the FEET on the water heater was completely rusted through and caving into the water heater.  I actually found out that the STRAPS securing the water heater for earth quakes was actually helping to stabilize the water heater in case one of the 3 feet rusted through.  In order to have the water heater stand upright on the mover's dolly I had to shove a 2x4 under it.

Of course the gave valve had so much build up that I couldn't close the valve.  Thus the entire time of having to wait for a plumber, buy a water heater, install it.  We had no cold water since we couldn't shut off the cold water inlet to the water heater.  It's been a total of 7 days with no running water.  This is because Friday, Saturday, Sunday I waited for a call back from the plumber.  Finally monday I get a call and schedule the appointment for tuesday morning.  Tuesday he says I need a new water heater, then Wednesday I buy the water plus supplies and thursday I installed it.

Essentials: 

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Yellow Thread Tape (Safe for Gas, used on the natural gas threads)

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Teflon thread Tape (used on all other metal fittings)

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PTFE thread sealant (used on all other metal fittings)

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Aluminum Tape (Seal vent duct)

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Two copper flex pipes, one for cold, one for hot.

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Ball Valve to replace gate valve.  (Or replace with same part)

For sweat soldering the TPR drain line, home depot sells a kit for $26 that includes a benzomatic propane torch, water soluble flux, and lead free solder. I used 3/4" copper pipe, some joints/elbows.

I wouldn't get a solder ball valve since the brass takes longer to heat and you may need a MAPP gas torch plus you risk damaging the teflon ball valve seal.

The last resort product I got was a plumbers epoxy. I didn't have to use it though because there were NO leaks!

I thought I had to use a di-electric union, but it turns out that my home water pipes are copper and the inlet valve for the new water heater already had a di-electric end to them.

My water heater came with a replacement vent hood, and foam pipe insulation. 

The brand new GE Low NOx 40 Gallon Natural Gas Water Heater!

The water heater is also very well insulated and according to the energy savings tag, I will save about $200 per year on gas consumption comparing this new model to my old one!

Lifting it onto a platform can be a tough task.  This is why I used a simple automotive floor jack and a square piece of wood to help lift the water heater to the right height so it could be slid into place. Have a friend to help because they weigh over 150lbs dry and extremely bulky with no handles to grip onto.

Lighting the pilot light took a few tries with the piezo ignition.  This is one area where I think the model can be improved because I'm used to instant pilot light lighting.  No fiddling with a push down knob while clicking a button and trying to view the pilot light through a quarter size peep hole.

Please note that this is a picture before the water heater restraint straps were installed.  After checking for leaks, I added polyurethane foam insulation to hot water outlet pipe.  I wrapped the polyurethane in a high temperature Aluminum tape to protect it from any ambient heat from the exhaust vent. I only measured the exhaust vent with an infrared non-contact thermometer and found it reaches about 120 degrees so in most cases, using just the foam insulation is fine.

I sweat soldered a copper pipe for the pressure release valve.  (TPR valve).  This routes the same way the old pipe did which has a bend and drains down to the floor.

$538 + Tax at Home Depot.  (Minus 10% movers coupon)

I was willing to pay for the water heater, however, the good people at American Home shield "AHS" gave me a full reimbursement check for the cost of the water heater given I provided proof that it was installed with the supervision of a licensed plumber.

I'd like to say special thanks to Diane Anthony, who is head of the southern California region.  If you are to sign up for a home warranty, please make sure to contact Diane for she is extremely helpful.  She responds within MINUTES of my emails to her, and is extremely dependable and makes things happen.  She just doesn't brush you off or try to treat you like you don't know any better.

Imagine a warranty on your home... well that's what a home warranty is for.

Special thanks to American Home Shield

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Last modified: 03/24/10