DIY Water Heater Installs: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

DIY Water Heater Install

Since you’re reading this post, we can guess a few things about you:

  1. Your water heater is dead or dying.
  2. Paying someone to install a new one isn’t something you’re super excited about. (Who would be?)
  3. You watched a couple of YouTube videos and learned water heater installs really aren’t terribly difficult. (They aren’t—if you know what you’re doing.)
  4. So, you’re thinking seriously about maybe just doing it yourself.
  5. But you’re still a tiny bit nervous about the whole idea, so you got Google involved.
  6. And now you’re trying to decide if you’re heading to the home improvement store. Or not.

Here’s the truth: If you have some intermediate-level home improvement skills, you can (probably) pull off a water heater install. But there are some common, potentially dangerous problems do-it-yourselfers seem to have. As Pittsburgh’s most trusted plumbers, we’d like to help you avoid some common water heater installation mistakes.

Common Water Heater Installation Mistakes

Problem #1: Forgetting to cut power to the water heater.

Please remember that the job you’re about to undertake involves both water and electricity. Even if you have a gas water heater, your unit may require electricity to get the pilot light going. If that’s not the case, that’s great; but you’ll likely be working with and around other things that do require electricity. So just be careful.

By the way, your electric water heater should be installed within sight of your circuit panel. If it’s not, you must have either a disconnect switch/breaker near the heater or a locking device installed on the breaker switch in the main panel. (You just don’t want someone to restore power, not realizing you’re working on it.)

Problem #2: Not having the right tools and doing things in the wrong order

If you’re smart and mechanically inclined, you may be tempted to figure things out as you go along. Don’t be a hero: Read the instructions. At the very least, you’ll know what tools you need before you start, you’ll get a good idea for long it’ll take you, and you’re more likely to avoid causing a flood in your basement.

Problem #3: Attempting to move a water heater alone

Let’s say your water heater’s actually working perfectly fine, but it’s in the way of the man cave renovation you have planned. It may be fine to move it, but that’s absolutely not a DIY job. You’ll have to reroute water and power lines, after all, and if you have a gas-powered water heater, it’s actually illegal to move it yourself.

Assuming you have the right help, you’ll need to make sure your water heater’s in the proper spot. Gas water heaters shouldn’t be enclosed in a small closet or bedroom because that increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Although they can be in a dedicated enclosure, there are still safety issues to consider.

Problem #4: Not understanding how to configure the TPR valve and drainpipe

TPR stands for “temperature and pressure release.” Your TPR valve is one of the things that keeps your water heater from exploding. In short, if your water heater builds up too much pressure, the TPR valve opens to allow some water to drain out. Of course, that water is hot—anywhere from 120°F to 140°F—so it’s critical to install the drainpipe correctly. Otherwise, someone who just happens be nearby when the valve opens could be severely burned.

Problem #5: Rushing to test the unit

If you manage to get through the entire installation process, you’ll be anxious to test your handiwork. That’s fine—but wait until the water heater’s full before you restore power and/or light that pilot light. Otherwise, you’ll fry the heating element, and although that’s not a hugely expensive or difficult repair, you just installed the thing. Don’t do that to yourself.

Also, before you power up your new water heater, open a hot water tap somewhere in your house and let it run for a few minutes. That will clear air that made its way into the lines during disconnection and reconnection.

Help’s On the Way!

As with all home improvement projects, it’s best to expect the unexpected. If you’d like help with your water heater installation—including deciding on a different size or style—give us a call. We’ll be right over.

Posted Under: DIY, Water Heaters

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