How To Replace Your Hot Water Heater: Help for the DIY Homeowner

While there are some tips and tricks that can extend the life of your hot water heater by as much as 30%, it’s inevitable that at some point you will have to install a new one.

There’s nothing wrong with calling a plumber to manage the replacement for you, but this could certainly be a DIY job. With a little guidance and the proper tools, replacing a hot water heater is one of those projects that many homeowners can take on themselves.

While there are many different models and types of hot water heaters, but there are two major categories: those that use gas and those that use electricity. Many of the steps for removal and installation are the same, but you will need to turn off either the gas or the electricity depending on which type you have.

Removing the Old Hot Water Heater

Step One:

Gas Powered: Turn off both the water and the gas supply.
Electric Powered: Turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker, and then use a circuit tester to make sure the power is off at the source. Use tape to mark the wire connections, then disconnect the wires.

Step Two:

Use a garden hose to drain the tank, then release any remaining hot water out of the lines by turning on a few hot water faucets.

Step Three:

Once the tank is empty, remove the discharge pipe from the Temperature & Pressure (T&P) relief valve, then disconnect the lines. This can usually be done by simply unscrewing the connections, but it may be necessary to cut the lines.

Step Four:

Remove the water heater – it will be very heavy, even when empty, so make sure you have a dolly available and someone to help you.

Installing the New Hot Water Heater

Step Five:

Make sure your new hot water heater has plenty of room on all sides – at least 6 inches of clearance for ventilation. Place it to allow direct access to the burner and the controls.

Step Six:

Using a carpenter’s level, check the sides of the heater to make sure the hot water heater is sitting straight. Plastic shims may be used underneath to level it.

Step Seven:

Connect the pipes, following the instructions for correct directional installment. The fittings should have arrows that show the proper directions, so you don’t get them mixed up. Use Teflon plumber’s tape to ensure a strong seal on all connections.

If you have a gas heater, make sure you reconnect the flue hat to the gas exhaust vent.

Step Eight:

Keep your hot water heater faucets open, then turn on the water supply. Open faucets will prevent air from getting trapped in the water lines. Allow water to flow from each faucet for up to a minute before turning them all off.

Step Nine:

Reconnect your electrical wires or gas pipes, then turn on the power and wait for the water to heat up. This can take a few hours, depending on the size and type of your water heater.

Some Pro Tips:

  • Dip a sponge in soapy water and apply around the new fittings. Check for bubbles to see if you have a complete seal.
  • Set the temperature of the hot water heater at 120 degrees for maximum efficiency.
  • After your new tank has been in place for a few hours, check the discharge pipe at the T&P relief valve. If the pipe is dripping, it can indicate that the pressure is too high. Turn the pressure down to below 80 PSI.
  • Routine upkeep on your hot water heater should be performed at least once a year to keep your unit running at the most efficient level possible.

A Job for Ambitious DIY Homeowners

Replacing a hot water heater is a big job. If you’re not into DIYing your home projects, you might want to reconsider doing this one yourself. Old tanks are often very heavy and older connections may be corroded or difficult to work with.

Make sure you set aside several hours for this project and assemble all the tools you may need ahead of time. You’ll want to line up an assistant to help you move out the old tank and place the new one as well.

If at any time you need help or if you would prefer to hand off this job, Home Angels is ready to assist you! Just give us a call and we can help you troubleshoot any problems you encounter or send one of our professional plumbers to take care of the replacement for you.