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Can a Homeowner Install a Water Heater? What To Consider

You may be wondering if installing a water heater on your own is something that you can do. As someone who has experience with this, I’ll walk you through whether it’s something you should attempt on your own or not.

If you have a bit of background knowledge on how to install a water heater, and you have the right tools available, then considering doing it yourself might be a great option for you. This can save you money as you won’t be needing to hire a contractor for the job.

But before you get your tools and buy materials, it’s best to understand the process, know the limitations, and learn the risks that come with DIY installing a water heater. In this article, I’ll cover all there is that you need to know about installing a water heater, so you can make an informed decision…

Do I Need a Permit To Install a Water Heater?

The answer to this question would depend on your location. While most cities do not require permits for the installation of water heaters, it’s better to ask your local authorities just so you can be sure that you’re not violating any city ordinances.

Make sure to ask for both plumbing and electrical permits as the installation of water heaters would require both.

  • A plumbing permit in general is required if you are to relocate, change, or install a new plumbing system.
  • An electrical permit, on the other hand, is required if you are to install or modify any electrical wiring or add an additional breaker that will accommodate your new water heater.

What To Consider When Installing a Water Heater

Make sure to consider factors such as risks, potential dangers, costs, and your own skill and experience. It’s important to be aware of them so you can make an informed decision as to whether you should take the plunge or hire a professional contractor instead. Let’s look at these factors in more detail…

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Potential Dangers Due to Improper Installation

There are specific rules and plumbing codes that should be followed when installing or replacing a water heater. These requirements are in place to ensure that the installation is done properly and safely.

Gas lines, water lines, and electrical connections all need to be installed correctly in order for your water heater to function as it should and to prevent any gas leaks or fires. If these aren’t hooked up right, you could seriously injure yourself or cause damage to your home.

Not to mention, there’s a possibility of damaging other nearby properties, especially when living in a place where only the walls separate you from your neighbors.

Here are some of the most common improper installation practices so you can avoid and be aware of them:

  • Not reading manufacturer’s instructions – Remember that water heaters have different requirements. If some practices work on a specific water heater, it doesn’t mean that it will also work on other models.
  • Venting problems – If the vent pipes aren’t installed properly or they’re the wrong size, this could cause carbon monoxide and other poisonous gasses to leak into your home. Monoxide poisoning can cause death, so this is obviously something you want to avoid.
  • The wrong choice of gas line – Depending on where you stay, there are building codes in place that say what type of gas line material you’re allowed to use. Avoid using aluminum gas lines as this material can easily be corroded, which can result in gas leaks.
  • Improper TPR installation – TPR, or the temperature and pressure relief valve, is a very important part of the water heater. If not installed properly, the pressure inside the water heater will not be handled as it should be and can cause the tank to explode.

Insurance and Warranty Risks

Insurance and warranties may not cover a self installed water heater

Insurance Might Be Voided

Have you read the coverage of your home insurance policy? If so, then you should be aware that most insurance companies don’t cover accidents caused by appliances like water heaters, especially if not done by a licensed professional.

Insurance companies know that the installation of water heaters requires experience and certain expertise as it can be a very dangerous job if not done right. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if your insurance provider doesn’t cover the damages caused by improper installation.

Warranties Might Be Voided

If you bought a brand new water heater, then it’s most likely to have a warranty. And, warranties often come with their own set of rules, especially when it comes to installation. Almost all manufacturers of water heaters require their products to be installed by professionals as they are well aware of the risks and potential dangers of improper water heater installation.

If something happens and your water heater needs repairs or replacement due to your improper installation, then the warranty will most likely be voided. Expect out-of-pocket expenses for any repairs or replacements that you might need for your damaged water heater.

Skill Assessment

There are three main skills required in installing a water heater. As this appliance is connected to a lot of different pipes and electrical wirings, it’s important to be familiar with the installation process and have the required skill set to do the job.

  • Electrical – You must have a basic understanding of how to connect wires and follow electrical diagrams. This is to ensure that you will be able to properly connect the water heater to the breaker box where it will get its power.
  • Plumbing – You must utilize the right plumbing techniques as water heater installation requires a lot of soldering and pipe connections. This is to make sure that there will be no leaks in the gas or water lines. A simple mistake can cause major damage to your appliance and to your house.
  • Carpentry – Installation of a water heater can be tricky at times. Knowing the ins and outs of carpentry will give you an edge if you want to DIY your own water heater installation.

The Cost of DIY Installation

You can definitely save some cash if you opt to do your own water heater installation. The average cost of hiring a professional to do it for you can be anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000 depending on the type of water heater you are installing, the amount of work involved, and the material costs.

If you’re opting to do it yourself, you would only need to buy the materials needed which would cost you under $1,000. However, the effort, time, and potential risks involved in doing so are significantly higher so make sure to take note of them before you decide to do it yourself.

Make sure to review and go through each point very carefully to make sure that you are making the best decision. Remember that it is not only the money involved in the installation that you should be worried about but also your safety and the safety of your home.

If you are confident in your skills and you have reviewed all the risks, then let’s start learning how to install a water heater…

Water Heater Installation Project – Step by Step Guide

Now that you have decided to do it yourself, let’s get started with the project! Here are the 10 steps that you need to follow for a successful water heater installation:

NOTE: Before anything else, remember to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Again, understanding your unit should be the priority. As mentioned above, the things that work for one type of water heater might not work for another.

Step #1: Turn Off the Gas

If you have a gas water heater, turn off the gas first by going to the shutoff valve. Also, make sure that the water supply is turned off before starting the installation process.

Step #2: Drain the Tank

Connect a hose to the drain valve and open it up to drain the water out of the tank. Remember the water is hot, so be careful and wear protective clothing. You can use a union or a pair of wrenches to disconnect the gas line.

Step #3: Cut the Water Lines

There are two water lines that connect the water heater to your home’s plumbing system. You can cut them using a pipe cutter and let them drain into a bucket.

Step #4: Attach the New TPR Valve

Installing a water heater

Attach the new TPR valve to the water heater and make sure it’s installed properly, not crooked. You can use some thread seal tape or Teflon tape to wrap the threads, which will help ensure a tight seal.

Step #5: Connect the New Water Lines

Connect the new water lines to the valve and tighten them using a wrench. Be careful not to over-tighten as this can damage the valve. You can also use Teflon tape and plastic-lined nipple when connecting the new water lines.

Step #6: Solder the New Water Lines

Connect the old tubing to the new ones and make sure that they meet properly. You can use a soldering torch to heat the tubing and create a watertight seal.

Step #7: Reattach the Vent

Put the vent back in place and screw it tight. Use the recommended screws and make sure that they’re not over-tightened.

Step #8: Attach the Gas Lines

Connect the gas lines to the valve and tighten them. You can use a wrench for this process but make sure that you also don’t over-tighten the screws.

Step #9: Check Connections for Any Leaks

Turn on the water and gas lines to check for any leaks. You can use a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water and put them on the joints to see if there are bubbles. If there are, fix them with sealant or tape as needed.

Step #10: Light the Pilot when Everything is Ready

Turn the gas line on and then light the pilot with a match or extend lighters. For electric water heaters, you can simply turn on the power switch. Make sure to have your work inspected by an electrical inspector to ensure everything is safe.

I Want To Do Some of the Installations and Hire a Professional for the Rest

This is a common scenario when DIYers find themselves in the middle of a project and realize that it’s way out of their league. It’s also common that homeowners want to do some parts of the installation process and let the professionals finish the job just to save a bit of money.

This is acceptable as long as you are transparent with whatever you did with the professional that you hire. This is a critical point, as many professionals will not want to touch what another has done for fear of being held liable if something goes wrong.

So, what part of the installation process can I do?

If you’re looking to save some money and want to do as much of the job as you safely can, here are a few things that you can take off the contractors list quite easily…

  1. First, you can start with the removal of your old water heater, if any. This can free up the time of the professional you hire and might lessen the cost since they won’t have to do the whole job.
  2. You can also help prepare for the entry of your plumber. Make sure that there is a clear path from the driveway to where your plumbing fixtures are located so that it will be easier for them to enter and exit.
  3. You can also purchase materials in advance. If the company you hire allows you to buy from an outside supplier, preparing the materials in advance can also be a factor that can lessen your costs.

Other than this, there’s not much we recommend you do as the technicalities of installation might be too complicated, especially if you don’t have experience.

Is It Worth It To Do the Installation Yourself Given All the Things To Consider?

If you have the right skills, experience, tools, and equipment ready, then you can start the project at your own pace. This can give you the benefit of saving lots of cash and the edge of knowing every detail of the installation process.

As you are familiar with how you’ve done the installation, you can also have the advantage of easily identifying problems if there are any in the future.

If you’re new to the installation process and lack the required experience and skills, it’s recommended you hand the job over to a professional.

This way, you can rest assured that everything will be handled, with the safety and functionality of your water heater as the top priorities. You can also keep the warranty of your unit as well as your insurance if, in any case, something goes wrong during the installation process.