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Wednesday, 04 January 2017 02:15

How to Install a Water Heater

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This article covers how to install a water heater, specifically the standard "barrel style" electric water heater. Owing to the dangers of working with gas lines, gas water heaters should generally be installed by professionals, so I won't cover their installation here. Of course many of the procedures are the same, but I recommend that you not attempt to connect your own gas water heater unless you already have experience (but then you wouldn't need to consult this guide).

Electric water heater installation is actually quite easy if you know what to do step by step, so let's get started.

Here is a list of tools and materials you will need:Tools for installing an electric water heater
  • Hacksaw or reciprocating saw (to cut pipe) (A)
  • Pipe reamer (to dress the cut pipe ends) (B)
  • Gloves (for handling pipe)
  • Pipe wrench (C)
  • Pliers (D)
  • Channel locks (E)
  • Gas torch (F)
  • Silver solder (made for welding copper pipes) (G)
  • Flux and flux brush (used to make solder flow) (H)
  • Fine (600 grit) sand paper or emery cloth (to dress the pipe ends and fittings--important) (I)
  • Copper pipe and fittings (enough to do the entire job) (J)
  • Alternative: SharkBite fittings (an easy but more expensive alternative to regular copper fittings)
  • Wire cutters (K)
  • Screwdrivers (Phillips and flat head)
  • Wire nuts
  • Tape measure
  • Garden hose
  • you might be required to separately purchase threaded fittings for your water heater and if so you'll need teflon tape to seal them.
Once you have your tools and supplies on hand you can begin the work.Drain water heater

Step 1. Turn off the water and power to the water heater.  The power should be turned off at the breaker box (there are often two breaker boxes in a house--one inside and one outside. If you don't see the breaker in one, check the other)   The water inlet valve will orient you to the in-flow and out-flow pipes (if, by chance, there is no valve, your water heater was installed by an amateur and you should install a valve).

Step 2. Drain the water heater by attaching a hose to the drain valve (see picture) and opening the valve with a screwdriver.

Step 3. When the water is drained completely, saw through the pipes (see photo).Saw through the pipes of your water heater A reciprocating saw comes in real handy here, but a hack saw will do the job. Important: Be sure to leave enough pipe on the wall side to attach a pipe fitting (coupling or elbow) to the pipe. Note: While it is possible to un-solder pipes from fittings by heating them with a torch, once a pipe or fitting has been soldered once, it is almost impossible to get a good solder joint at the same place again (heating alters the properties of the copper pipe). Therefore, you should use new fittings and pipe to connect to a cleanly cut portion of the existing pipework.

Step 4. Disconnect the power. There is a small panel where the electrical wires go into the water heater. Remove the screws that fasten the panel. Then detach the wires, making sure to note the colors of the wires and to which terminal each is connected.

Step 5. Remove the old water heater by lifting it out of the pan.  With all the water drained it can easily be handled and moved, but you might need to ask for assistance depending on your strength and the space you have to work in. A dolly comes in handy for moving the water heater, but it should be light enough for two people to carry. At this point, you should examine your pan to make sure that it doesn't leak. Clean up the area and dry up any spilled water or wetness in the pan.
Water heater installation--sandin pipes
Step 6. Place the new water heater in the space where the old one was. Center it in the pan as best you can. There can be a lot of variation in water heaters, so chances are the pipework will be a bit different from before. Make sure that you orient the inlet and outlet correctly, such that your plumbing will connect to the proper port on the water heater.

Step 7. Start your pipe installation. Measure as you go and be sure not to cut pipes too short. To prepare the pipes for installation, take measurements to determine the needed pipe lengths and also determine where the angles will be. As you cut the pipe, dress the ends with a pipe reamer to remove burrs and irregularities. Important: Thoroughly sand the pipe ends (see photos) and the insides of the fittings. If the pipes and fittings are not sanded properly, the solder won't weld them together well.

Below I discuss an easy alternative to copper pipe soldering, but I'll cover soldering here because it is the least expensive and most common means of plumbing your water heater.

Step 8. Solder the pipes together. Start at the water heater and work toward the house pipes. Soldering is not particularly difficult as long as you follow some basic procedures:
(see the video for a demonstration)
    • Before fitting them together, coat the joints (inside the coupling and outside on the pipe) with flux using the acid brush.Water heater installation - heating pipe
    • Fit the joints together and position them. The pipe that goes into the top of the water heater can be soldered first (remove the threaded fitting before soldering), but it is best to wait to solder the rest of the joints until all of them have been assembled. That way you are certain that the pipes are well configured. 
    • When the pipes and fittings are in their final configuration (with flux in each joint), you can begin to solder.
    • Heat the joint to be soldered well.  It should be uniformly hot enough to allow the solder to run quickly into the joint. Be careful, though, not to overheat the joint such that the flux boils away completely.  If this happens, the solder won't penetrate into the joint.
  Dim lights Embed
  • While heating the joint with a propane torch in one hand, use the other hand to deliver solder to the joint. Heat from one side while delivering the solder to the other side of the pipe,  Silver solder comes in a spool and you can bend a portion of it into a stick configuration. Touch the solder to the joint while flaming the joint. The solder should melt rapidly against the hot copper and quickly run around and into the joint. Solder will even wick up into joints against gravity--the flux helps it do so. If you perform the soldering operation right, you need not go all the way around the joint with the stick of solder--it will run around on its own.
  • Let the joint cool and examine it to see that the solder ran all the way around.
Step 9. When all of the joints have been soldered and the joints are cooled (before connecting the electricity) open the water valve to test your plumbing. Look for water dripping from the inlet side. Keep the house water faucets turned off and feel for air escaping from the outlet pipes.  As water fills the tank, pressure will build up and push air into the outlet pipes. The flow of air will become audible, but it can be felt escaping before you can hear it. If there are no leaks, the pipe joints are sealed. Turn the water off and complete the next step.

Step 10. Connect the electricity. Follow the instructions that came with your water heater. After the electricity is connected and the covering panel is replaced, turn on the power and go immediately to the next step.

Step 11. You may now open some hot water faucets in the house and let the hot water heater fill the rest of the way. Keep an eye on the plumbing to make sure that there are no leaks.
Your installation is now complete.Shark Bites used in water heater installation Chances are that the worst part of the job was soldering the joints. Fortunately, there is another way to securely fit pipes together. Most hardware stores now carry solderless fittings such as SharkBites or Gator Bites. These joints are quite good and easy to install. They also look nice and help you avoid the mess from flux and dripping solder. To demonstrate the difference in the two methods, I installed Shark Bites on one pipe and soldered the other side. As you can see, the Shark Bites yield a neater appearance. There's really nothing to installing these innovative joints--just press them by hand on to the pipes (you should still smooth the pipe ends with sandpaper). One major advantage to SharkBites or similar products is that they can be removed and reused. This alone justifies the extra cost.


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