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How To

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Water Heater Installation

new water heater

In this project we're demonstrating the steps we took to remove a water heater that began to leak and the installation of a new, larger water heater in its place.

Permitting - A city mandated permitting process is required for water heater installation and a city inspector must approve the final installation of the unit; this is a relatively new requirement in our locale and ended up causing some hurt feelings and additional problems for us in this project.

The Problem - The city inspected the new water heater installation and FAILED the initial inspection. The method Jeff used to marry the water heater pressure-relief valve using braided stainless steel line created an unintentional water-trap in the braided line. In this case, a water trap is undesirable and is against city code. This error is clearly called out at time marker 12:45 in the first video. If you're not sure exactly what a water-trap is or why it's a problem in this scenario click here for a primer and check out the illustrations to get your head wrapped around the problem.

Unintentionally creating the problem water-trap was really a pretty easy thing to do; fixing the problem and passing city code inspection was another matter altogether.

Watch the Videos - We'd recommend that you watch the two videos to get a feel for the entire installation including the problems and what we did to resolve them. The photos and text that follow the video may also be useful to see some of the finer detail that can't be seen in the videos.

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Video 1 of 2

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Video 2 of 2

water heater electrical

The water began leaking from the top of the unit and filled the space that contains the electrical connections. The water heater circuit breaker did not trip even with the connections submerged under water.

water shutoff valve

This is the original cold-water shutoff valve leading to the old water heater. The clamp and copper wire that are attached to the water pipe are an electrical grounding arrangement. Where this ground wire terminates at the other end is unknown.

water heater stub plumbing

The wall between the water heater and master bedroom has been torn out and this plumbing manifold was located at slab level. Termites are a way of life in the southwest and this is clear evidence that they've been here before. Termites are the subject of a future DirtyShirt project but in short, they are attracted to plumbing fixtures and build mud tubes wherever they reside.

stub plumbing close up

Here's a close up – this mess will be cleaned up and the pipe insulation will be replaced.

plumbing identification

(A) That's 1/2" copper pipe coming up from the slab and it's been joined to (B) 3/4" pipe for distribution throughout the house. We're not plumbers but this just looks so very, very, wrong on a couple of levels. Shouldn't that be in reverse or shouldn't 3/4" pipe be used throughout the house? Maybe one of our more knowledgeable readers will write to us and straighten us out.

new copper plumbing

As discussed in Water Heater Installation Video 2 the old pressure valve plumbing was cut off with a Fein Multitool and shortened at location (C). A new "L" shaped piece was created on the workbench and then soldered at location (C). The original plan was to route the pipe to the left but dog-legging it to the right was easier to do. Notice that the new pipe has been strapped to the stud; the original plumbing had no bracing at all.

insulated pipes

What a transformation! The new water heater high pressure valve plumbing has been shortened and rerouted, the piping has received new insulation, the main plumbing uprights have been strapped to a 2x4, the electrical connection has been strapped to a stud in the upper left of the photo and a new cold water shutoff valve has been installed. Best of all, the entire space has been filled with insulation where none existed before.

Now all that's left to do is hang sheetrock, tape and bed the joints, sand the whole thing down, add more mud, re-sand, paint it, reinstall the water heater, clean up our mess and schedule the building inspector for another visit. A couple of days later the building inspector did approve the installation.

Sheetrocking a wall is another subject altogether and we'll get into that at a future date.

All we can say is that if it were easy everyone would do it. We changed our solutions to these problems a number of times just like we've stated before: "The design almost always changes." However, we did save a lot of money and we know how the whole system is put together and we believe we did it better than anyone else could or would have.

finished water heater

The finished installation.