Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Water Heater Woes

Thursday, Kacey came home to a garage full of water. I knew a couple months ago that something was wrong with the water heater, possibly a tank leak, and was starting to release water. I had placed a tub underneath the water heater to see how much water I was loosing. The leak had pretty much stopped, until Thursday. So that means, time to install a new water heater! A little frustrating as the current one is only 7 years old, but it came with the house and is an off-name brand. So I was not too surprised.

Actually, for me, the toughest part is not removing or installing a water heater, it is figuring out what to buy to replace the old one. I have removed and installed plenty of water heaters (not covered in the 100 Man Skills), but I am very hesitant on large purchases to ensure I am getting the best reliability and best deal. We had a gas water heater, but I had been considering a tankless unit. So, the research started.

I have read that gas tankless units require at least 4" venting, which is larger than the standard 3" venting for general residential. I have also heard of other gas line considerations that caused me to lean toward the electric tankless option. Also, the gas tankless options are about $1200 versus the electric tankless which start at $700. Also, reliability and payback are questionable to date. As I looked in to electric tankless options, I could not find many readily available. So while I would like to have saved some room in my garage, and would have no problem running 8 gauge wire for the 240V line, I stuck with another gas heater. Plus this gas heater is larger yet uses less energy than our old water heater.

After looking at brands at the major stores, I picked Kenmore from Sears. Getting spare parts from Sears is easy, and I have grown to generally trust their brands. Also, I would receive 10% off on their 3 day sale they were having. So on Friday after securing a truck, a baby sitter, a little help, and verifying that Sears had what I wanted in stock, I went to Sears on Saturday morning to purchase a 50 gal Kenmore Power Miser 9 gas water heater.

For removal, turn off the hot water supply and open a handful of the hot water faucets in the house, including the one nearest the heater. Then, hook a garden hose up to the drain to redirect it outside. Set the thermostat to Pilot Light and turn the gas system to Off. Next the gas line should be closed in as many points as there is a valve. My setup had two shutoff valves, and both should be shut off. Then, I released the T&P valve to begin the drain process. Enough water will come out to make the water heater movable. When you disconnect the gas line, you will smell some gas; this is the gas left in the line escaping, so ensure the area is ventilated.

After getting the new heater home, my brother and I began to unpack for installation. Unfortunately, there was a large dent in the side from a fork truck. I called Sears and they said just bring it back for another one, and we will give you a discount. I do like the fact that I didn't even really have to ask for one.

So after returning home for the second time, my brother and I got the heater up on some blocks and got the vent hooked back up first so my brother could leave. I began with hooking up the gas line. Our house uses insulated flexible hose for the gas lines. I purchased new black pipe to create a new dirt trap and line to install in to the heater. I did not turn the gas on at this point as it is not needed yet. I would turn it on and test the lines later once the water lines were connected.

Next I began work on the water lines. As the old heater was hard piped, I cut the copper back to around 18" away to install my 18" flexible lines. After sweating on the new dielectric unions I connected the flexible lines. Pretty easy.

Next I turned the water supply on and I noticed that the teflon tape I had used on the threads was not preventing the water from leaking out. I went ahead and let the heater fill with water because I had already started and I would be able to remove pressure from the water lines went resealing the lines. To remove pressure I opened up the faucet in the garage and hit the T&P valve for a minute; this removes enough pressure to allow the water lines to be removed without making a mess. I attempted to re-tape the joints, but this did not fix the problem. So, I removed all the teflon tape and just used pipe dope. Upon reinstallation, no leaks!

Verify the water heater is full by going inside to verify water coming from the faucets you opened previously. If they are, you can shut them off. Once the heater is full and the gas line is connected, it is time to open the gas line and verify the connections. I used a liquid spray that foams and bubbles in the presence of natural gas. After letting the gas lines sit open for 5-10 minutes, I verified no leaks and felt confident in my black pipe installation. If you are not confident in your abilities here, consider hiring someone with a sniffer to install your black pipe.

So my lessons learned are from now on, for 3/4" high-pressure water lines, just use pipe dope. It acts as anti-seizing compound and forms a great seal. Save the teflon tape for small faucet jobs. Also, always put together connections before sweating or tightening anything. Because I did this, I saved ruining the dielectric unions which require putting a couple of the fittings on the pipe before sweating. I guess that makes it a lesson confirmed, not a lesson learned. Lastly, you can over-tighten water lines with gaskets, so be careful. I did over-tighten one line and when removing to install with pipe dope, I had already ruined the gasket and had to go buy another one.

This blog entry is not an exact step-by-step process I followed. I have shortened a couple steps and details. The purpose of this entry is to show the amount of detail and planning that must take place on the order of operations and part planning to minimize trips to the store. Even with my planning, I still made 3. One was the initial visit, one was a forgotten part, and one was the ruined gasket.

If you have any questions on a particular step for your own installation, feel free to email me or comment on here and I can provide more details. Good luck on your own home repair projects!


gagnonp said...

I have to admit that there are many things on the 100 list that I don't know how to do or have done before. It is sad since I grew up for 5 years on a farm while my dad renovated a lot of it, I just must have missed the boat.

Anyway I am glad I know a person to call for questions after we get a house, at some point in the distant future.

Kaco said...

My contribution: I get home Thursday after work. There's a shallow plastic bucket under the water heater that is filled, and over flowing into the garage. Not gushing... but certainly more than a trickle. Hasn't flowed outside the garage yet, so this is good, but we probably have a few too many things in the garage near it.

I go inside and ask what's wrong with the water heater. "What do you mean, 'what's wrong with the water heater?' ?" "There's a bucket overflowing into the garage," He gets up and I don't see him for at least a half hour, when I go out to the garage. I (incorrectly) assumed since there was a bucket underneath it...the bucket had been placed there today and he knew about it. We then did a few last minute things like running the dishwasher and Chris took a shower, then we shut off the water heater.

I must say we did pretty well for a good 48 hours with no hot water. I took a shower at work one day, we boiled or microwaved water for cleaning a few things, and I took a shower at work one day...Chris just smelled bad until Saturday. and it seemed like he had way more than three trips to the store.

GirlHouse said...

How did you dispose of the old water heater??

ericfetcho said...

i like reading posts like this!

It sucks that you had to replace that this early, but it was a good read!