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This is a picture of my shiny new water heater. The old one finally let go during my shower this weekend. I had had enough. It was going to have to be replaced at some point and that day turned out to be Sunday. Here are a few general things to know when it comes time to dance to this tune yourself.

After turning off the juice at the box and turning the water intake off, I hooked up a hose to the bottom drain, kicked the pressure valve open, and began to drain the 50 gallons out.

Next up: the connections. To my surprise, if your place has an electric water heater and was built recently, things have gotten pretty easy to deal with when it comes to replacing water heaters. The hot/cold pipes were both 1” standard thread and connected to flex tubing. There were only two wires and a ground to deal with on the electric side of things. And last but not least, the high pressure valve was the only mod I had to make.

Accompanied by my very patient father who didn’t seem to care that I was cussing like a sailor the whole way up and back, we got the goods. A new Whirlpool from the local big box was around $260 with a 6-year warranty. We loaded it up along with a new drain pan — I mangled the old one connecting the hose to it — and a shiny cap for the pressure drain I was going to cut off as well as a copper drain spout and connector.

Hooking everything up was pretty simple since we only had to lug the thing into the garage, put it on the podium and hook everything up like we disconnected it a little while earlier. The whole process took about 3 hours including travel time to the home center and draining the old heater. I’ve heard nightmares about this process, but I was very lucky my experience wasn’t that bad.

Note: Apologies I didn’t take pictures during this refit. I was cold and somewhat cranky from the lack of a hot water start to the morning.

Whirlpool Water Heaters [Website]


23 Responses to Water Heater Fun

  1. That pipe on your pressure relief valve looks a little short.

    I wish I had remembered to put a pan underneath my water header last time I replaced it. Would’ve saved me some trouble when I presurized it only to find out I had a bad connection

  2. Old Coot says:

    Sean: Can’t tell for sure but something looks funky at the electrical connection. Am I seeing a piece of BX coming down with a splice to something else entering the heater? Just curious.

  3. Jason Peacock says:

    it’s also nice to include a ball-valve on the cold-water supply (also nice to have one for the HW too, but that’s not code-safe), then the next replacement won’t require turning off your water 🙂

  4. anon says:

    Save $ and the environment. Solar + tankless water heating. Works especially well in FL.

    In this case, give that boy a blanket. Probably cold up on that podium.

  5. Dustin says:

    Pressure relief pipe is supposed to be like 1″ (something like that) from the pan.

  6. Coach James says:

    How much for a solar tankless water heater? The tankless I have seen run $600+. How much for the solar to go with it?

  7. anon says:

    Solar and tankless are separate. The solar setup I use is basically black hose on my roof to get the water up to a fairly warm temp (130 on a sunny day) before feeding it into the tankless heater.

    For tankless you can get a Titan for around $225. If you have more than 2 baths, lower end tankless units can struggle on their own. Some people also have multiple tankless units in a house.

  8. Charlie says:

    What part let go on your water heater? You could’ve just replaced a couple $$ worth of parts, instead of plunking down $$$$ for something that’s gonna crap out on you in 7 years…

  9. Nick says:

    i should send you a picture of my natural gas Montgomery Wards water-heater, circa 1979. Still runs pretty good, has a cast iron bottom, none of that stamped stuff. the whole thing looks like hell, has a disgusting looking heater blanket wrap deal on it..
    i’ve been expecting to to croak anytime now so i can replace it with a big tank-less unit every once and a while i need to manually re-light it.. rust chips get in the way of the pilot burner hole.. (yeah it is leaking tinniest amount somewhere..

    now that i have bragged about it i will probably find a flooded basement when i get home..

  10. Chris says:

    If it wasnt leaking it may have just been the electrodes finally died, they are pretty cheap to replace.

    Also like Ben said, the drip leg on the relief valve should be within 6″ of the pan. If theres copper pipes

    Some states also require a bonding strap between the hot and cold sides to maintain the ground circuit since the cold water line is used for grounding in older houses. This prob doesnt apply to new homes made with pex, plus i believe newer code requires an actual ground stake be hammered into the ground for your electrical panel instead of using the cold water pipe.

  11. Mike47 says:


    If you’ve been expecting to croak, why would you even need a new heater?

  12. John Eisenhower says:

    Unless the tank leaks there is no reason to replace it. There are literally 6 parts to your heater, 2x thermostat, 2x heating elements, pressure relief valve and drain.

    Thanks for filling up the landfill so you can have something “shiny”.

  13. fred says:

    We do mostly gas-fired water heaters in our neck of the woods – where electricity is rather high priced. We also do tankless systems and oil-fired units. Tankless units are gaining in popularity – and get good customer response if done right. Some usage patterns – suggest hybrid systems wiith both a small fired heater – and a tankless unit in series. Controls that sense human presence in the bath chamber and fire-up the tankless system ahead of the actual bathing are sometimes designed-in

    @Jason Peacock
    Having dual valves can potentially bottle-up what is considered a fired vessel – thus potentially forcing the issue of having the relief valve operate. As you point out – this is not a safe practice.

    @ Chris
    There is an ASME code (A112.4.1) that relates to relief valve drain lines

  14. Jerry says:

    Hard to tell about that electrical connection from the picture but it don’t look quite right, somehow. As other have said, extend that copper down to with a couple inches of the pan so you don’t get a lot of splatter if it drains.
    Not sure about codes where you are but out here in rainy ol’ Oregon, we are required to put an earthquake strap on the beast. A small package of “plumbers tape” is about 2 or 3 bucks and if nothing else makes you feel more secure.Just cut a length and wrap it around and secure to a stud with a couple of drywall screws.

  15. Sean O'Hara says:

    @ John – Actually it’s not headed for a landfill, I have another project in mind for it. @ Everyone: Thanks for the tip on the valve length. Fixed now 🙂 And yep it had both let go and had a slow leak at the bottom seal. Not a huge amount but it seaped a great deal. It’s new life will be much more interesting.

  16. Chris says:

    I’ll be the first to say it. “Wow John who peed in your cheerios, a$$”

  17. paganwonder says:

    Kudos to your father for being patient- just when we think we know the ol’ man he steps up and suprises us, huh? Hope I get to suprise my kids the same way someday- if I can learn to be patient.

    Despite comments to the contrary- good job on a quick fix to a critical problem- my teenagers view cold showers as a world ending crisis!

  18. DaveD says:

    The problems I’ve read about tankless water heaters are that you may need to line your chimney due to the moisture content in the exhaust and that your gas bill may go up substantially because while it is more efficient, you’ll use more gas because hot water is now “unlimited”. Any truth to this?

  19. Keith says:

    The last water heater I replaced failed (the tank started leaking)
    because the anode had been consumed for some time and the tank corroded
    from the inside out (the tank lasted just past the 8 year prorated

    Has anyone been a good homeowner and checked their water heater tank
    anode regularly as this web site suggests:

    Hot water heaters: Make yours last decades; solve a problem
    http://www.waterheaterrescue.com/ ?

    I haven’t been a good homeowner either, but I was wondering if anyone
    else had any experience performing an anode check (one issue for some
    may be clearance above the tank to extract the whole anode, which would
    be nearly as long as the tank is high).

    Also, are replacement anodes are readily available if one finds theirs
    needs replacing (can’t say that I’ve seen replacement anodes on the
    shelves at the big box home improv centers or the chain hardware

  20. Coach James says:

    I’ve never seen a replacement anode in our Lowes.

  21. wpc81 says:

    how well do the tankless heaters do in areas where the water has high mineral content? are pre-filters needed/suggested?

  22. Tim M says:

    The thing I don’t like about tankless heaters (at least the Bosch I got about 5 yrs ago) is that instead of heating up as much as they can, with more flow = less temperature rise, they limit the flow so the temperature rise is relatively constant.

    That didn’t match up with my idea to put the tankless as a pre-heater before a tank heater, which would then provide a mixing area for a constant temperature.

    If you want to go the tank route, get a plastic one.. they have ridiculous warranties like 50 yrs – lifetime and should never go bad, at least from a leak. They’re like $800-1200 depending on size, but you never have to replace it. This obviously mainly applies if you’re planning on staying in the house for decades or think you’ll get enough back when selling the house.

  23. klarck says:

    Re sacrificial anodes:

    I stumbled upon waterheaterrescue.com in 2002 when I found little pieces of dip tube in my my kitchen faucet. I replaced the dip tube and anode at that time. According the the S/N, my water heater was manufactured circa 1996.

    Coincidentally, I had to do a little re-plumbing near the water heater yesterday to accommodate a kitchen remodel that I’m starting and found the magnesium anode almost entirely spent. I replaced and hope for another 7 years.

    My local Home depot has an old, dusty, beat-up box of aluminum anodes in stock.

    I think it’s shameful that anode replacement remains such a well-kept secret.

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