Most cities, towns and municipalities require a permit for replacing a water heater in your home. Codes will vary across states and towns, so always be sure to check the requirements in your area to ensure you are meeting up-to-date codes. These are established for homeowners’ safety.
Improperly installing a water heater can cause numerous problems. Among the most common mistakes are:
- Installing a water heater without a temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P Valve). This can cause uncontrolled pressure within the water heater and a possible explosion. This has been known to cause serious injuries and even death to DIY installers or family members.
- Incorrect wiring or electrical breaker size. Improper connections or increasing the size of the water heater without increasing the gauge of the wiring can cause electrical problems, shock or a fire. A larger heater will often require a higher capacity electrical breaker.
- Improper installation of gas lines. Gas water heaters that use propane or natural gas must be installed with the proper piping and vents. Too much pressure or a gas leak can lead to an explosion and fire.
Another major mistake when installing or replacing a water heater is ignoring possible regulation and/or code changes. Always be sure to check your local codes for proper installation instructions and requirements.
What About Permits?
Every city and county have a simple process for obtaining a permit to replace a water heater. These permits usually require a trip to the local building or utilities department and only cost a few dollars. Moreover, many departments can provide a helpful handout with instructions for installing or replacing a water heater. They also typically have someone available who can answer your questions. Be sure to take note if you need more than one type of permit and obtain both if required.
Why Would I Need More Than One Type of Permit?
If any electrical work is required for your new hot water heater installation, like changes in the type of wiring or a new breaker installation, you may need an electrical permit. A licensed electrician can answer your questions about what is required for your particular installation.
In addition, if any work is needed on your water lines, like adding new, larger lines, or if gas lines must be modified or moved for the new heater, you could need a plumbing permit. A plumbing permit is usually needed for any hot water heater installation.
Can I Replace My Own Water Heater?
In most cases and local jurisdictions, you can replace your own water heater, if you possess the knowledge needed and acquire the proper permit. Some municipal regulations may require a plumber to replace a water heater, or a licensed electrician to perform any needed electrical modifications. There can be some exceptions, but you should always contact the local building or utilities department to discover the specific regulations and requirements for your area. You can likely also ask a local plumber or electrician what is required.
Special Items of Note When Replacing Your Own Water Heater
Seismic Strapping – Do you live in an area that is prone to earthquakes? If so, you may be required to install seismic strapping to secure your water heater in place. If your water heater shifts during an earthquake event, it could break water or gas lines, causing serious leaks or fires. It is not unknown for shaken or toppled water heaters in several homes to cause serious leaks in neighborhoods, so that there is insufficient water pressure for emergency personnel to fight area fires.
Proper Venting – Gas water heaters can allow carbon monoxide to escape without proper venting. Cut or damaged “B” vents (double wall vents) should be replaced, as they can allow harmful gas to leak into your home. You should also ensure that each joint in the vent ductwork is securely joined together with at least three screws or rivets. Some flexibility is needed in case of bumps or shaking, to prevent a breakage.
Proper Gas Lines – Many jurisdictions no longer allow rigid aluminum tubing for water heater gas lines. This is due to the risk of cracks or breakage if the piping or heater itself is bumped or shaken. Also, some gas is corrosive to rigid aluminum and will wear away the material, causing leaks. In most cases, a flexible stainless steel-coated line is preferred. Also, when replacing an existing gas water heater, do not reuse the same flexible gas connector. Most of these are meant for a single installation only, and repeated bending or flexing can damage it. Always replace this vital component with a new part when replacing your existing gas water heater.
In many cases, homeowners can replace their own hot water heater with basic knowledge and tools. Many building or utility departments will provide you with a helpful handout that contains step-by-step instructions and even drawings or images of a typical hot water heater installation. Many installation videos can be found on the Internet as well. Be sure to follow these guidelines:
- Obtain the proper permit(s) – plumbing, electrical (or both) or others specified.
- Have licensed professionals perform any specialty work (plumbing, gas, electrical, etc.).
- Know and follow the local regulations for safely installing a hot water heater.
- Inspect all piping, vents and ductwork connected to your water heater. Replace any worn or broken components.
- Always follow manufacturer’s instructions or those provided by a professional for installation.
- Dispose of your old water heater according to local regulations. Recycle if possible.
Hot water heaters are vital components to the modern home. Many models are available, and in various sizes, to meet any family’s needs. Be sure you purchase the size and type that best meets your family’s needs, and also one that is engineered for environmental concerns. Most modern water heaters will use less electricity or gas to heat water and save you money on utility bills, when installed correctly. Be sure to speak with a plumber or other specialist about the best type and size for your home, especially if you plan to install the water heater yourself.