How To Replace An Electric Water Heater In 8 Basic Steps

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your current water heater or need to remove an old one and install a brand new unit, we’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of how to replace an electric water heater, providing valuable tips and important do’s and don’ts along the way.

In response to the frequently asked question, “Can I install an electric water heater myself?” We are here to confirm that the answer is indeed yes. Replacing an electric water heater is a straightforward DIY home project.

However, let’s delve into the crucial factors to consider, the necessary tools, associated costs, and other important details.

How To Replace An Electric Water Heater: Things To Consider

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Reasons For Replacing An Electric Water Heater

There are several reasons why you might consider replacing an electric water heater:

  1. Age: Electric water heaters typically have a lifespan of around 10-15 years. If your water heater is reaching or exceeding this age, it may be prone to breakdowns and inefficiencies, making replacement a wise choice.
  2. Inefficiency: Older water heaters tend to be less energy-efficient compared to newer models. Replacing an old electric water heater with a more energy-efficient one can help reduce your energy consumption and lower your utility bills.
  3. Costly repairs: If your electric water heater requires frequent repairs or if the repair costs are becoming significant, it may be more cost-effective to replace the unit entirely. Constant repairs can also be a sign of larger underlying issues.
  4. Insufficient capacity: If your household’s hot water needs have increased over time, your current electric water heater may no longer provide enough hot water. Upgrading to a larger capacity unit can ensure an adequate supply of hot water for your needs.
  5. Safety concerns: Over time, the heating elements or thermostat in an electric water heater may malfunction or wear out, leading to potential safety hazards like overheating or scalding. If you notice any safety issues, such as unusual noises, leaks, or inconsistent water temperatures, it’s crucial to replace the water heater promptly.
  6. Upgrading to new technology: Advancements in technology have introduced more efficient and feature-rich electric water heaters. If you want to take advantage of improved energy efficiency, smart controls, or other innovative features, replacing your old unit allows you to upgrade to a newer model.

Before rushing to replace a water heater due to a lack of hot water or poor performance, it’s important to explore alternative options. Check for potential repairs such as replacing a part, fixing a leak, or performing a thorough flush to remove  sediment buildup that may hinder its efficiency.

Replacing a water heater unit itself is not overly complex. It primarily involves disconnecting and connecting water lines, as well as managing electrical connections.

The instructions provided in this article are tailored to homeowners with basic knowledge of plumbing, gas, and electrical work. We’ll guide you through eight simple steps to ensure a successful replacement.

For those who own a gas model, we recommend referring to our separate article on replacing a gas water tank heater, which outlines the process in ten easy steps.

Tools Needed

  • Pipe wrench
  • Tongue and groove pliers
  • Hacksaw or pipe cutter
  • Unions, fittings, or flex connectors
  • Teflon tape or joint compound
  • Thin wire
  • Soldering torch
  • Wire brush and sandpaper
  • Appliance dolly
  • Garden hose
  • Level
  • Screwdriver
  • Voltage meter or 240-Volt Neon Test Light

How Much Does It Cost to Install An Electric Water Heater?

The average cost to install an electric water heater falls within the range of $800 to $1500 (as reported on fixr.com). For a 50-gallon unit, it’s important to note that the cost can reach up to $1000, while plumbers typically charge between $75 and $130 per hour.

However, according to homedepot.com the average cost can vary between $1000 and $3000, depending on the specific model chosen and the region you reside in.

How To Replace An Electric Water Heater In 8 Easy Steps

Replacing and installing a new electric hot water heater is significantly easier compared to replacing an old gas unit, as it doesn’t involve delicate work on the flue vents and gas line.

Important: When working with electrical devices, exercise caution as water heaters typically operate at 240 Volts. This home project requires basic plumbing skills and the appropriate tools.

Therefore, our comprehensive 8-step guide will walk you through the process of how to replace an electric water heater, ensuring a smooth and successful installation.

Step 1. Drain Water From A Storage Tank

Before performing any work on the electric water heater, it is crucial to turn OFF the electricity at the electrical breaker.

To begin the process, open the hot water tap in the highest point bathroom or kitchen above the unit, as well as the tap closest to the unit (at the lowest point). This will help drain the hot water and cool down the tank.

Locate the main water valve that supplies water to your home and ensure it is turned OFF. Similarly, locate the shutoff valve that supplies water to the heater, usually situated near the unit, and turn it OFF as well.

Next, attach a garden hose to the drain valve located at the bottom of the heater. Open the drain valve and allow all the water from the tank to drain out either into a floor drain or outside. For more detailed instructions on draining a water heater, you can refer to our comprehensive guide.

Step 2. Disconnect Electrical Wires

Double-check whether the power is OFF on the electrical panel visually and on the thermostat using a voltmeter.

Behind the lower part of the electric water heater, you’ll find an access panel and thermostat. Remove the cover and verify the presence of current using a voltage meter or a 240-volt neon test light.

If there is no power detected, proceed to the next step of unplugging the wires.

At the top of the unit, remove the cover that leads to the heater’s junction box. Locate the two electrical wires and disconnect them from the main electrical supply, typically connected with two wire nuts. You can also test the wires using a multimeter.

Remember to mark the wires accordingly, ensuring that you know precisely where to reconnect them when replacing the water heater.

Step 3. Disconnect Plumbing Lines

With the electric water heater drained and disconnected from the electrical supply, the next step is to disconnect the unit from the home plumbing.

Take care to remember or mark the locations of the incoming cold water line and outgoing hot water supply. If the electric unit is connected using a rigid galvanized pipe, simply open the unions near the unit using a set of adjustable wrenches.

In the case of a solid copper pipe, cut the pipe near the shutoff valve. Ensure a clean, straight cut and remove any particles, burrs, or sharp edges. Prepare the copper pipe for soldering.

Step 4. Move The Old Unit Out

Create space for the new electric hot water heater by removing the old unit. Keep in mind that the old unit can be quite heavy, especially if it has been affected by sediment buildup. Utilize any necessary assistance, including a dolly cart, to move it safely.

If you require guidance in selecting the appropriate electric water heater, there is a comprehensive guide available. It provides valuable information on choosing the right tank unit, money-saving tips, and reviews of various brands and manufacturers.

Step 5. Position Your New Electric Water Heater

If you were satisfied with the performance of the old unit in terms of hot water production, recovery rate, and efficiency, it is recommended to look for similar features when purchasing a new one. This will ensure a straightforward installation process. Use a dolly cart to bring the new unit into place.

Align the new unit with the existing plumbing, and remember to position a drain pan underneath it. The drain pan serves as a helpful precaution in case the unit starts leaking.

Please note that electric water heaters are designed for indoor use and should be protected from freezing temperatures.

Step 6. Connect The Electric Heater With The Water Line

Before proceeding, it is important to check the local codes and consult the manufacturer’s manual to determine the appropriate type of water line to use. If a solid copper pipe is suitable, solder the pipe and copper fitting to the heater on one side and connect it to the plumbing on the other. Alternatively, compression fittings can be used for a faster and easier installation process.

When working with galvanized pipes, utilize a wrench and union to establish the connection.

For plastic pipes and fittings, which are simpler to work with, use a pipe compound and a hacksaw for cutting, as they do not require a heat source.

Another convenient option is to use flexible copper or stainless steel pipes with pipe nuts at the ends, particularly recommended for areas prone to earthquakes.

To minimize the risk of corrosion when connecting pipes made of different metals, always utilize dielectric fittings.

Lastly, make sure to install a new temperature and pressure relief valve (TPR) suitable for your specific model and pressure rating, along with the appropriate drain pipe.

Step 7. Connect The Water Heater To The Electrical Supply

Run the electrical cable through the clamp located at the heater’s junction box and connect these two wires to the wire connectors on the heater. Attach the ground wire securely to the designated ground screw. Ensure that the screw on the clamp is tightened adequately to hold the cable securely in place.
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Step 8. Before You Start A Water Heater…

Set the thermostat to your desired temperature, with a recommended setting of 120°F (50°C). Press the reset button, and securely put the access cover back in place.

Turn the water valve ON and open the nearest hot faucet to allow water to run for a while. This will help remove any remaining air pockets, preventing them from becoming trapped in the tank. Once the water flows freely, close the faucet.

Congratulations! The replacement of your water heater, a straightforward home project, is now complete. Your electric unit is ready to be tested with a refreshing shower.

Important: Always adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions, warnings, and local codes when installing any type of water heater. Prioritize safety at all times. Ensure the tank is fully filled with water before turning it ON, as the heating element can quickly burn out if operated without water.

If the project proves time-consuming, unsafe, challenging to complete, lacking the necessary tools, or if anything goes wrong, it is advisable to hire a professional to ensure a successful installation.

Conclusion

Replacing an electric water heater is necessary when it becomes old, inefficient, requires costly repairs, has insufficient capacity, poses safety concerns, or when you want to upgrade to new technology.

Following the outlined steps and considering safety precautions will help ensure a successful replacement. If unsure, consult a professional.

Regular maintenance and adherence to manufacturer guidelines are crucial for optimal performance.

By understanding how to replace an electric water heater, you can ensure a smooth and successful installation, providing you with reliable hot water for your household.

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