Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


How to change your own water heater!

There was a post here in the RAIN the other day that recommended replacing your own electric water heater.

I would like to caution anyone from taking on this project unless you really know what you are doing.  Improperly installed water heaters can result in dangerous conditions and merely copying the old installation will almost guarantee that the new one will be installed improperly.

In the spirit of the other post I will stick to discussing the installation of electric water heaters.  Here is a list of a few of the things you need to know about installing your water heater.  If you do not know the answer to these questions, or do not know what some of the words mean, then you most likely are not qualified to tackle the project yourself.  The answers to some of the questions is further complicated by there being different answers depending on your jurisdictional requirements as well as where in the house the heater is located.

water heaterVery first question:  Will my installation conform to IRC or UPC?

Will you need a permit to change the heater?

Will your new heater need seismic strapping?

Will your new water heater need a water collection pan under it?

Will your new heater need a foam pad under it?

Does your water heater need heat-traps?

Will your heater need an expansion tank?

Can I use a flexible connector on my TPRV drain?

Can I use PVC on my TPRV drain?

What happens if you empty the old water heater and don't turn the power off?

Does my water heater need a Vacuum Relief valve?

What size water heater do I need for the number of fixtures in the house?

Does the wiring have a proper connector to the heater?

Will you utilize a lock-out device while working on the heater?

Can the TPRV drain slope upward?

Can the end of the TPRV drain be threaded?

How many 90 degree elbows can be used in the TPRV drain?

Can the TPRV drain terminate in a pan under the heater?

Can the TPRV drain terminate at a laundry sink?

Does the TPRV drain need an air gap?

What is the maximum temperature that the water heater should be set at?


If you think that none of these questions are really important, if you go to sell your home and the water heater during its life span, the home inspector that inspects your home will be looking for these things--and more.


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle.


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Comment balloon 11 commentsCharles Buell • September 06 2013 08:56AM


Hi Charles - That list, along with the fact that I don't like to mess with things that are big and heavy, pretty much guarantee I wouldn't try this myself. I like my hot showers too much.

Posted by Dick Greenberg, Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate (New Paradigm Partners LLC) over 5 years ago

Yes, that's not going to happen.  When I needed to change my water heater I called the plumber.  That cost is way better than letting my Donald destroy my house by trying a DIY project. 

Posted by Tammy Lankford,, Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) over 5 years ago

Does not qualify as a DIY project! I'm still shaking my head over that garage non-door post you wrote about the other day with all that foam. Yikes!

Posted by Judy Jennings, Broker - The Lanterns at Warren Woods - Ashland MA (The Green Company) over 5 years ago

Dick, it is important to know ones limits :)

Tammy, I am all in favor of people doing work on their houses themselves---but some things are more complicated than they appear and might end up costing them more in the long run if it is done wrong--and possibly even dangerous.

Judy, the number of heaters I find installed improperly is testament to the vast majority of installers having no clue.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

What's a seismic strap. Is that something you wear to get your pants on? 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 5 years ago

Jim, to keep your pants up :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Gee willikers Mr. B!  Them there sure is lot of questions!  I gotta know them answers?

Oh, and what Jim said.

I saw a similar post from an agent telling people what to expect from us home inspectors.  Did you know people should expect us to know the age of a roof and how much longer it will last?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Jay, you probably refer to them as "water heater suspenders" in your neck of the woods :)  As to the age of the roof does + or - 20 years work?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Great post! Water heaters generally have dome defect because home owners always try to do it themselves.

Posted by Juan Jimenez, The Richmond Home Inspector (A House on a Rock Home Inspections LLC) over 5 years ago

Juan, over and over and over again.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Take that DIY'r!

Posted by Joshua Frederick, Home Inspector in Defiance & all of Northwest Ohio (Home Inspector for ASPEC Residential Services, LLC) over 5 years ago