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Re: Quick basic advice on a dripping gas 40-gal hot-water heater

Discussion in 'Electronic Repair' started by Donna Ohl, Grady Volunteer Coordinator, Feb 17, 2008.

  1. Thank you for all the advice!
    You've given us the courage to tackle this ourselves!
    Bill and I read *every* post here!

    To replace our dripping 40-gallon (65-gallon FHR) home water heater, we
    bought the best water heater I could find.

    This turned out to be the $450 Sears #33154 (actually manufactured by AO
    Smith) 97-gallon First Hour Rating (FHR) and 0.63 Energy Factor (EF),
    nominally with a 50-gallon tank and coming with a (rather useless) 12-year
    warranty on parts and a slightly useful 1-year warranty on labor.

    We're going to do the job tomorrow so I'm reading *everything* I can find
    on the net on how to properly remove and install a natural gas home hot
    water heater. I'll summarize the steps we plan on taking in a subsequent

    So far, Bill bought $686.47 in parts while I write up every step for him
    before we do the work tomorrow, together. He will return any unused parts,
    but here is what he bought from Sears today to get ready for the job.

    $449.00 Sears #33154 50-gallon 12/1 year hot water heater 97FHR .63EF
    $ 2.19 1-ounce TFE paste (for the gas pipe fittings)
    $ 9.59 3/4-inch quarter-turn water valve (replaces plastic drain valve)
    $ 8.99 3/4-inch CSA gas ball valve (for the gas line)
    $ 15.99 3/4-inch swing check valve (for additional heat-loss protection)
    $ 7.99 18" 3/4-inch by 3/4 inch FIP corrugated copper/brass flex pipe (x2)
    $ 7.49 15" 3/4-inch by 3/4 inch FIP corrugated copper/brass flex pipe (x2)
    $ 5.99 12" 3/4-inch by 3/4 inch FIP corrugated copper/brass flex pipe (x2)
    $ 12.99 18" 3/4-inch stainless-steel water-heater connector pipe (x2)
    $ 10.99 12" 3/4-inch stainless-steel water-heater connector pipe (x2)
    $ 8.99 3/4-inch by 3/4-inch Dialectric Union B (x4)
    $ 3.59 1.5-inch long 3/4-inch male:male brass pipe nipples (x4)
    $ 2.39 1.0-inch long 3/4-inch male:male brass pipe nipples (x3)
    $ 52.32 sales tax at 8.25%
    $686.47 total

    The reason for *both* the copper flex pipe and stainless steel pipe is
    because the stainless steel might allow us to not need the dialectric
    unions which are huge. Remember, the new tank is five inches taller than
    the old tank so we are going to have problems with the plumbing most likely
    so having fewer nipples and dialectric unions will shorten the lines a bit.

    Do we really need to isolate the copper from the brass from the steel?
    We assume so.

    Also, we bought the extra one-way check valve even though the water heater
    apparently comes with heat-loss protectors and we can s-kink the flex lines
    (not the steel lines, just the copper lines).

    Do you think the one-way hot-water-outlet check valve will work to slow
    heat loss?

    Note we didn't buy the insulating blanket for the water heater, nor the
    insulation for the hot-water pipes yet. We figured we could do that later.

    Our biggest question is whether we really needed the dialectric unions.
    Since they were female:female, that necessitated brass nipples on each
    side, further lengthening the lines which we need to shorten.

    What do you think?
    Donna & Bill
  2. Here are the steps I wrote up for Bill.
    I post this to you *before* we tackle the job tomorrow morning.
    Did we miss anything important that you have told us to do?
    Is anything out of order that you suggested?
    Can we skip any of the steps outlined below?
    Your timely advice will help us and anyone following this thread!


    While the old dripping hot-water heater is still firmly in place ...
    - Shut natural gas at the main gas meter
    - Shut natural gas at the local hot-water heater
    - Ensure the pilot light is out before separating any gas plumbing lines
    - Shut the household cold water at the main water valve
    - Shut the cold-water inlet to the hot-water heater
    - Open all hot-water faucets in the house to drain off pressure
    - Wait two hours, if possible, to allow the hot water in the tank to cool
    - Connect a garden hose to the water heater drain valve
    - Open drain valve and drain hot water where it will not damage anything
    - Disconnect garden hose and close drain valve when done (40 or 50 gallons)
    - Unbolt earthquake straps (if any)
    - Unscrew the sheet-metal screw holding the vent pipe to the draft hood
    - Separate the vent pipe from the draft hood
    - Unscrew the cold-water inlet at the nipple at the top of the tank
    - Unscrew the hot-water outlet at the nipple at the top of the tank
    - Unscrew the natural gas inlet to the water-heater thermostat
    - Cap the newly disconnected natural gas line to prevent contamination
    - Unscrew sheet-metal screws holding gas-flue hat onto the vent pipe
    - Separate the vent pipe from the gas-flue hat
    - Remove old heater off the elevated base
    - Remove all water plumbing up to and including the old shut-off valve
    - Remove all gas plumbing up to and including the old shut-off valve


    While the new hot-water heater is sitting on the garage floor ...
    - Remove the plastic drain valve & replace with a brass ball valve
    - Install the new temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve
    - Install the relief valve relief pipe
    - Always use two wrenches when screwing and unscrewing pipe fittings!
    - Mount and level the new hot water heater on the elevated base
    - Ensure at least six inches of clear space all around the new heater
    - Hacksaw the old gas vent so that it fits the new larger water heater
    - Ensure the gas vent aligns with the center of the hot-water heater
    - Insert legs of the draft hood into the holes in the top of the heater
    - Drill a 1/8 inch hole into the draft hood and 3-inch vent pipe
    - Screw in at least 1 sheet-metal screw from the vent hood to the vent pipe
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the threads of the fittings supplied with the tank
    - Insert the blue heat-trap fitting (arrow down) into the tank cold-water
    - Ensure the last two threads are never covered with Teflon tape
    - Do not use pipe dope on any threads where Teflon tape is noted below
    - Screw the cold-water inlet male:male nipple into the top of the tank
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the thread of the galvanized 3/4" water-inlet pipe
    - Screw a dialectric union on the 3/4" galvanized cold-water inlet pipe
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the threads of each male:male brass nipple
    - Screw the brass male:male nipple on the female:female dialectric union
    - Screw a new ball-valve shutoff onto this vertical cold-water inlet pipe
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the threads of another male:male brass nipple
    - Screw this male:male nipple into the new ball-valve shutoff
    - Screw the copper flex pipe onto the cold-water inlet brass nipples
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the threads of the fittings supplied with the tank
    - Ensure the last two threads are never covered with Teflon tape
    - Do not use pipe dope on any threads where Teflon tape is noted below
    - Insert the red heat-trap fitting (arrow up) into the tank hot-water
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the thread of the galvanized 3/4" water-outlet pipe
    - Screw a dialectric union on the 3/4" galvanized hot-water outlet pipe
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the threads of each male:male brass nipple
    - Screw the brass male:male nipple on the female:female dialectric union
    - Screw a new one-way check-valve onto this vertical hot-water outlet pipe
    - Wrap Teflon tape on the threads of another male:male brass nipple
    - Screw this male:male nipple into the new ball-valve shutoff
    - Screw the copper flex pipe onto the hot-water inlet brass nipples
    - Bend the copper flex pipe into an S shape to further inhibit heat loss
    - Open all the hot-water faucets in the house to bleed out air
    - Open the main cold-water input to the house
    - Open the new ball-valve cold-water input to the hot-water heater
    - Check for leaks as the tank fills
    - Place a pan or bowl at the T&P overflow tube & test the T&P valve
    - Always connect the natural gas line as the very last step in this process
    - Set the thermostat to the off position
    - Coat male natural gas line threads with stick pipe dope (never Teflon
    - Ensure the last two threads are not covered with any pipe dope
    - Connect the new natural gas flex pipe with shutoff valve to the
    - Turn on natural gas at the main switch
    - Turn on natural gas at the local inlet to the water heater
    - Test for leaks by toothbrushing a solution of dish detergent and water
    - Read and carefully follow the manufacturer's lighting instructions
    - Wrap additional insulation around your hot-water heater, if desired
    - Wrap insulation around your hot-water outlet pipe, if desired
    - Call the local garbage or recycling to haul away the old water heater
    - Place a pan or bowl at the T&P overflow tube & test the T&P valve
    - Shut the natural gas flow valve to your water heater
    - Close the cold-water intake at the top of the water heater
    - Open at least one hot-water faucet on any level above the water heater
    - Connect a garden hose to your hot water heater drain valve
    - Open water heater drain valve & empty where hot water won't damage things
    - Shut the drain valve when that water runs clear (approx 10 gallons)
    - Remove and inspect sacrificial anode (replace if corroded badly)
    - Leave the hot water faucet(s) open
    - Open the cold-water valve intake to the water heater
    - Run hot-water faucets for at least 10 second (or until sputtering stops)
    - Turn the natural gas back on and ensure flame ignites in the burner
  3. Nate Nagel

    Nate Nagel Guest

    the nipples on the top of your new heater should already be dielectric,
    so adding a dielectric at the end of your water pipes would only protect
    the copper flex.

  4. Could have saved a bundle on those items from a real plumbing supply. Only
    difference, they usually have a 15% restocking charges for returns.

    Copper and brass are compatible. Brass is made with copper as an ingredient.

    Don't need both. Careful putting an S bend as there is a minimum radius for

    Won't really help much with todays's well insulated heaters.

    If you have copper/steel you need them.
  5. No need to turn both off if the valves work, but can't hurt.

    One low valve will drain off the pressure in seconds.

    Turn the gas off the night before. Alternately, turnt he gas off, run the
    hot water to dilute what is in there a bit, then drain. Easier than sitting
    around two hours for a very little temperature loss. 40 gallon in an
    insulated thank is quite a bit of mass.

    It won't drain unless you allow air to get in. Disconnect the top lines,
    then drain.

    In your parts list I did not see anything for the vent hood that will be 5"
    shorter. Can you just cut the existing flue pipe?

    Why? I didn't see any gas fittings on the parts list. If the gas is int he
    same location, just greak the union and put the pip below it into the new
    unit, then reconnect.

    I'd leave them closed all along the way, save for one. No need to drain the
    entire system and makes purgin air easier later.
  6. cavedweller

    cavedweller Guest

    Now we know why good old Bill travels...............
  7. Vic Smith

    Vic Smith Guest

    On Sat, 16 Feb 2008 22:07:56 -0700, "Donna Ohl, Grady Volunteer
    <snipped instructions for heater replacement>

    If your pipes are galvanized you don't need di-electric fittings.
    My guess is special tape/dope for NG is just bullshit to sell
    expensive sealers, but do what you prefer with that.
    I use the same teflon tape for gas and water. As you've noted keep it
    off the first couple threads so it can't get in the pipe flow.
    I always look end-on to ensure that. Once inserted for tightening it
    can't move forward.
    Unless it's the exact same tank, you will have to use different length
    nipples. Until the new tank is in place, you are guessing.
    If you aren't handy with plumbing, get somebody who is to help.
    If you do it alone, do it when parts are available.
    You may find some of the old pipes/fittings scaled up and need
    replacing. Same with stop valves. This is the time to replace old
    questionable stuff.
    Since I don't cut my own pipes any more, when I do a job like this I
    make sure I have plenty of different sized nipples available.
    They are pretty cheap, and I don't have to go back to the store.
    The biggest "art" in working with steel pipe is feeling when you
    should stop turning, or go for another turn on a fitting that requires
    alignment. How hard you crank down a series of fittings can add
    or subtract inches to a run of piping.
    When working with some tight fittings, ie those connected by close
    nipples, a pair of 14" channel-locks can take a bite on an opposing
    fitting that a fatter pipe wrench can't. They are expensive but come
    in handy for many, many uses, even removing car oil filters.
    Take your time, think as you go, be especially careful with gas.
    Good luck. And let us know how it worked out.

  8. Guest

    I don't know why you continue to dismiss a 12 year warranty on the
    water heater as useless. You seem to be saying that because that is
    about the typical life of a water heater, that the warranty is of no
    value. Yet you value a 1 year warranty on labor? No manufacturer is
    ever going to give you a warranty for longer than the typical life of
    the item. Do auto manufacturers give you a 150,000 mile warranty on
    a car? Just because the typical water heater lasts about 13 years
    doesn't mean yours will. The biggest difference is in your water,
    which can vary greatly. In some areas, tanks frequently fail in only
    8 years. And I'd rather have a warranty that is going to cover the
    unit itself, regardless of who pays for the labor. Since you're
    installing it yourself, there is no labor anyway, so why is that even
    an issue?

    I have a State water heater. A few years ago, the thermocouple went
    when it was maybe 4 years old. I called them up and I had one here
    in 2 days, no questions asked. Didn't cost me a cent, not even
    shipping. Now the thermocouple is only a $15 part, but it could have
    been the valve assembly which is probably 6X or the tank which would
    have been $350.

    Now, how much extra you may want to pay for a longer warranty is open
    to debate. But I don't get how you can dismiss a 12 year warranty on
    the unit as nearly useless.
  9. Hi Vic Smith,
    I see only *some* of the hot water heater replacement guides saying to use
    the di-electric fittings while others ignore it totally. Our existing
    plumbing has galvanized connected to flex tubing connected to nipple on the
    hot water heater.
    I was wondering why some hot water heater repair guides said to use Teflon
    tape (TPFE?) on the water lines but pipe dope (TPE?) on the gas lines yet
    the tube that I bought says it works for both gas and water. That's
    confusing. I was careful to only state in my hot water heater step by step
    guide just what I had read in other guides, taking the best except where
    they conflicted.
    Excellent hint! I'll add it to the tutorial as an additional step!
    Thanks for improving the a.h.r hot-water heater tutorial for others to
    Sigh. This was my biggest hurdle. Trying to get accuracy where there was
    none. That's why we bought so many plumbing extras!
    Yup. That's why we waited until after our morning showers on a Sunday. The
    stores will be happy to sell us parts all day!
    We agree. Strangely, the cold-water pipes are all full of crusty white
    baking-soda like crud while the hot-water side seems relatively free of
    scale. We're still replacing everything, including the old round green
    twist gate valve, with newer better plumbing like the red lever ball valve.
    Thanks Vic. I'd have to die trying in order not to report back to the
    group. I'm the official photographer as Bill does the work (he hates my
    flashing all around him) so I'll have complete step-by-step photos of the
    job, starting from the fiasco when we tried to "save the box" the heater
    came in.

    Oh my! It was a disaster just getting the new hot water heater out of the
    box, upside down, without damaging the box!

  10. Hi Nate,
    That dialectric stuff confuses me to no end.

    The nipples already screwed into the top of the hot water heater seem to
    have blue plastic inside them but they look like steel. I was actually
    expecting two black steel female fittings in the top of the tank based on
    what I saw at the store but this tank, when we finally got it out of the
    box, has two whitish chromeyish nipples already screwed in.

    Are you saying we can put the copper or stainless steel flex tubing
    directly onto those two nipples sticking out of the top of the new hot
    water heater?

  11. Hi Trader,

    Thanks for keeping up on this. Maybe I'm wrong on the warrantee but I took
    logic in college and the warrantee seems like a useless marketing tool to
    me when I read through what I have to do in order to "make good" on it.

    It's hard for me to write this reply because I feel the warranty is only an
    advertising gimmick which, to me, is only useful for the first year, mainly
    because I'm never going to take the water heater apart and bring it to the
    store to obtain the "free" replacement after the first year - and - the
    alternative is to pay as much for the labor as the entire water heater cost
    in the first place - so the "free" replacement costs just as much as the
    original parts if I have a plumber come to me to inspect, diagnose, and
    replace it. The warrantee seems absolutely useless to me, after the first
    year given those realistic concerns.

    Worse than that, I read the entire text of the Sears "12-year limited
    warranty" which intimates Sears will replace parts that are defective and
    the water heater itself *only* if it develops a leak (no other replacement
    is warranted).
    This is the ENTIRE issue! If I have to remove the entire water heater in
    order to bring it to the store just to see if they'll warrant the parts or
    the leaking tank, that's absolutely crazy! Do people really remove their
    water heater, truck it in the back of their car to the store, have someone
    at the store look at it and decide whether or not to replace the parts,
    then, if they decide not to, you truck it back home and re-install it? Or,
    if they decide to replace the parts, they hand you the new parts and you
    truck the whole drippy thing back home to re-install it? I think not.

    If I need to make good on the warrantee, the only way I'll ever do it is to
    call a Sears plumber at 800-469-4663 who will likely charge me as much for
    the visit as the thing cost in the first place. Sure, I'll get a new water
    heater - and it will cost me exactly what it cost when I bought it
    considering I MUST use their labor. I have no choice this second time

    My whole point is the automobile analogy you provided is exactly opposite
    of reality! You can easily DRIVE the car to the dealership to get a part
    diagnosed and fixed but to drive your water heater to the Sears store would
    be ludicrous (for me).

    Do you see why the automobile analogy doesn't apply for a water heater?
    Bringing the water heater to the dealer isn't an option.
    To bring the dealer to the water heater costs as much as the water heater.
    It's that simple to me.

  12. clams_casino

    clams_casino Guest

    Do get it right. A family recently died of carbon monoxide poisoning
    in Providence due to a poor do-it-theirself installation / repairs of a
  13. Hi Edwin,

    Wow. You're good. You caught a bunch of nuances that I will both modify to
    improve (and repost when the job's done) and a few I'll explain better.

    In this case, as per advice here, Bill will be removing the existing
    twisty-knob cold-water valve to because I asked him to replace that round
    green "gate" valve with a red-lever-twist ball valve.
    Oh. OK. I was confused. I'll modify that. Some of the tutorials I read said
    to open just one hot-water faucet while others said to open them all. I was
    confused. I'll modify the tutorial so others following us benefit.
    Good point. Actually, we take a long hot shower every morning and Bill has
    been gone a while, so, we really wanted to take that last steaming hot
    shower on the old tank so that's why I said it that way. It *is* a great
    idea to bleed off the hot water so as to dilute the tank so that will be
    added to the tutorial.

    Good point. I realized I mixed the standard-maintenance drain procedure
    with the removal procedure. For a maintenance drain, we'd open a hot-water
    faucet. For a removal and replacement, we can disconnect the lines. Good
    point. I will modify the tutorial so we all benefit.
    Very astute Edwin. The Sears guy, when showed pictures of what we had with
    yardsticks taped in place said we could just tin snip or hack saw the
    existing 3 inch vent pipe a few inches shorter. This will be the biggest
    'modification' that we'll have to do to accomodatge the hugely larger
    heater. The Sears salesman said it was so much larger because of all the
    insulation. He even said we don't need any blanket as it wouldn't add any R
    value, he said.
    Wow Edwin. You are very observant. After speaking to the Sears guy, we
    tried to find a gas line that had an integrated on-off valve like the one
    we have and we couldn't find any of them in his yellow hose collection. He
    said the gas line doesn't corrode and our pictures we showed him show it to
    be in good shape so we figured we'd keep the existing gas line. For the
    tutorial, I did a "do as I say not as I do" but you caught me in my parts
    list! Very clever!

    Should I remove this part from the tutorial?
    Does nobody replace the gas lines? (we're not going to).
    OK. I'll modify the hot water heater replacement how to.

    Thanks for your astute advice - I'm happily surprised that others pay as
    much attention to detail as I do in my home water heater replacement

  14. Vic Smith

    Vic Smith Guest

    Di-electrics are used when collecting copper to steel. Newer homes
    usually have all copper. Di-electrics usually come into play when
    replacing the main service (the bigger supply lines) from galvanized
    to copper, but leaving the plumbing wall galvanized pipes in place.
    You would use a di-electirc union between the copper and galvanized.
    I've never used flex on a hot water heater, but suppose that flex
    connectors have the di-electric insulator built in. Should be some
    specs attached to that type of connector.
    The hot and cold pipes could be different ages, or the mineral content
    could precipitate differently that what has been my experience, which
    is the hot water scaling up much more.
    I wouldn't use a ball valve as a stop valve. For long term use I
    believe a typical globe or gate valve will prove more reliable.

  15. msg

    msg Guest

    Interesting; it struck me as both encouraging that a female would have
    an engineering orientation and also a bit odd that such detail would
    be accorded to a routine task.

    Just out of curiosity, Donna, what is your employment or educational

  16. I don't know.

    Last time I got help here was for the hot air furnace which needed to be
    taken apart and cleaned because the limit kept kicking in.

    I posted *those* clogged-furnace pictures here[email protected]/

    But nobody seemed to care so I wasn't sure whether it would help or not to
    post my pictures of a mundane (to you guys!) hot water heater replacement

  17. Hi msg,

    I retired from a career in public-school teaching two years ago.

    At one point, I taught very young autistic and aspergers children; we found
    the best therapy for their social disability was to break down even the
    most mundane of tasks into their every component.

    By behavioral modification, the children could perform the behavior on
    their own, outside the classroom.

    This is much like what a software engineer does when writing routine or
    complex software, is it not?

  18. Hi Vic,

    There is a black rubber grommet inside the copper flex tube's brass
    fittings. Maybe that's the dialectric; but it's tremendously smaller than
    the fist-sized dialectric unions we bought yesterday.

  19. Hi Vic,

    I was thinking it was the condensation on the cold-water pipe (being in the
    unheated garage) that allowed the scaley white crust to build up only on
    the cold-water pipe.

    We recently moved here so we don't know what the history is on the
    hot-water pipe; maybe it is simply newer.

  20. Hi clams,

    We *are* doing it right. That's why I'm here in the first place. To get it
    right. I do appreciate the help. From everyone. And, I'll give back by
    posting the tutorial for others like us to follow.

    In fact, we feel we're possibly doing it *better* than a plumber might, at
    least in terms of raw material. It seems to us (unsubstantiated opinion)
    that a plumber might tend to maximize his *time* and not necessarily the
    quality of the materials - unless specifically asked to by the homeowner
    (who must correspondingly be willing to pay for the extra parts cost and

    Bill is in his final shower as we speak. The gas is off.

    He can sing in that steaming hot shower for as long as he likes and, for
    once, I won't be on his back about wasting the hot water!

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