How to Install an Electric Water Heater the Right Way

Josh Miller

Josh is a contributing writer to the site and former HVAC specialist.

Last Updated on June 3, 2021

If your water heater has started to work inefficiently and you aren’t getting enough hot water, it might be time to replace it with a new one.

Installing an electric water heater isn’t too tricky, and you can do it on your own. Since there isn’t any gas involved, the possible risks from connecting pipes are low. However, if you don’t feel comfortable working with pipes, hire a professional plumber to avoid problems.

You might want to install a thermal expansion tank or a recirculating pump in the case of a tankless water heater. These devices improve the efficiency of water heaters, but the installation can be a bit more challenging. 

water-heater-on-the-wall
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Table of Contents

Before Installing an Electric Water Heater

First of all, if you aren’t getting enough hot water, the problem might be the heating elements or thermostats. Before changing to a new tank, consider checking whether the thermostats are working correctly. If you find a defective piece, you can easily find it online and replace it.

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How to Install an Electric Water Heater

Installing an electric water heater isn’t too complicated. There are no gas pipes involved, and you only need to work with water pipes and wiring. This makes the process a lot safer than installing a gas water heater and a little easier.

If you are replacing an old tank water heater, consider installing a tankless water heater before changing to a new tank. When properly maintained, these can last up to two decades, while conventional tanks usually last a maximum of 8 years. Also, tankless water heaters provide almost instant hot water on demand, which is convenient and helpful for large families.

Making a mistake during the installation could cause water leaks and other problems. Consider hiring a professional plumber if you don’t feel comfortable doing the installation. If you feel up for the task, follow the next steps.

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Step 1: Drain the Old Water Heater

You’ll need to drain the water from the old water heater before moving it out from the house. This is relatively simple, and if you regularly clean and flush your tank for optimal durability, you should know how to do it.

To drain the tank, shut off the power to the tank and turn off the cold water valve. Check that the power is off with a voltage detector on the tank. Before disconnecting the wires, use tape to mark how the wires are connected.

Before draining the tank, you can put a water faucet on hot and let it run until the water in the tank is cool. Connect a hose to the drainage valve on the bottom of the tank, and take the other end of the hose outside.

To start draining, open a hot water faucet and open the pressure relief valve on the tank. This brings air inside the tank and allows the water to start flowing out. Then, open the drainage valve on the tank. Wait until the tank is empty and no water is coming out.

Step 2: Disconnect the Pipes

Once the tank is empty, remove the discharge pipe from the pressure relief valve. This valve is right on the side of the tank. Remove the pipe that sticks out from it. Then, remove the water pipes that connect to the top of the tank. If you have to cut the pipes, leave them as long as possible.

Step 3: Check Your Home Water Pressure

When learning how to install an electric water heater, it’s essential to check your home water pressure. You can do this with a pressure gauge on an outdoor spigot. An ideal pressure is between 50-60 PSI. If your water pressure is higher, install a pressure reducing valve on a pipe after the main water shuts off.

Step 4: Place the New Tank

Also, when learning how to install an electric water heater, consider new ways to improve your tank’s safety and convenience. For example, try placing your new tank on a drain pan. This pan helps avoid possible flooding. Use a PVC white pipe to connect the pan to a nearby drain.

If you live in an area where earthquakes are common, you could also consider using seismic straps. These attach the water heater to the wall and prevent any possible damage during an earthquake.

Step 5: Install a Discharge Pipe on the Pressure Relief Valve

Use a copper pipe to direct the water from the pressure relief valve to a drain. If You don’t have a drain, you can simply use a medium-sized straight pipe and place a bucket right underneath it. The pipe should lead the water to the bucket.

Step 6: Connect the Tank to the Water Pipes

A way to connect the tank to the pipes is by using a flexible hose kit. These usually come with two steel water hoses and two connector threads. They might also include dielectric fittings to reduce corrosion between two materials. However, you can just use copper pipes to make the connection.

This part of the project requires a little more experience connecting pipes. If you find a flexible hose kit, it’s pretty straightforward to connect the tank. If you have to buy separate materials, you might want to use the help of a professional to avoid problems.

Step 7: Fill the Tank With Water

Open a hot water faucet in the house and open the cold water supply to the tank. While doing this, check the connections for leaks. When hot water runs from the faucet, the tank is full. Let the hot water run for about three minutes to empty some air out of the tank.

Step 8: Connect the Wiring

The power should be completely turned off at the breaker or control panel. It’s vital to make sure it is, especially if you didn’t do it when disconnecting the old tank. Following the marks you left when disconnecting the wires from the old tank, connect the new tank to the wires. Follow your manual’s instructions when in doubt.

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How to Install an Electric Tankless Water Heater

If you are changing from a tank water heater to a tankless water heater, the installation is bound to be more complicated. A tankless water heater has to be installed on a wall, and it’s likely that rerouting the pipes will require some extra work to match the heater’s new location.

Take Care of Your Water Heater

To make your water heater last as many years as possible, you should flush and clean it at least once a year. This removes some of the sediments that slowly accumulate on the tank’s inside, causing corrosion and damaging the heating elements.

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