4 Reasons Why You Should Have a Professional Install Your Electric Hot Water Heater

December 30, 2020 | Cristina Dinulescu

electric hot water heater

A modern electric hot water heater is designed to last between six and twelve years, as long as it is properly maintained. However, if during this time your needs change or you simply decide that you want to upgrade your equipment, you might want to replace the water heater and do so yourself, without the help of a professional. This might not be the best of ideas. The truth is that it’s not an easy job and a quick research will most likely convince you. Look up information about positioning the new heater, adjusting the thermostat, or connecting it to the electrical supply. 

You always have to be extra careful when it comes to safety, whether it’s turning off the water or making sure power to the water heater is turned off at the main circuit breaker. You need various tools as well, from torches & tanks, adjustable wrenches, wire brushes and tube cutting tools to hand saws and screwdriver sets. You also need materials such as shims & wood shingles,  dimensional lumber, wire connectors and terminals, and much more. Here are more reasons why you should leave the installation in the hands of a professional.

1. It Requires a Permit

In most areas, replacing the electric hot water heater requires a permit, irrespective of the person installing it, whether it is the homeowner or a professional. During the process to obtain the permit, an inspector will assess the work done, ensuring that both electrical and plumbing connections are properly and safely done. 

The inspector will also check if the installation complies with all the requirements of the local code. These steps apply to the basic electrical requirements for a standard tank-style electric water heater as well as an on-demand (tankless) water heater. It is recommended to check if the wiring is up to snuff in case you are planning to replace an existing water heater. 

It will be much easier and hassle-free for you to work with a professional. Everything from the permits and the inspection to the installation will be handled by them. 

2. It Requires an Electrical Inspection

electric hot water heater in a laundry basement

The first thing you need to remember before you begin the water heater examination is to turn off the power to the circuit that supplies the heater with electricity. Usually, the circuit is powered by a 30-amp, double-pole circuit breaker. You will have to switch off the right breaker in the panel box, and also use an electrical voltage tester to make absolutely sure that the circuit is no longer functioning by testing at the water heater. 

In addition, you will need to locate the electrical connections. For a water heater, the electrical wire connections are made at a built-in junction box, located on the top of the water heater tank. This is contained by a cover plate, which needs to be removed in order to inspect the wire connections. The wire conductors leading to the heater are either made with flexible metal cable like the metal-clad (MC) cable or are enclosed in flexible metal conduit. This level of flexibility gives a bit of wiggle room, which makes it easier for the water heater to be replaced. Plus, this is a feature required in many earthquake areas. 

Once the cover is replaced, you will have to test it for power by holding a non-contact voltage tester next to the wire connections. The tester will not light up as long as the circuit has been properly shut off. As you can see, this is the sort of job better left to a professional.

3. You’d Need To Understand The Wiring

electric hot water heater wiring

A  240-volt dedicated circuit is generally required for electric water heaters, serving only the heater. Also, the circuit wiring includes a 30-amp double-pole breaker and 10-2 non-metallic (NM) or MC cable. The black circuit wire connects to the black wire lead to the water heater and the white circuit wire connects to the white wire lead on the water heater.

To indicate that it is a hot wire and not a neutral one, the white circuit wire should be wrapped with black or red electrical tape near the connection at both ends of the circuit. The 240-volt circuit carries live current in both the black and white wires. And the circuit ground wire connects to the green ground screw on the water heater or to the water heater’s ground lead. 

When replacing the water heater, you don’t need to deal with thermostats or heating elements. However, it’s good to know that heaters have inner wiring that runs from the wire connection box down along the side of the tank to two different heating elements each one being controlled by a thermostat. These are contained within access panels mounted on the side of the water tank. 

If you didn’t understand this description of the heater’s wiring and wire process, then it’s best to leave the installation or replacement in the hands of professionals.

4. It Might Need Bonding

A bonding wire or jumper between the hot and cold water pipes serving the water heater is required by some building authorities. However, the National Electric Code does not require the bonding jumper, nor does the Uniform Plumbing Code. 

This is usually required to ensure a strong bond in a metal water piping system. A number of experts feel that a bonding jumper helps an electric hot water heater last longer by reducing corrosion caused by electrolysis. The bonding wire also maintains the electrical grounding pathway on the water pipes. Without it, a break between the hot and cold water pipes in the system takes place and this could possibly disrupt the grounding pathway of the electrical system.

If you do need a bonding wire, then you should definitely call a pro for the installation. The bonding wire is made up of 6 AWG bare copper wire connected to a ground clamp on each of the hot and cold water pipes. Each clamp should be located on the smooth part of the pipe and not very close to any fittings. When installing a new water heater, you need to make sure that the jumper connections are in place, once you complete the installation. 

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