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Water Heaters

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 2

Safety Points When Repairing Or Replacing Any Water Heater

Follow Carefully To Avoid Injury Or Property Damage

All water heaters present a need to use extreme caution when servicing. Some types of water heaters need attention in areas that  others may not. These are common safety precautions that must be taken broken down by the various models out there.


Gas Water Heaters;

Gas water heaters  have  a few things that are unique to this type of unit. First and foremost when working on a gas water heater is to make sure you've positively shut off the gas to the appliance. This is usually done right at the meter. There are some water heaters that will have a gas shutoff right at the unit and this is also an acceptable place to close the gas supply. Propane as well as natural gas units follow the same safety rules.

Secondly some gas water heaters have an electrical connection as well as the gas hookup. This will be to power a draft inducer or power vent. It can also be for electronic ignition systems. All power  supplies should be shut off, prior to performing any service work. This can be done at the electric panel by locating and shutting off the proper circuit breaker. It can also be done at the unit if an emergency on off switch is available. Either way it's recommended that an electrical meter be used to check and make sure there is no power present before servicing.


Electric Water Heaters;

Electric Water Heaters will require the same precautions.  All electricity to the unit must be shut off and proven to be shut off with the use of an electrical volt meter. Most electric water heaters use 220 volts. There should be no power present whatsoever. Use caution and make sure a volt meter is used to be sure the power is off. Some units wired for off-peak savings can bring power from several sources. This is the reason that testing is so important.


Oil Fired Water Heaters;

Oil fired water heaters have a supply line coming from a remote  oil storage tank. This line brings fuel oil to the burner. A shutoff valve should be in line, usually at the oil tank. Close this valve to positively shut off the oil supply.

There will be a fire-o-matic valve in line, at the burner of the oil-fired water heater. This valve uses a spring-loaded action to shut off the oil supply in case of fire. The round handle on top will be reverse threads. On this valve the rotation of the handle to close it will always be counterclockwise. Unscrewing this valve handle until the top comes right off will assure the valve is off. You should feel the valve stem depressing as the handle is turned. If you don't tap the valve to un-stick the mechanism inside.

Oil fired water heaters also use electricity to run. This should be shut off either at the electrical panel by locating and turning off the proper breaker, or at the emergency switch at the burner. Once again a volt meter is recommended to make sure there is no power to the unit.


Common Safety Issues For All Types Of Water Heaters

All types of water heaters present a common reason to use extreme caution when repairing or replacing any components. The water inside is extremely hot and it's recommended that all units be allowed to completely cool before attempting any servicing.

This type of apparatus now comes in models that are super insulated and it can take literally days for the water heater to cool down. This is due to the minimal heat loss. The process can be expedited by running the hot water in the home after the water heater has been disabled. This will push out any remaining heated water and replace it with cool water from the your water main, or well. Allowing you to safely drain the unit for repairs or replacement.

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Repairing Or Replacing An Oil Fired Water Heater

Not a job for the weak at heart

When your repairing an oil-fired water heater, many times the problem will lie in the burner not firing when it's called. This can be due to several causes. First and foremost is there fuel in the oil tank? Once it's established that your oil burner is getting fuel, the next thing to check is the emergency switch. There are normally two. One will be located at the burner appliance and the other is usually upstairs outside of the basement door.

Many times one of these switches has been inadvertently turned off. Believe it or not this happens often. Having a breakdown be this easy to fix usually isn't so common.

The next thing we'll look at is what's known as a "cad cell". This is a photo sensitive eye that acts as a watchdog for the flame in the burner. If the unit starts and a flame is not seen by this component within 60 seconds, the photo cell which is wired in line will disable the burner to keep the pump from running when the oil burner has failed to fire.

This cad cell is located under the transformer on most oil burners. There are two hold down screws between the transformer and the burner appliance. These are loosened with a proper sized nut driver and the transformer can then be tipped open. Inside the small cad cell plugs into socket.

Remove the cad cell init and wipe it clean with a damp paper towel. Notice any black residue that shows up on the white paper towel. This will fool the eye into believing there is no flame. Once you have cleaned the cad cell re-insert it into the socket from which it came. Close the transformer cover and retry your system.

This will take resetting the primary controller on top of the burner. There is normally a red button to hold down for resetting. If the hold down button doesn't reset then you most likely have a bad control and this will need to be replaced.

Another reason for an oil burner to fail is a clogged oil filter. This piece of equipment is usually right after the oil tank. There should be a valve to shut off the tank. Once the tank valve is closed the oil filter can be disassembled and a new cartridge can be installed. Re-fire the system and see if this solves the problem.

One other issue that can happen when oil tanks are outside. Cold temperatures can cause heating oil to solidify. The pump will lose the ability to move the thicker oil. For cold climate conditions with out door tanks a mixture or blend as it's called must be used to prevent freezing.

Many oil fired water heaters have power venter's today. Some will have a draft inducer. Both perform the same function. They remove the toxic waste fumes from an oil burner to a remote location outside where they will disperse harmlessly.

When a power venter fails it can be because of a leak in the flue piping or a bad motor. It can also be the controls that run the unit. There are also spill switches that sense temperature. These should be checked for failure as some are reset-able.

Replacing an oil fired water heater will mean disconnecting your oil line after shutting it off of course. All electrical connections and following the water pipe instructions later in this article, which are common to all types of water heaters.

Repairing Or Replacing A Gas Fired Water Heater

First and foremost when dealing with gas-fired hot water heaters is to be sure it's legal within your jurisdiction to work on your own unit. Some gas codes won't allow anyone but a fully licensed plumber or gasfitter to touch anything gas related in their areas.

If you find that working on your own gas equipment is legal then please follow all the safety precautions previously discussed. Gas can be deadly improperly handled. severe property damage and personal injury is possible.

That being said,  here are a few things that the average homeowner can carry out easily when it come to gas water heater repair. One of these will be a thermocoupling replacement. This will have the symptom of your pilot light continuously going out and not staying lit when you try to restart it. There is a metal probe that sticks right into the pilot flame on standing pilot type gas-fired hot water heaters. This probe is heat sensitive and allows the main burners to run if it senses heat from the pilot. When the heat is interrupted the pilot will be shut down and the main burners will not open. This is a safety feature to keep your basement from filling up with gas when the burner hasn't been ignited ny the pilot flame.

When the pilot goes out you can try to re-light it. Sometimes just a fluke, it does happen. A backdraft down the chimney or in the room when an exterior door is opened can blow out a weak pilot flame. Re-lighting and preventing the draft from re-offending is the solution.

If the pilot lights but won't stay lit then most likely there is a bad thermocoupling. This is a copper or aluminum wire that runs from the flame probe, up and into the gas valve. They come in various lengths and models to match the one your replacing. There are small nuts on both ends and several screws are normally holding the assembly into the burner area. Remove the unit and replace with the same model and length. These are available at your local plumbing supply house. You'll need the old part to match up.

installation is the reverse of removal and once the part is reinstalled you must test the line either with compressed air or by turning on the gas and spraying the connections with a soapy water solution. Watch for any bubbling. None is exceptable as gas piping must be 100 percent leak proof to be safe.

Once you have determined there are no leaks present you can go ahead and try out the repair. Restart the water heater and relight the pilot according to the directions that will be on the unit. If this repair doesn't solve the problem then next is the gas valve. All gas valves are not created equal and the one you have must be replaced with the same make and model number. This task is usual;ly not taken on because the cost of labor and materials almost doesn';t make sense when new units are available for almost the same cost.

Follow the instructions for the water line part of gas water heater replacement, later in this article. These instructions will be all the same for all types of hot water heaters. The gas part will consist of only disconnecting the gas line once the gas has been turned off., and reconnecting it once your done.

Water Piping Portion Of Repairing Or Replacing A Water Heater

One size instruction sheet will fit all

Issues that can cause a hot water heater failure are often attributed to a continued leak in the water lines. If a small amount of water constantly drips from a leak anywhere in the system, there will be a significant increase in the amount of harmful minerals and iron that will decrease the lifespan of all types of water heaters.

Whether you burn oil or gas or even when an electric water heater is being used. All leaks no matter how small should be repaired immediately upon discovery. This will assure you the most longevity you can get from your Water heater.

When a leak is discovered the first thing that must be done is to shut off the water prior to the leak. Use the closest shutoff you can find to the repair area working towards the water main. Once you find a valve, close it to isolate the water heater from the water supply.

Make sure you have read and followed the shutoff and safety procedures and cautions above. If you have then all power and fuel sources should be verified off at this point. Find the boiler drain at the bottom of your water heater. Usually right in plain sight. Occasionally you will need to remove the lower cover from the bottom of the water heater to get access to this valve. It will be a simple faucet that allows a hose connection to be made.

Be sure to run your drain hose outside somewhere safe, or to a plumbing drain if you have one low enough. Next you'll hook the hose to the boiler drain and open the valve.  You will need to go into the home and open all hot water faucets. This will allow air to be pulled into the pipes as the water drains out below. continue draining until the water heater is completely drained.

If your leak is on a threaded fitting, you'll need to back up to the nearest union or threaded coupling that can be taken apart. If this threaded union doesn't exist then the pipe must be cut to make the repair.

TIP; On rare occasions if the right conditions exist, a large pipe wrench can be used to turn a threaded nipple into the fitting it's leaking from, about a half revolution. Put pipe thread compound up against the fitting and completely cover the threads that are entering the fitting. The goal is to decrease the possibility of a leak.

 Keep in mind you'll be unwinding it from the fitting on the other end. If you try to over-do this tip, your likely to cause another leak.

Leaking copper lines can be cut, and couplings with new pipe installed to make the repairs. This will also be the procedure for replacing a water heater as well. Use a tubing cutter and remove the leaking pipe section. match up the size of the piece you cut out and then follow these instructions on how to solder copper tubing.

When replacing any water heater you'll simply follow the instructions for each type of water heater above to shut down the unit and then disconnect all connections.

This will include your fuel source, after making positively sure it's one hundred percent off at the source. Your water main is off and all lines have been drained before you begin.

You have accounted for and acquired all the necessary parts to replace any components that are needed and you have the new water heater on site and ready to go.

You have checked to make sure it is legal for you to work on your own water heater in the part of the country you live in.

Once these requirements have all been addressed you can safely make all the cuts and disconnect the old water heater. Remove electrical wiring from any electric models and tag the wires. Note colors and the color of the wire it was connected to if different.

Move your old unit from your path, and place the new water heater in it's place. Try to line up any hard threaded pipes such as gas piping with a priority because these are the hardest to alter for configuration. Copper lines can be re-routed if need be.

Tie back in any flue pipes next, as these are also more difficult to work with then simple copper tubing. Last but not least, tie in your water lines and solder it all up. Test the water lines by shutting off all the faucets that you opened upstairs and turning on the water slowly.

If there's a leak you'll hear air being pushed out of the leak, before the water gets there. This gives you a chance to fix any solder leaks before you get the system wet. It can save a lot of time filling the system with this slow fill method.

Once you have the water lines tight you can test your fuel connections. Oil leaks will simply be visible as a mess on the floor. Gas pipes should be tested with a soapy water spray solution on the joints. If there's a leak the soap will bubble up.

Turning on the power to the electric water heater will be the test. If the breaker pops then you miss wired the new connections. Check your notes and the water heater instructions and if still in need of answers call a qualified electrician.

Once you have finished testing your job you can place the new water heater on-line and see how the job went. Give your new water heater the proper amount of time to heat up and test the water at your kitchen sink.

The normal range for domestic water heaters to make your hot water would be between 110 and 120 degrees farenheit. This will of course be set to personal preference once you've allowed the unit to get to temp. Re-adjust up or down in slight intervals until your completely satisfied with your water heaters functionality.

Conventional Electric Water Heater

Less efficient than a Tank-less unit

Gas Water Heater
Credit: Dreamaker

Conventional Gas Water Heater

Gas Water Heater(92078)
Credit: Dreamaker
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Mar 29, 2012 2:20am
Thank you for the very detailed information.
Mar 29, 2012 5:37am
Yor very welcome and thanks for the visit.
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