Natural gas hot water replacement: hiring a plumber, job cost, correcting code violations, plumbing, natural gas and flue vent rework.
My natural gas water heater was over 15 years old which is well beyond life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. The old water heater also had several Plumbing Code violations that needed correcting. I decided to have it replaced before a crisis and hired a licensed Master Plumber to do the job.
Table of Contents
- Gas Water Heater Replacement Cost and Code Compliance (you are here)
- Natural Gas Hot Water Heater Replacement Process
- How to Install a FloodStop Water Heater Auto-Shutoff Valve
- Water Heater Replacement – Gas Supply & Type B Flue Vent Connections
- Basement Water Heater Temperature & Pressure Valve Discharge Pipe to the Outdoors
Gas Water Heater Replacement Cost and Code Compliance
The old 50 gallon natural gas water heater is located in the basement next to the furnace air handler:
Several observations are:
- The heater sits on a 4-leg metal stand to elevate the pilot light and burner at least 18″ inches above the floor to comply with Section “305.3 Elevation of ignition source” of the 2015 International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC). (This code requirement has been around for years.) The pilot light/burner on this old heater is open to the air and can be seen by removing the tan colored access plate at the front bottom of the tank. Elevating the tank reduces the risk of igniting flammable vapors, say from a gasoline can stored near the heater. Gasoline vapors are heavier than air and sink to the floor/ground as this idiot learned.
- The Temperature & Pressure relief valve discharge pipe empties on the basement floor next to the wall. This is the tan plastic pipe running from the top of the heater and down the right side. This might have been OK before the previous homeowners finished the basement without a Building Permit with “limited” damaged to property if the valve flooded, but it’s now a Code Violation. See Section “504.6 Requirements discharge piping” in the 2015 International Plumbing Code.
- The flue exhaust vent pipe from the heater to the main stack is sealed with metal foil HVAC tape and uses a handmade Wye connection to the main stack. The current Fuel Gas Code requires the use of “Listed” Type B vents/connectors (e.g. Underwriter’s Labs or other 3rd party testing/certification agency) and vent pipes should be mechanically fastened with screws. Reference Section “502.1 General” of the Fuel Gas Code. Unapproved connectors and taped joints may leak causing carbon monoxide poisoning. There’s been no problems and I have carbon monoxide detectors in all the bedrooms – including the basement bedroom.
The GE water heater was manufactured in May 2002 as encoded in the Serial Number GENG 0502H19898, where 05 is the month (May) and 02 is the year 2002. The house was built in 2002 so it’s the original heater:
Note the label says “GE” but the fine print at the bottom of the label says “License by Rheem Mfg. Co.”. It was probably purchased at Home Depot.
Hiring a Plumber
I’ve done a lot of plumbing projects – finished the basement bathroom, fixed shower leaks, install toilet fill valves, installed a kitchen sink instant hot water dispenser & filter, etc. – but sometimes you need a professional because the job is complex, requires special skills and needs to be done quickly.
If this were a simply replacing the old water heater then I would have done it myself. The extensive plumbing, natural gas and flue vent rework required a professional.
I searched for plumber’s on the Better Business Bureau website in my area and filtered by “BBB Accredited” and “Best Match”. The plumber I selected has an A+ rating and BBB accredited for over 20 years. Stability and a long track record is important. Also see the Federal Trade Commission’s Hiring a Contractor for advice.
I called the office and made an appointment. The Master Plumber arrived on time. He’s said he’s one of several on staff. We looked at the old water heater installation, I explained what I wanted done (relocate the new heater, additional shutoff valves, T&P discharge pipe to the outdoors) and we discussed options and issues. It was a pleasant experience with no sales pressure. The plumber often replied “I can do that but it will cost extra.”
“Who will be doing the work?” I asked. The Master Plumber said “I will, probably with a helper.” I really liked that so there will be no misunderstanding between the written work estimate and final invoice.
I normally advise readers to solicit three quotes but I felt very comfortable with this plumber and budget wasn’t an issue, so I hired him for the job. No contract was signed, only a zero-amount due/paid invoice stating a water heater estimate was provided with a proposal & pricing sheet attached. He even provided his mobile phone number in case I had questions.
Plumbing Permit & Inspections
An absolute requirement is the plumbing company files the Plumbing Permit. This way the contractor is responsible for resolving any defects found by the Building Inspector. Before work started, I checked the county Building Department website and saw the permit had been filed and paid for. When the plumber arrived he also had the Permit # available.
Bradford White Gas Water Heater
Bradford White Water Heater Warranty
The Plumbing Company installs Bradford White water heaters which are only sold to authorized distributors and qualified installers, so you won’t find these at the home improvement store. If you buy a Bradford White online the factory warranty is void. Bradford White heaters are made in the USA and warranty claims are handled by my plumbing company. That’s a plus because if you buy a heater at the home improvement store then you, the homeowner, will be responsible for filing a claim and the store will send their contractor to fix it.
The water heater has a standard 6 year warranty. I could buy a 10 year or Lifetime Warranty but the plumber explained it’s the same water heater with no difference in build or quality. The 10 year warranty cost $285 more versus 6 years, and Lifetime was an additional $240 versus 10 years for the tank and parts only. The plumber’s labor warranty is 1 year in all cases, after that I pay for the repair labor.
Given the old water heater only had a 6 year parts/tank warranty and was still working after 15 years, I choose the 6 year warranty.
Hot Water Heater Replacement Cost
The water heater replacement scope of work is:
- Disconnect, drain and haul away the old water heater.
- Relocate the new heater about 3-1/2 feet away from gas furnace/air handler.
My requirement for easier access to the air handler.
- Aluminum drain pan under the tank (Code requirement.)
- Install a new thermal expansion tank.
A thermal expansion tank is required because the city installed a backflow preventer at the water meter. Hot water expands and the expansion tank prevents prevents over pressure in the house pipes.
- Install new hot and cold shutoff ball valves on the copper pipes.
A cold water supply shutoff valve is required by Code. I requested a shutoff on the hot water pipe to simplify future maintenance.
- Upgrade: FloodSafe auto-shutoff valve and sensor to prevent flooding if the heater leaks. My request.
- New Type B exhaust pipe and connectors to get rid of the handmade Wye and taped joints.
- Route the Temperature & Pressure (T&P) valve discharge pipe to the outdoors.
Note the discharge line is routed upwards instead of going to a floor drain.
- Extra item: Replace the main water supply gate valve with a ball valve.
The old gate valve wouldn’t shutoff completely. This item was $170 extra and included in the “Additional 3/4″ Copper Water Pipe” line item in the price table.
The total price for the plumbing rework and new water heater was $3,089 per the following table:
The Master Plumber and a Journeyman Plumber (helper) worked for almost 6 hours to complete the job, which was about how long (5 to 6 hours) they said it take. They didn’t rush and took time to do quality work. The plumber said “We’re not the cheapest in town but we do it right.” Benjamin Franklin said it best: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
Water Heater Installation Code Violations
The old hot water heater violates the plumbing code in two areas: T&P discharge line and Type B gas flue exhaust vent piping. These must be corrected when installing the new heater or it won’t pass inspection.
Temperature & Pressure (T&P) Valve Discharge Pipe Code Violation
The old heater T&P discharge pipe would dump water on the basement floor:
The problems with this are:
- If the T&P valve opens it will spray scalding water on the floor, possibly injuring someone nearby.
- The more likely situation is the 15 year old T&P valve is corroded and sticky.
If it opened due to excessive temperature/pressure or the recommended annual testing, it may stay open causing a major flood. The tank will continue to fill with cold water which will be dumped on the basement floor. It could be some time before someone notices the problem only after hundreds to thousands of gallons of water has flooded the basement. The only way to stop the flooding is to shutoff the cold water valve above the tank. Imagine if this happened while I was at work or away for several days?!
The 2015 International Plumbing Code Section “504.6 Requirements discharge piping” requires the T&P discharge pipe to empty into a floor drain (if in a basement), drain pan or storage tank. It must also discharge in a manner that doesn’t cause personal injury or structural damage.
Type B Flue Vent Exhaust Code Violation
I don’t know if handmade flue vent fittings were code compliant in 2002 but now it’s an International Fuel Gas Code violation (Sec. 502.1 General) which requires “listed and labeled” (UL or other 3rd party testing/certification) fittings. This means a manufactured fitting is required. Taped joints are insufficient where sheet metal screws are required:
Relocate the New Hot Water Heater
The old heater is about 5 inches away from the air handler. This makes it difficult to service the air handler which will soon be replaced with a new Bryant central A/C system to match the one in attic. There’s plenty of space in the basement utility room to relocate the heater:
The hot and cold water lines run under the 1st floor joists about 14 feet overhead. The copper lines will be cut and new drops installed. It will also simplify routing the flexible air duct:
House Water Supply Shutoff Valve Replacement
I had the plumbers fix an unrelated gate valve issue while they were on-site.
The house water supply can be shutoff at the water meter by the street or the gate valve in the basement. The problem is old gate valves tend to leak and this one wouldn’t shutoff the water completely. Sometimes I need to shutoff the water to do plumbing work and it’s an aggravation to grab a wrench and go outside to the street meter.
The plumber cut the pipes and installed a new quarter-turn ball valve. Ball valves are a better design compared to gate valves and much more reliable:
The plumber used Viega ProPress fittings that can be installed on wet or dry pipes. Much faster than soldered joints!
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