Dead water heater - what now?
October 14, 2016 6:41 PM   Subscribe

I found my water heater leaking today, probably a failed sidewall. Is there some perfect world where replacing one of these is both cost effective, timely and skillfully done?

I googled my problem and think my diagnosis is correct, after 16 years of service the thing's sprung a leak. I shopped heaters today at a locally owned big box hardware store, and a chain big box hardware store and ended up in a loop of fail around getting a reasonably fast replacement at a good price point.

I'm need a 50 gal electric heater located in a place with easy access. Top o' the line (12yr warranty) would be around $600 plus installation. I got attached to one unit (hybrid heat pump) before realizing the reviews were shite, in the course of this scenario I ended up talking to a roto rooter company that does the installs for the local hardware store. The big box stores seem to have third party installers ready to do a 'quick' install with prices all over the map. So far I've heard prices from $2k to $300.

The $300 installation seems reasonable to me, it's the blow-back around having a third party installer, do they do a good job, are they licensed and so forth, and who warranties their installation work?

I'm thinking these installation companies, big and small, capitalize on the ignorance of consumers of the real time and labor involved, especially when your hot water is down. Is there a route I can follow to leverage this in my favor? Just curious about any tips people might have.

I could do it myself but don't have a truck and don't feel like messing with it all weekend. I'm headed back to the local big box hardware place tomorrow to scope out heater plan B. Thanks for any tips or howtos around this.
posted by diode to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Do you have a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore? At ours, every so often they'll have water heaters for sale. Also, do you have access to Angie's List?
posted by holgate at 7:32 PM on October 14, 2016

If you can wait until next week, you are going to be in much better shape. Weekend plumbing is never going to result in a good deal, even if they guy isn't a master plumber(but I would want a master plumber involved if I was hiring someone to do the work). The gas hot water heater in my house took about an hour and 1700 dollars to replace by a local, highly regarded plumbing company.
posted by rockindata at 7:39 PM on October 14, 2016

I had a 50 gal water heater replaced a couple years ago (It was 31 years old! I replaced it for the energy credit alone, it still worked fine for its age). l used straight up Home Depot. I know they use contractors to do their stuff. Old one was hauled off, new one was put in, no fuss no muss, $1100.

I know I can do it myself. I have done it three times. But I paid it because I reviewed the bill and it was a fair price for the water heater and the labor. I don't have to be doing that shit on my weekends. Also, you have to get rid of the old one.

Once I tallied up all the expenses, and it was within $100, I stopped giving a shit at all. Someone else can do it, and they are experts.
posted by sanka at 7:51 PM on October 14, 2016

What worked slightly better for me was finding the plumber first, then letting them source the water heater. They know what meets the "good enough without paying 20% more for stuff you don't need + marketing" test. They shop at stores I hadn't heard of. Find someone who does only personal, journeyman-level plumbing, not a general handyman (autocorrect changed that to "federal fisherman" -- don't get one of them either!). Good luck!
posted by slidell at 8:52 PM on October 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd just call a few plumbers, ask what they'd charge for the done deal; they can get a better heater cheaper than you can.

I've done it myself three times now and it's not hard, but the last time I did it the cost for doing it myself was the same as a plumber had quoted me; he couldn't do it for a few days hence my doing it .. but after all the hassle it took me, I wished I'd waited for him.

Your old heater may be super heavy if it has much sediment inside, so much nicer to let someone else handle it. The new one almost certainly has its piping in different locations, which is OK for inlet and outlet where you can use flexi-hoses for connections, but the overflow should (according to code) use solid pipe not flexi hose nor pex so that can mean some soldering or using sharkbite connectors to make the solid pipe fit.
posted by anadem at 9:01 PM on October 14, 2016

This happened to me a couple of months ago. I went with a local, well established, well recommended plumber who sourced and installed for about $1300 on a weekend. I think it took about 3 hours from start to finish. My old water heater was 20 years old and there were a lot of space issues getting the new one to fit. It was worth it to me to know that it was being done correctly-and I didn't have to worry about getting rid of the old heater.
posted by bookmammal at 2:27 AM on October 15, 2016

I actually used the company Home Depot contracts with in my area when I had mine done 2 years ago. In my specific case, it was the absolute best option. They were possibly the only place in my state that actually had a suitable water heater in stock. So I was only without hot water for a few days. Otherwise, I would have had to wait for at least 3 weeks for anyone to get one shipped.

Yes, it was expensive, but mostly because of the unicorn water heater. But they did a great job, took care of the permit, made sure it was all up to code, and took the old one away. Any other option would have been more expensive and taken longer. I could not have installed it myself.
posted by monopas at 12:32 PM on October 15, 2016

I looked at my heater and went to my local big box hardware store and scheduled heater installs twice, then cancelled both, first time for a Geospring hybrid heater, then the 2nd time for a standard heater. I spoke to several installers, two connected with retail hardware stores, and also companies I googled in my area.
Most of the people I spoke to seemed overbooked and overpriced.
Getting plumbers on the weekend is problematic at best, you are paying a premium for a standard installation. After watching some Youtube clips of happy Geospring owners, I punted, borrowed a truck, went down and fetched one and put it in. With the rebates attached, plus the savings in electricity, I should save the cost of the heater in the 1st year of use. A heater with a LED readout and a heat pump on the top. Kind of cool, hopefully it won't bail on me in some unusual fashion.
posted by diode at 5:15 PM on October 23, 2016

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