Your Association recommends following this guideline in preparing to replace your water heater. Units are generally equipped with a natural gas water heater. Generally, gas and electric water heater tanks have a six-year manufacturer warranty; therefore, continuing to use a water heater beyond six-years presents a tremendous risk of property damage to your unit and potentially other units if it were to leak or catastrophically rupture. For obvious reasons, your Association encourages replacement at six-years; however, a water heater can provide service beyond the manufacturer warranty. Our recommendation is to replace your water heater when it reaches its 10th year from the date of manufacture. To put it in perspective, twelve years would be twice the expected life of the tank based on a typical six-year warranty.
CHANGE OUT OPTIONS
Gas with Tank
Replacing the existing gas water heater for a like type model of the same size (e.g., 30 -40 gallon) is standard. Anytime a replacement is performed, the small tank above the water heater, called an expansion tank, must be replaced by code. These do fail. Not having an expansion tank increases the risk of blowing a pipe fitting off of your plumbing system due to water hammer.
Gas without Tank (On Demand Tankless)
Many residents have inquired about going tankless or to on demand systems for their water heating needs. The Association cautions residents to research all of what is required to go tankless. For example, residents have reported that tankless units require a larger sized exhaust flue. Units typically have a 3” flue, and tankless units require a 4” or larger. Tankless units have to be sized for the number sinks and baths. Also, tankless units do not necessarily provide a longer warranty over a tank-based water heater and tankless units have more parts to fail.
Electric with a Tank
Volatility in natural gas prices have caused residents to ask about going to electric water heating. This is a possibility for any unit, provided your unit’s electric panel has the capacity. Electric water heaters (i.e., 30 gallon) generally require a double-pole 30 Ampere breaker. The cost of replacing a gas unit with an electric unit will be more expensive due to the additional cost of hiring an electrician to run a dedicated electric circuit to the water heater location. This may be a better long-term option if you typically do not use your fireplace and only use natural gas for water heating. It would mean one less utility bill and more stability in your utility costs. Check with your electric utility for potential rebates and tax credits for going electric.
Electric without a Tank (On Demand Tankless)
An electric tankless water heater presents more obstacles as an alternative to the types described above. These appliances generally require an 80 to 100 Ampere electrical panel capacity. All units only have a 150 Ampere main breaker, except townhomes which have a 200 Ampere main breaker. Before purchasing an electric tankless water heater, consult with a licensed electrician to determine if your electric service is capable of handling such a load safely and according to local code(s). It may be possible to add the appliance by reducing your required capacity by eliminating another electric appliance. For example, converting your electric stove to a gas stove. In any case, this option is generally more expensive and requires more costly adjustments to other appliances than the amount of savings realized by having on-demand water heating.
Electric – All Plastic
Another version of an electric water heater is one with a tank, but the tank is all plastic. For example, Rheem makes a product called Marathon that has a “Lifetime” warranty on the tank. This is substantially different from metal tanks that typically only have a six (6) year tank warranty.
While an all plastic tank has advantages, it is not suitable for units on the lowest level of the building. The reason is that plastic tanks required an anti-siphon valve (the opposite of the temperature pressure relief valve or TPR) found on regular tank water heaters. If the community’s water system is shut down or the municipal system has a problem, a vacuum could be created in the plumbing system causing the plastic tank to collapse on the inside. The anti-siphon valve pops open to allow air in the plumbing system, thus stopping the vacuum; however, the plumbing in the lowest units has its plumbing in the ceiling that is full of water. When the anti-siphon valve pops open, all the water from above will drain out onto the floor through the open valve, potentially causing serious water damage.
OTHER PLUMBING CONSIDERATIONS
See your Association’s Guideline – Water Valve Change Out for testing your unit main water valve prior to doing any plumbing work. Knowing whether your unit water shut off valve works properly can save you a lot of money in the long run and prevent future headaches and expenses before tackling a water heater change out.
Your Association is not permitted to recommend plumbing vendors to residents; however, the Association will provide you the names of plumbing companies it uses to service the communities by contacting the Board or management company. You are welcome to use the Association plumbers knowing that they are required to be licensed and carry at least $1M in liability insurance. You are also encouraged to consider other small plumbing companies since the Association plumbing firms typically focus on commercial customers. It is highly recommended to check around and obtain estimates as costs can vary widely. Always verify they are licensed and insured.
Units in the community have either plastic (CPVC) or copper piping. You plumber should use the same material for repairs. Most plumbers today do not “sweat” copper piping and instead use compression couplings due to the risk of fire when sweating copper joints by heat. Quick compression couplings are industry proven and are very reliable. For plastic, CPVC should always be used if the unit plumbing is plastic. It is identified by its off-white or ivory appearance and should have a yellow lengthwise stripe. CPVC is rated for hot water whereas the typical white PVC is not rated for heat and is used for drain pipe. Take a look at your HVAC drain pipe – it’s probably white (PVC).
- Get estimates (water valve, water heater, overflow pan, expansion tank, etc.)
- Choose your vendor
- Schedule the work
- Locate the blue reflector and valve box for your benefit and the plumber in case of a water emergency
WHAT TO COVER WITH YOUR PLUMBER BEFORE WORK
- Check that your plumber is licensed and insured
- Plumber must take all refuse off site, including the tank, boxes, etc.
- The plumber is NOT to “pop-open” the water heater Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) valve to allow the air to escape the water heater more quickly. It may cause flooding and water damage in either:
- your unit if plumbed to the drain behind the washer, or
- other units due to the TPR piping being interconnected to other units.