Replacing a Water Heater Using SharkBite Connections
Hey, Maytag Repairman…come dispose of your busted water heater.
At my house, the water heater sprung a leak. It required replacement. I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience, but I found a way to ease the pain by using push-fit Sharkbite plumbing connections. But first…
What to Do When Your Water Heater Springs a Leak
Step 1: Examine the water heater to make sure a plumbing connection is not leaking. If you see no leaking connection, then the tank has probably corroded and is leaking.
Panic. Run around in circles while shaking your fist at the sky.
Step 2: Compose yourself. Turn off the water supply shut-off valve that should be visible directly above the tank.
This green-handled valve shut off the water to my leaking tank.
Step 3: Follow the instructions on the side of the tank to shut off power to the water heater. Depending on your model, this might be an electrical switch or toggle switch to close the gas ands snuff the pilot light. Stopping the water supply should slow the leak by relieving water pressure, but it won’t completely stop it, because the weight of the full tank is still forcing water out. You’ll now need to drain the tank.
Step 4: Stopping the water supply should slow the leak by relieving water pressure, but it won’t completely stop it, because the weight of the full tank is still forcing water out. You’ll now need to drain the tank.
Some local codes require the tank to be plumbed to an in-ground drain. If that’s the case, then open the valve at the bottom of the tank to drain it.
This is a photo of the new water heater, and I hope I never need to connect a garden hose to the drain as I’m demonstrating here. THis was my method to drain the old tank.
Step 7: Before performing further work on the water heater, close off the gas by turning the supply line’s shut-off valve off, or disconnect any electrical power at the breaker box. You can then remove the old water heater for replacement. Be prepared to catch trapped water that spills out of the lines when cutting the pipes.
DIY Note: After you disconnect the water heater, you’ve got a big hunk of junk to deal with. I’m not sure how junk is handled in your neck of the woods, but around Birmingham, Al, we have
Step 8: Replacement… Depending on where you live, you might be expected to secure a permit for installing a water heater, and there might be additional code restrictions, like mandating an additional expansion tank be installed above the water heater. My dad and I replaced this tank ourselves and didn’t consult anyone–but you do you.
The new A.O. Smith tank-style water heater I bought at Lowe’s. Ain’t she beaut?
I’m going to skip over the part about connecting the gas and electrical lines to the new unit, because people write books and teach courses on that stuff–and this is a blog post. But I did want to draw your attention to the plumbing connections that made our DIY life a heck of a lot easier. They’re called SharkBite push-fit connections.
SharkBite Push-fit Connections
The traditional method for installing the water lines to a water heater is to solder copper pipe and fittings. This method still works very well when done correctly, but it takes a while to accomplish and requires to have good soldering skills. Soldering copper pipe requires hand tools such as a propane torch, a flux brush, a pipe-cleaning tool and a pipe cutter. It’s a time-consuming process. However, copper pipe can also be installed with the same modern push-fit connections that work with PEX and CPVC.The traditional method for installing the water lines to a water heater is to solder copper pipe and fittings. This method still works very well when done correctly, but it takes a while to accomplish and requires to have good soldering skills.
Here’s a close-up of a SharkBite push-fit coupling.
You can save time and aggravation with plumbing installations by using push-fit connections, which require no tools or soldering. For DIY’ers that aren’t well-versed in soldering, these fittings are kind of a dream come true, and they’re available at hardware stores and big-box stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.
Soldering copper pipe requires hand tools such as a propane torch, a flux brush, a pipe-cleaning tool and a pipe cutter. It’s a time-consuming process. However, copper pipe can also be installed with the same modern push-fit connections that work with PEX and CPVC. Push-fit connections utilize a compression fitting to join the pipes, and they’re certified up to 200 PSI and 200 degrees F.
Our first step was to apply pipe-thread tape to the threaded connections of the water heater.
Screw on the threaded Sharkbite fitting.
Insert the pipe into the fitting until it “clicks” to complete a permanent connection.
Connect the other end of the pipe to a second coupling. You’ll find a variety of available fittings, including this couple that includes a shut-off valve.
To make a push-fit connection, first make a square cut on the end of the pipe. Sand down any rough edges or debris. Mark the depth of the pipe that will be housed in the push-fit connection. Push the fitting together up to the depth mark so it “clicks.” The connection is complete and takes all of 3 seconds.
When the pipe is pushed into the SharkBite fitting, the stainless steel teeth of the fitting bite down on it and grip tight, while a specially formulated O-ring compresses to create a perfect seal. Disassembly is just as fast using a simple disconnect tool that releases the O-ring, so fittings and valves can be easily changed and reused. They can even be rotated after assembly for easier installation in tight spaces. They create permanent plumbing connections, some of which come with a 75-yearmanufacturer’s warranty.
Note: Although these fittings are super-easy to use, they can be misused, typically by not joining two straight lengths of pipe. The ends of the adjoining pipes should connect in a straight run, without tension on either end, which might interfere with the seal or cause the pipe to bind against the plastic reinforcement ring that is inside the fitting.
By using PEX pipe and SharkBite fittings, we had the water heater plumbed in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to solder copper connections. These fittings are frankly awesome, and while professionals are well aware of them, I constantly find DIY’ers who don’t know they exist–and this post is for those folks.
Check out this handy video that shows how SharkBite connections work:
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