Does My Water Heater Need To Be Replaced?

My electric water heater is 25 years old. Within the last few weeks it will suddenly not heat water all the time. The first time my brother-in-law told me to hit the reset button. Since I could not find one at all, he told me to turn off the circuit breaker, wait 15-30 minutes, and turn it back on. This makes the heater work and I get hot water. Lately it is happening more frequently (sometimes daily, other times every 2-3 days).

The breaker does not trip by itself, I turn it on/off to "reset". A plumber gave me an estimate of $2,000 to replace the 50 gallon tank -- this includes city permit, electrical work (he insists city requires new breaker), replace the faucet that turns water off (it is frozen), hot water tank, city inspection afterwards, and draining/removing old tank.

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Before he gave me this price, he said the tank was in great shape for its age (no rust, looks good, water runs clear) and that it probably was the thermostat. But he will not just replace the thermostat because he says it is 25 years old, too old for him to fix (yet he just said it was in good shape). $2,000 is a lot of money, and there is nothing wrong with the circuit breaker, but he says it is "best to do it all at once".

1. Am I being ripped off?

2. Is it bad to try to just replace the thermostat and then replace the heater when the element (only has one) breaks?

3. What should I pay to replace the thermostat?

4. If most agree I need to replace the heater, what is a reasonable cost in the Dallas area (for a 50 gallon tank).

5. Until I save money, am I hurting anything by flipping the breaker, waiting 20-30 minutes, and turning it back on?

Thank goodness the weather is so hot --the water heater is on my balcony in a storage room, so what warm water remains is generally OK to bathe in! Thank you.

Fran from Dallas

August 12, 20080 found this helpful

For 2K you are being ripped off. New water heaters are much more efficient than a 25 year old one, so you don't need to upgrade the electrical and you don't need a permit to just replace a water heater (I checked on Dalla's web site). You can get a 50 gallon hot water tank for about 500.00. You need to replace the shut off valve though, that should run 30-50 bucks with labor (you will be without water while it is replaced). Go to home depot or sears and talk to them, installation will be a lot cheaper than the 2k quoted. Replacing a old hot water heater with one that is more energy efficient one will save you money in the long run, maybe 5-10 bucks a month. If you don't have a large family you might look into an on-demand heater.

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August 12, 20080 found this helpful

Your thermostat is needing replaced, but with a 25 year old water heater, it's best to replace with a new one. More things will go wrong with it when it gets this old. It's been a good water heater lasting that long and has served you well; time to retire it and buy new.

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August 13, 20080 found this helpful

I agree with earlier posters that $2,000 is excessive. A 25 year old hot water heater has out lived its normal life. All you need is a hot water heater, and a new valve. A job a plumber can do in a few hours. I will convert from oil heated hot water to electric shortly and the quote I got from my plumber was 4 to 5 hundred dollars. I would get a few more quotes.

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August 13, 20080 found this helpful

I agree that you need to replace the heater. You've been very fortunate that it has lasted so long. $2,000.00 sounds way too high. I'd shop for a new heater at Lowe's or Home Depot and hire a reputable plumber to install it. I think you should be able to get everything done for around $1000.00.

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August 13, 20080 found this helpful

You are very blessed that your hot water heater held up for so many years! Truly you should replace it with a new one because the new models are much more energy efficient and in the long run will save you money on electric bills and less headache.

I am not certain about water heaters but check into energy tax discounts which might reduce your tax bill. I know some items I've replaced gave a flat rate or percentage deduction on my taxes in the past. Depends on the item.

Also, check with your local utility company. Many help financing items such as hot water heaters or can lead you to the folk who can. Ask the person who gave you the $2,000 quote for a detailed breakdown of service/repairs and a separate quote for the hot water heater itself. Then get two more quotes with the same breakdowns. In the meantime check out prices at such stores as Lowe's but keep in mind that there will be delivery charges and date of delivery unless you have a truck (or a friend who has a truck) to take it home from the store.

Listen to the plumbers about valves, pipes, electric breakers, etc needing to be replaced! Not only will that aid in the longevity of your new water heater and overall energy efficiency but also protect you from possible water damage and fire damage. Each city/county has codes, which are law, and your plumber could be fined and/or lose their license if not followed and could be held criminally and/or financially responsible if damage occurred if they did not follow the law.

Understand that a professional, reputable plumber is not trying to 'gouge' you but do what's right for you as a customer as well as follow required laws. One last thing: It is also possible that if you try to 'fudge' on your own and, for whatever reason, some sort of inspection had to be done or fire/ flooding happened that it could end up costing you a lot more money personally in the long run.

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August 13, 20080 found this helpful

We had to replace our gas hot water heater recently and with install was around $900 and we got the best one Home Depot sells. It's a GE and it's 50 gal. We did need to get a permit from our town. I don't know how much that cost or if it cost, I assume so. They took away the old water heater. Go to one of your home improvement places as I think you can do better.

Water heaters generally last 10-12 years so you did very well with yours!

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August 13, 20080 found this helpful

We just got a new hot water heater. 50 gallons one. It cost about $350 they were going to charge $90 an hr to install it. My husband and son in law installed it in about 90 min. I think your quote is very excessive. I was surprised to someone had to get a permit to install a hot water heater? Wow... amazing.

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August 14, 20080 found this helpful

Yes I agree that the water heater needs to be replaced. I too have to replace my own. Rather than go out and buy a new one, we had decided to buy the tankless water heater instead. Takes up much less room, it heats the water on demand, and is cost efficient compared to the hot water tank. Home Depot sells them and I am certain also installs them. If you have to buy a new tank think of the options. Cost wise, it may be cheaper to go tankless. Get a number of estimates for both methods and then decide.

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August 14, 20080 found this helpful

A permit to replace a water heater sounds very odd to me. I'd call the city building/permit department and check. If they do not, report this plumber to the license board and don't deal with him, EVER.

The other posts got to the rest of the issues.

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August 14, 20080 found this helpful

Although I am not an electrician, I don't think that it can cause any harm to shut the breaker off occasionally. You could check with one, but I suspect that it is not harmful in anyway. Some people shut off their breakers for their water heaters when they go on holiday or the one that controls their furnace in the summer time.

I have found that things like taps purchased from a plumber are far more expensive than ones from the hardware store. The plumber tells me that his are a far better quality, which could be true, but the inexpensive taps have worked just fine for a long time. I think you should shop around.

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August 15, 20080 found this helpful

Thanks to everyone who responded!! You validated my sense that the quoted price was too high. Based on feedback, I will replace the hot water heater -- but will wait until the first of October when it is not so hot (over 90) outside PLUS that will give me time to save $$. It is hot enough that I can shower as is and boil water for dishes or flip the breaker once in a while. I did get another bid and that one came in at around $800 - 1,000, depending if we have to replace the cut off valve (covers everything, including a trip to wherever I want to go and he'll help me pick out heater and haul it over in his pickup). The new person said we do need to get a permit and have it inspected, although most people do not do so and city does not find out. He said there is no requirement to get a new circuit breaker--that in some new homes they are installing a cut off breaker at the heater site (if you need to cut off the electricity fast in an emergency). But my condo is small and I can get to breakers in 30 seconds, so not needed unless I want (I don't) since there is nothing wrong with my breaker (he tested it). So, I will save, and then in 6 weeks say good-bye to my old pal but enjoy the savings from my more energy efficient new heater. Again, thanks for all the advice. Fran

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September 25, 20080 found this helpful

Oh and the reason our town requires a building permit on having a hot water heater installed is to protect the homeowner. I don't know if you absolutely have to get one if you are doing the work yourself....altho if you do get the permit, then you get an inspector coming to your house to be sure the job was done right. That is the whole idea on certain things that could be very dangerous if they were NOT done correctly. When dealing with a gas hot water heater or if you had some electrical work done, it's important that it's done properly. A place like Home Depot knows that our village requires the permit so they let you know up front that you're going to have to get it and they also know then that they'd better do the job right because it's going to be inspected! I suppose you could say it's a way for our town to make extra money but there is definitely benefit to the homeowner.

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October 2, 20080 found this helpful

If you're thinking of doing it yourself, might want to search "water heater explosion" for videos. You'll at least be amused and perhaps awed by the potential for havoc if you don't do it right. I think that generally, the protective equipment will come pre-configured on new water heaters, but having someone knowledgable do an inspection is enough that I'm a little reluctant to try it myself.

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October 12, 20080 found this helpful

Most likely the heating element was bad on the water heater.

Next time find out the wattage of the element and replace it exactly. If all else looks as good as you said, then try that first.

As far as the permit, YES you would need it for replacing it! Permits are there to enforce the code, even if you do the work. There is not much that can be done to homes with out a permit. 25 years of code updates have come into place since the water heater was installed; the city/licensed plumber will know what is new.

Disconnects must be within 6' of the appliance. The only way to "test" a breaker is to short-out the wires and make sure the breaker trips. Or, put more on the line than the circuit can handle, i.e. 25amps on a 20amp circuit.

Last, there was no memory or anything that was resetting on it; you shut the power off so the element could cool.

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