Buying a Water Heater – Prices, Types, and Pitfalls

Water heaters are about the biggest investment you’ll make when maintaining your home plumbing system. When customers call me the first question they ask is “how much do water heaters cost?” The next question is usually “what kind of water heater do you install?” The last question is “what can you tell me about tankless water heaters?” All of these questions are relative and a little more complicated than you might think.

Water Heater Prices

If you call a plumbing company and ask how much a water heater installation costs you may get an estimate or you may get the runaround. Speaking from the plumbing contractor side of the issue I can tell you both answers are appropriate. There are a few variables involved with water heater prices and estimates.

  1. Do you have a gas or electric water heater
  2. What size water heater
  3. Is your current water heater up to code
  4. Is it installed in an accessible location
  5. Is there a drain nearby
  6. How many bathrooms and people are in your home

We’ll explore each question in this blog post.

Gas or Electric Water Heater

This is a pretty straight forward question. This is important because we need to know what materials will be needed for the installation. It also will help a plumber decide whether a repair may be possible. A good plumber will always recommend repair over replacement when it’s warranted.

Water Heater installation and repairs

What Size Water Heater 

We ask this because often times a family will move into a small starter home and grow out of it. The demands for hot water double when you add a few kids into the picture. Especially if they’re teenagers!

Is Your Current Water Heater Up To Local Plumbing Code

Now you may not be able to answer this question completely since you’re not a plumber. But we have to ask. Often when you move into a new home you’ll be given information about your home plumbing system that would be important to your local plumbing contractor. And keep in mind that most master plumbers won’t blindly follow plumbing codes. We know that some codes aren’t strict enough. We also know that some are not pertinent to your situation. We work for you, not the city inspectors. Your health and budget are very real considerations.
water heater installation and repair

Is It Installed In An Accessible Location

You’re going to pay a different price for the same water heater installation if it’s in a crawl space or it’s been walled up. We need to be able to get the old hot water heater out with a reasonable amount of effort. If gas pipes, duct work or undersized doors are installed after the fact it’s going to mean a lot more time and effort. And water heaters have gotten bigger.

Is There A Drain Nearby

Now this may not seem like a big deal to you. But to us it’s everything. The most time consuming thing to do when installing a new water heater is emptying the old one. Water weighs about 8.5 pounds per gallon. Multiply that by your hot water heater capacity and its its weight can be 400 to 500 pounds easily! Then consider that most old water heaters are calcified so badly that the drain valves won’t work.

How Many Bathrooms And People Are In Your Home

The new water heater capacity will be determined by usage. If you live with a gaggle of teenagers or have a large tub, you’re going to need more hot water.

If there are only one or two people living in a large home then the question is what are your future plans. This will dictate whether to size your new hot water heater to your needs or the home resale value.

These questions and more are invaluable parts of the initial customer interview. The next thing to consider is where to get your new hot water heater.

Have Your Plumber Furnish The Water Heater

When you hire a professional master plumber to replace your water heater you can expect to get a craftsman that not only understands plumbing codes but why they are in place. This knowledge, along with their years of experience with various brands of water heaters is going to come at a cost. This cost is usually realized in the price mark up of the water heater they provide. This is a good investment. We see industry trends and how various types of water heaters last through the years. We also provide a warranty in addition to the manufacturers warranty. This is also a good investment. The manufacturers are not dummies. They know that the most expensive part of any warranty is labor. Having your plumbing professional provide the new hot water heater will give you peice of mind at a very reasonable price. It will also give you a person to whom you may speak rather than a guy in India named Bruce.

Tankless Water Heaters

When discussing tankless water heaters we need to discuss briefly how they work. Also if they suit your needs. And then pricing.

How Tankless Water Heaters Work

A traditional tank style hot water heater is essentially a thermos with a fireplace at the bottom. When it heats water it’s heating all the stored water in the tank.

A tankless water heater is more like a water heater and air conditioner hybrid. Instead of a large storage tank it has copper coils. These coils are superheated at variable speeds determined upon water flow and temperature demands. It only comes on when water is flowing through it. It doesn’t store any water. And you still have to wait for the water to get hot in your shower.

Tankless Water Heater Issues

For the large corporate plumbing entities, tankless water heaters are a godsend. They fit their sales quota approach to our industry by offering a good, better and best pricing option. The knowledge that customers are more likely to spend more if they have something to reject will leave you with an inflated midrange pricing quote. The midrange quote is usually accepted.

As mentioned before, the tankless water heater has been misunderstood to provide instant hot water at the tap. Actually, it heats water very quickly and only when water is flowing through it.

Another sales pitch is that it will pay for itself in its lifetime. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s just not true for the average home owner. You will use more hot water with the knowledge that you won’t run out. And repairs are not a do it yourself option. They’re also not cheap.

One of the leading causes of water heater failure is hard water deposits. The hotter you make water the faster it will release the minerals it normally carries. A tankless water heater can burn more than 4 times as hot as a tank style hot water heater. To further complicate the issue, a tankless water heater has narrow copper coils instead of a large capacity storage tank. You’ll need to have yearly maintenance on that fancy water heater. Vinegar water needs to be cycled through it for approximately 45 minutes annually. This service ain’t cheap.

Water heater installation and repair

I’m not a fan of tankless water heaters. I think they’re a good idea that’s just not being implemented correctly yet. If you have a need for a large amount of hot water I highly recommend a dual water heater installation. This is your best value. If one fails simply shut it off and run on just one until you can get the second one replaced. But have a qualified professional install them. Your uncle or handyman won’t understand things like thermal expansion or paralell versus series piping.

What Do Water Heaters Cost

Ok. Let’s get to the question at hand. How much? Well a standard installation of a tank style water heater that is furnished by your plumbing contractor in our region of the country will usually run you from $1200 to $1800 depending on the company. That includes disposal of your old hot water heater.

A tankless water heater is going to be start at at least over double that price range.

“But I saw one for $495 at Ace Hardware!”

Well, that may be true. But you’re not getting any where near the quality, it doesn’t count sales taxes, installation parts, delivery or disposal of the old hot water tank. It really is just a matter of math. And who are you going to call if it quits working. I wouldn’t know who to call.

“I’ll bet Home Depot or Lowes is Cheaper”

They don’t install water heaters. They allow plumbing contractors to bid on flat rate installation contracts. And then the large corporate entities that get these service contracts get to keep anything they charge over the standard installation. So don’t be surprised if there are a lot of extra’s. They know once their foot is in the door you’re likely to say just get it done. They also know if you call someone like me that’s honest you’re going to get the real price. So they give you a lower initial price and just nickel and dime you until you’ve paid much more than I would charge. And the guys installing that overpriced water heater are usually apprentices; not master plumbers.

In short, the old adage “Buyer beware” is true. If you want guaranteed quality and service at a reasonable price call your local Blue Springs plumbing contractors at Advocate Master Plumbing. We’re highly trained, ethical and your neighbors.