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Installation of water heater requires a plumbing permit

QuestionI recently had a water heater installed and the contractor got a permit. When the inspector came, he asked why he was there. I replied that I was told a permit was required to replace a water heater, but he said he had never heard of such a thing. Is a plumbing permit required to replace an electric water heater?

Since its installation, that water heater puts little white things into the water. If I drain water from the bottom of the tank into a cup, sediment is visible. The installer says it's not worth worrying about.

I remember that you described how to drain a water tank, but the whole process sounds complex. Additionally, the plastic drain valve on the tank doesn't close properly and I am afraid I will break it. I asked a plumber to replace the valve, but he did not think he could do it because the valve is almost integrated with the tank. Can the plastic valve be replaced with a brass valve?

AnswerA water heater is a plumbing appliance, and whenever plumbing fixtures or appliances are moved or replaced, even if the same appliance is just taken out and put back, a plumbing permit is required under the Uniform Plumbing Code or the International Plumbing Code.

Gas-fired water heaters require a mechanical permit and electrical water heaters need a plumbing permit to ensure that the unit is installed properly with a temperature and pressure relief valve, the valve has an attached drainpipe, and the entire system is installed in a safe location. Also, a water heater requires a full-flow shut-off valve on the cold water inlet.

Your experience with the inspector raises concerns. We rely on inspectors to make sure home improvement projects are done safely and according to code. Perhaps the inspector was confused about your project because he didn't have all the information he needed and wasn't sure what to inspect.

The "little white things" are mineral deposits from hard water. As the tank heats the water, calcium and magnesium precipitate out, settling on the bottom. The sediment absorbs heat energy, causing your water heater to work harder.

I am surprised that you are already having problems with buildup. Are you using more hot water than normal? The more you use the water tank, the faster sediment builds up.

To remove sediment, drain a bucket of water from a gas water tank every other month and two or more buckets from an electric unit.

Because gas units have a drain valve situated higher than electric tanks, you can place a small bucket underneath it. For an electric tank, attach a garden hose to the drain valve and run the hose outside or into a bucket. In both cases, turn off the water supply before draining, and turn off the power to an electric tank. Remember to turn on the power when you're finished.

Open the hot side of a household faucet (preferably one nearest the tank) when draining the tank (after shutting off the tank's water supply line) to allow air into the tank to help it drain. You could also remove the flexible hose connected to the top of the water heater from the cold side (use an open-end adjustable wrench). This relieves water pressure in the supply line and tank, allowing air into the tank for easier draining.

Water heaters have either a cone or a faucet-type valve; very few have a brass spigot. I recommend that you replace the plastic valve with a brass ball-valve drain. Check your owner's manual for a breakdown of your unit to see if the drain valve threads into a metal nipple. If it does, you can replace the valve. If you don't have a manual, visit the manufacturer's website or contact the manufacturer directly.

Over time, plastic valves become brittle so the valve on your recently installed water heater should be fairly easy to remove. However, it is possible that the valve could break within the nipple. If it should, use a hammer and a flat-headed screwdriver to remove the remaining plastic. Place the blade on the lower edge of the plastic and gently tap between it and the nipple's threads—be careful not to damage the threads. Personally, I would hire a plumber experienced in replacing plastic drain valves.

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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C.R.S., Inc. · Spokane, Washington · USA

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