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5 Reasons That Installing a Water Heater Yourself Is a Bad Idea

DIY home improvement projects are very popular. Armed with some guides and YouTube videos, many homeowners attempt to perform a variety of tasks from staining hardwood floors to building kitchen cabinets. Often, they succeed. However, installing some of the appliances including water heaters should never be attempted unless you have proper training and experience.

You might be tempted to save some money. Maybe you don’t trust your local service providers. Or maybe you have a few DIY building projects under your belt and fancy yourself a handyman or a handywoman. All these are valid reasons. However, you are likely to underestimate the knowledge and effort needed to complete a water heater installation or replacement project. There are a lot of things that could go catastrophically wrong, especially with gas appliances. In addition to putting yourself and your family in danger, you’re risking damage to the property and probable legal problems down the road.

Installing a water heater yourself isn’t going to save you money in the long run and more often than not will end up costing more. Here are 5 reasons you should hire a licensed professional plumber to perform water heater installation.

1. You’ll end up buying a wrong unit

Most salespeople are not trained plumbers. While they possess enough product knowledge to sell you a water heater, they probably wouldn’t know the specific requirements that your home system might need. And since you’re also not a trained plumber, you’ll end up focusing on features or costs without taking into account unit reliability and the water heater manufacturer’s warranty policy.

The most common issue people run into when purchasing an appliance without consulting a professional, is getting the wrong sized heater. The tank’s capacity is one of the most important features of your future unit. A standard 4-person residence needs a 50-gallon appliance. However, if your family does quite a lot of laundry or enjoys taking baths, 50 gallons will not be enough for you. With a heater too small you’ll be constantly running out of hot water and overworking the machine leading to its wearing out faster.

2. You’ll install it in the wrong place

No, you can’t just put a water heater anywhere you want. The International Code Council (ICC) models dictate where you are allowed and prohibited to install certain appliances. You also have to get a permit, and in some US jurisdictions, like Texas, a local municipality rep must inspect your system after installation to make sure that it’s code-compliant. Simply put, it’s just too much hassle.

Prohibited areas for the installation of electric and gas water heaters are listed in the International Residential Code, Section M2005.2. It says that you cannot place a heater in a storage closet, or next to a living space without making a sealed enclosure first. You are also prohibited from installing such appliances in attics, basements, or other locations that have obstructed passageways, not enough space and insulation, or other difficulties with accessing the unit.

3. CO poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a hazardous gas that causes permanent brain injury and death. It has no odor, and you won’t be able to detect a leak without special equipment. Since most water heaters are gas-operated, you will need extra care when installing these units. If you don’t have proper ventilation for your heater, CO can slowly build up and poison you and your family members.

A couple hundred dollars that you might save when doing the job yourself is not worth risking the lives of your loved ones. Costly and even lethal mistakes can be prevented if you hire an experienced plumber. Investing in a good carbon monoxide detector for your house is also a smart choice.

4. Risk of fire and explosion

Natural gas is a highly flammable combustible fuel. Even a single mistake during the installation process can result in property damage and bodily harm. Incorrectly installed units explode with a force sufficient to cause serious injury or even death. Things like over-tightening of a valve can lead to a gas leak which will result in a fire. 1 in 10 residential fires in the United States is caused by malfunctioning water heaters, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

5. You’ll have problems with home resale

If you installed the heater yourself, and it wasn’t properly inspected and permitted right after the installation, you’ll have to pass this procedure before you attempt to sell the house. If you fail, you’d be forced to repair or even reinstall the whole system. Most likely, you’ll end up paying twice. If you are selling a house that has unpermitted work, you are required by law to disclose it. Expect a sharp price drop, since it’s going to be a risky investment for the buyer.

By hiring a licensed plumber who knows all code requirements, you will ensure that your home has a good resale value. Professionals will also give you a warranty of their work, that will cover the repair in the unlikely event that you suffer a unit malfunction due to a faulty installation.


There are many jobs and projects that you can do around the house. Installing a water heater, especially if it’s a gas appliance, is not one of them if you are not a certified plumber or an HVAC mechanic. By hiring a licensed service provider you are giving yourself peace of mind, without having to worry about possible property damage, bodily injury, or home resale problems.