Hot water heaters-- reccomend # of elementsand wattage, install costs

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by trav, Feb 12, 2007.

  1. trav

    trav New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Hi All,
    I'm in need of replacing a Rheem 30-gallon electric lowboy hot water heater that is at least 15 years old, maybe MUCH older, and is heating enough only for one long shower; because similar units in my condo complex have begun to wear out and leak, now seems the time.
    But it's been hard to get good info and advice-- or at least until I found this forum...
    I have a Rheem model 666HS-300, which means nada to me; hoping to get Rheem on the phone to tell me how old, and how many elements/wattage, before extracting it from a tight closet, where door opening is about 3-4 inches less than heater diameter (!).
    From what I can glean, one 5,500-watt element will give better recovery of hot water than the two elements of 4,500 watts. Assuming my wire is 10 GA. (I'm checking, but the breaker appears to be 30-amp), what would you reccomend? A product description of a Kenmore Pwer Miser 6 stated the second (upper) element would "respond to heavy demands."What would the benefits of each be?
    My second dilema is that a company I kind of trust (they replaced did my main lug panel and breakers recently) gave me a price of $1,000 to $1,100 for the job including heater (which they told me would be marked up $150-$200 if they provided it), which seems a lot higher than a couple of others, including the company Sears contracts with ($249, plus heater, plus permit). And that high price didn't include any of the extraction carpentry for doorway moldings, etc. What would be a normal price range for installation, in the South?
    I was thinking of either an AO Smith or Kenmore, and it appears there are no lowboys with better than 6-year warranty. I've been told we don't really have a mineral problem in the water here. Any advice would be appreciated. (Besides cold showers)
    Thanks!
  2. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    That sounds about right for a 30-gallon heater.

    Good logic, in my opinion!

    Someone is likely going to recommend a tankless or "instant" heater, but I do not know anything about them.

    Maybe if the 5500 is in a 30-gallon and the two 4500s are in an 80-gallon or something, but size for size, 9000 is much more powerful than 5500.

    The second element speeds recovery, but that would not significantly (if at all) extend the length of a hot shower. For long showers you need a large tank, and for "never-ending" hot water, so to speak, you need tankless.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,510
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    heater

    The elements in a water heater work sequentially so if you have two 4500 watt elements, you still only have 4500 watts of heating, not 9000, and two 5500 watt elements are the same way. The cost of replacing the heater depends on the time and labor involved so getting a new one into that tight closet could be more time consuming than a standard one. And do not kid yourself. The prices posted at Sears and HD and similar for an installation is for a STANDARD installation, not one in a closet that has to be dismantled before the heater can be removed. By the time they are finished with you, (they will try to find all the "extras" then can), you will find yourself with a bill that is considerably higher than you expected.
  4. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Messages:
    7,334
    Location:
    Yakima WA
    Stay with Rheem, they are much better than Smith and whomever makes Kenmore. Is there any way a larger tank could fit in the space? The major difference in tank sizes is height, and not so much in the diameter. 30 gallons is a very small tank and electric tanks have a much slower recovery time than gas. The installation will eat you alive as HJ points out. A straight replacement is quick and easy, but where there are carpentry issues, the price will skyrocket.
  5. trav

    trav New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Appreciate it...

    Thanks for the replies so far.
    Will consider any more input I get for the next week or so, before deciding on a manufacturer. Feel better knowing that the install costs are within reasonable range.

    Any thoughts on tank-insulating jackets, or are they of much use?
  6. Randyj

    Randyj Master Plumber

    Messages:
    1,047
    Location:
    Alabama
    Is Alabama south enough for you? The big rooter service runs about $850 for a standard installation. The last job I did was a 50 gal from big box store for a nearby customer. It was in a closet but no demolition was required. Total was about $650. Took me about 2 hours since I wasn't in a hurry and I had to drive 13 miles to the store to pick it up....I had a little money in it for shopping/delivery and the 2 hours labor...about 400 above cost of HW heater and materials.....and I was significantly cheaper than my local competitors. There are some who would have hit the $1200 for the same swap out.
  7. trav

    trav New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Costs, and Code?

    Thanks Randyj,
    I'm starting to get a little more perspective; not trying to low-ball thte price prospective hot water heater installer, but had a recent bad experience where I went with my first estimate, which was high, and got an electrician who actually was on his way to a big over-kill mistake on a breaker panel for me.
    Cost me $200 for prep work, before relieving first company of the job duties and finding one that more on top of things. Still saved money, despite paying two different installers, because the first compamy was charging so much more than the second. And got the RIGHT panel.
    Also a little afraid to go for a really low install estimate, because sometimes you really do get what you pay for.


    Also, one person told me I might need a seperate breaker inside the closet, in addition to the one in the panel controling the household circuits. Know if that's typical code?

    The AC plug on existing heater plugs into a small black box on the side of the closet, which might be a breaker... I thought I saw a 30 A on it but it was hard to be sure.


    Gracias.
  8. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,510
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    heater

    Insulating jackets are a waste of money, and some manufacturers recommend that they NOT be used, because they can affect the thermostat adjustments. Plugging the heater into an outlet is a very, very unusual arrangement, and would not pass code here because the heater cannot be connected with a non-metallic cord. Even Romex is not approved from the wall to the heater, it has to be a rigid or flexible metal pipe. Some commercial installations have a switch at the heater, but few homes do, unless it is a wall timer.
  9. Randyj

    Randyj Master Plumber

    Messages:
    1,047
    Location:
    Alabama
    On new installs I've been using a disconnect and whip just like on an outside a/c unit... works great and looks good. It seems that everything I've read still recommends the insulation blanket when installed in non a/c areas.
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