How to replace an electric water heater

Oh the joys of home ownership.  Yeah, that comment is laced in sarcasm.  Weekends like this one make me wish I had a “weekend” for my weekend.

My brother was in town for a couple days, and at some point months ago I was able to convince him to help me tinker with my water heater.  See, I had a 56 gallon water heater (it was pretty old) and I still couldn’t get enough hot water to fill a regular bathtub, or to take a shower longer than about 5 minutes.  So, after a bunch of research I figured that changing the upper/lower heating elements or replacing the dip tube might fix it right up– I thought it would be inexpensive too.

Unfortunately once we got started we noticed rust* along the top edge and a bulge in the metal casing.  That coupled with the fact that mine just looked plain O-L-D meant that it might not be worth paying for a new heating element in a water heater that really should be replaced.  So I bit the bullet and decided to just replace it now– hot showers were just too tempting.

*Rust indicates a leak somewhere– and that’s a really good sign that your water heater should be replaced.

No project is without its own issues, and this was no exception.  I’m going to walk you through the process so you hopefully don’t have the same issues as we did.

1. Find your cold-water turnoff and turn the knob to the right until no more water is entering the water heater.

2. Go to your Breaker Box and cut the power to your water heater.  Unhook the electrical connection to the water heater.

3. Hook a hose up to your drain valve and tighten.  We need to drain the water heater– this should actually be done at least once a year for the health of your water heater.

4. twist the drain valve to open the way for the water.  Open a hot-water faucet closest to your water heater to release a vacuum effect and watch the water drain out.

5. Wait for all the water (or as much as you can get) to drain out.

6. Unhook the hoses connected to the hot and cold water “nipples” on the water heater.  Use a hacksaw to cut through the PVC (or similar) pipe that serves as the overflow pipe.

7. Try not to bend the edges of the metal tray the water heater is likely sitting inside; use a dolly, 2×4’s to prop it up, or strong people to “bear hug” the thing out of it’s home.  Roll the thing on it’s edge so that it’s out of the way.

8. Clean the pan (if it’s dirty) and move the new water heater into place.

9. Use a wire brush to clean the threads of all open piping.

10. Use Teflon tape to wrap both the hot/cold “nipples” on the water heater and the pipes that bring the water into the space.  Wrap the teflon tape around 5 times around each one, making sure you’re wrapping it clockwise (if you wrap counterclockwise, the teflon tape will jam up and the threads won’t thread correctly).

11. Attach the new tubing between the wall/floor tubing and the nipples on the water heater.  Make sure that you’re connecting hot to hot and cold to cold.

12. Use PVC, and PVC cement/primer to attach a new overflow pipe.  Use a hacksaw to cut the PVC to size.  Allow the cement/primer 2 hours to fully dry.

13. Connect your electric wiring to the unit.  Black/black and red/white.  Make sure the ground wire is wrapped correctly.


15. Turn the cold-water valve back on to allow the water heater to fill up.

16. Make sure the tank fills completely.  Then “bleed” the system to get all the displaced air from the water heater out of the pipes.  Do this by opening warm water taps in the house.  Start at the top of the house and work down.  The crazy sputtering and dirty water that comes out is normal– eventually the air will work itself out.

17. When the tank is full and ALL the air is gone, then flip the breaker and cross your fingers. (If you turn on the power to the unit before it is COMPLETELY full of water and no air, you’re likely to blow out your heating elements– I would know, because that’s exactly what we did.  This will cause more frustration than it is worth, so just do it right the first time.)

18.  Give the tank approximately 30 minutes to start heating up the water.  Check a tap for warm water.

But, if you’re like me, you’ll turn the power to the unit before you bleed out the air, burn out the element, have no idea why you don’t have any warm water hours later, drive to Home Depot, get a tester, realize it’s not working, drain the heater again, pull out a completely fried heating element, drive back to Home Depot for a new element, install element but forget to attach the gasket, have serious leaking issues (think “waterfall”) for over an hour, figure out that you need a gasket, experience more waterfalls, get the element in without leaks, sop up the water mess with nearly all the towels in the house, and THEN finally get to fill the tank correctly, bleed the air, and turn the power on again.

We spent hours of unnecessary time, but we sure learned a lot about water heaters in the process.  It’s really not very difficult to replace a water heater– anyone can do it  Just make sure that you follow the directions carefully.

**Also, replacing an element is easy enough, but I don’t recommend trying it unless the tank is empty.  Waterfalls are meant to be outside, not in my laundry room.

So how was your weekend?  Hopefully not as eventful as mine.  Did you end up replacing any appliances unexpectedly?


Total Kitchen Makeover $550

When I was looking to purchase this house, I loved the fact that it had such a big kitchen– in fact, (and this might be the only time you’ll ever hear this) it almost had too much counter space.  It was also a pretty bland, builders-grade kitchen, but it had excellent bones, so I knew I could make it exactly what I wanted with a little hard work.

Here is what I started with: Solid oak cabinets, a marbled-salmon colored laminate counter (not shown: an equally ugly 4″ lamnite “backsplash” piece including metal quarter round at the top and bottom– that’s why you see the ugly yellow strip at the edge of the counter).  As it was, its color scheme was decided: salmon-y pink/warm brown/etc.  And that just wasn’t working me for.

So I got to work (about a year and a half after I moved in!)  My first project was the tile backsplash.  You can read all about that process HERE.  It wasn’t too difficult (with a wet saw), but was incredibly time consuming.  I spent 10 hours on a Saturday and almost didn’t have the strength to grout it the next afternoon.  It looks absolutely beautiful though– the pictures don’t do it justice.  And like other shiny-tile-owning people can attest, it almost sparkles at night when the lights are off.  That’s just a bonus!  After sealing it, it should be really easy to clean AND beautiful to look at.  LOVE.

The cost of the tile project was $182

Then I went a little crazy and decided to paint my counters to look like granite.  You can read all about that project HERE.  Among all the projects I’ve ever undertaken at my house, THIS felt wrong.  Painting my counters just felt wrong.  Amazingly though, it turned out awesome.  I’ve had lots of people come over to see them and everyone is amazed at how good they look.  They’ve been painted for a month now, which means they should have totally cured.  No problems with peeling, or water, or scratches, or whatnot so far.

The cost of the counter project was $140 (and it was super easy– a project that can easily be done in a weekend)

And then I painted my kitchen cabinets white.  I’ve wanted to have white cabinets since, well, forever I think.  My parents had honey-oak colored cabinets (without hardware) growing up and they were just never my thing.  I knew I would paint them, but the tutorial on how YHL painted theirs really inspired me to get going.  So I did.  And two weeks later I had these beauties.  You can read all about that journey HERE.  This was easily the hardest part of the kitchen– not because painting is hard, but because it’s a looooong process to paint cabinets, and I had LOTS of them to paint!

The cost of the cabinets was $228

I set a preliminary budget to finish my kitchen with under $600, and I totally came in under budget!  My total kitchen makeover only cost $550!!

I absolutely LOVE the transformation– it looks (and feels) like a completely different room!  Now I just need to learn how to cook– and with a beautiful new kitchen, that should be easy, right?

What kind of projects have you been up to lately?  I’d LOVE to hear from you!

I’m linking up toThrifty Decor Chick’s Show Us Your House party today.  Check it out!

Painting Kitchen Cabinets

I’m echoing YHL’s droopy but spirited happy dance following cabinet-painting completion.  This project now tops my “most time-consuming” project ever.  Blowing my reupholstered wingback chair project right out of the water.  But it was COMPLETELY worth all the time and energy it took.  My kitchen looks totally different now– in an amazingly awesome kind of way.

Oh, and I fully understand why it seems to cost an arm and a leg to pay someone else to paint cabinets for you– it’s not for the feint of heart, or for someone who struggles to finish projects.

Here’s what I needed:

  • Sandwich baggies – FREE
  • Phillips Screwdriver – FREE
  • Electric Drill – FREE
  • TSP – FREE (a good thing to own)
  • Palm Sander – FREE, purchased for my farmhouse table build, but only about $30 to buy
  • 120 or 150 grit Sandpaper – $3.97
  • Primer* – $48 (Benjamin Moore Advance Primer)
  • Paint – $48 (Benjamin Moore Advance paint, Satin sheen, color: Distant Gray)
  • Quality paint brush – FREE (I used a 1″ Purdy brush.  I like 1″ better than 2″ personally, but a 2″ brush is usually recommended)
  • Paint tray – FREE
  • Small roller – FREE, purchased for my newly-painted front door
  • Roller pads** – $7  (Microfiber)
  • Bumper guards for cabinet doors – $4
  • Install guide for hardware – $7
  • Hardware – $110.46 (purchased on eBay $95.40 & the two long ones at Lowes $15.06)

TOTAL $228.43

* I was incredibly disappointed with the primer I purchased.  I couldn’t find the Zinsser Smart Prime in any stores near me, so I opted to go with the more-expensive primer that shared the same name as my paint.  Learn from me– use a Zinsser primer.  I had stain bleed-through and ended up (after my second coat of top coat), using a Zinsser primer that I had in my shed to spot treat certain spots and then putting a third coat of top coat on top of that.  Save time– use the right primer.

** These roller pads were recommended to me by my Benjamin Moore paint guy.  I hated them.  Perhaps it was just because my cabinets were so smooth, but the roller didn’t, well, “roll” much.  So I ended up globbing a bunch of paint on the roller and pushing it around with the roller.  Thankfully the BM Advance paint is “open” for a long time and does a really good job at self-leveling.

Here is what I started with.

Day 1: Took all the cabinet doors off and pulled all the drawers out.  As you’re taking the hardware off, put it in an individual baggie for each door.  Number the baggie and put the appropriate number on painters tape on your cabinet door.  You’ll thank me later– unless you only have a few doors that are not easy to confuse.  I also sanded, de-greased (TSP), and laid all my cabinets out for painting.  Don’t try to do this all in one day, unless you have help.

Sand the doors evenly, enough to take the waxy/shiny finish off, but not too much.  You just need someone for the paint to adhere to.  I used a palm sander, but with almost 40 doors/drawers to work on, it took me HOURS to sand them all.  Be thorough– you don’t want your paint to peel later.  I was also too lazy to remove all the things out of cabinets, so I just placed butcher paper over the openings before I sanded.  Ridiculous, but effective.

Day 2: Paint primer on backside of doors & cabinet frames in kitchen.  Start with your brush, paint around edges the roller can’t get into, then use the roller over everything you can.  The paint is good, but the fewest brush strokes is best.

Day 3: Turn cabinet doors over and paint front side of doors & drawers.

Day 4: Turn over and paint first coat of topcoat on backside of doors & cabinet frames in kitchen.

Day 5: Second coat of topcoat on backside of doors and cabinet frames in kitchen.

Day 6: Let dry

Day 7-8: No time to paint 😦 busy evenings

Day 9: Turn cabinet doors over, paint first coat of topcoat on cabinet doors & drawers

Day 10: Second coat of topcoat on the front side of the cabinet doors and drawers.

Day 11-13: Let dry

Day 14: Install doors & drawers, drill for hardware holes, and repair any nicks with paint

Day 17: Install hardware.

My kitchen looks about a million times better now, and since I was silly enough to undertake this project in the middle of the winter, I now have half of my home back (for two weeks it was littered with butcher paper and half-painted cabinet doors).  The transformation makes all the HOURS of prep and painting worth it.

In that token… here is a breakdown of my time…

  • Taking doors off: 1.5 hours
  • Sanding doors: 3 hours
  • De-greasing: 1  hour
  • Laying out doors/drawers: 1 hour
  • Painting cabinets (primer/paint/kitchen wall color/touch ups): 30 hours
  • Installing doors/drawers: 2 hours
  • Drilling hardware holes: 1.5 hours
  • Installing hardware: 2 hours

Total: 42 hours.  Yep, in two weeks, I basically worked a 22 hr/wk job on top of my day job.

Worth it?  You bet.

Here’s another before and after.

Have you been up to any cabinet painting lately?

How to remove & install a bathroom faucet (pedestal sink)

I’ve never liked the faucet in my upstairs bathroom, and when I bought my house, it didn’t have a stopper.  I was always afraid of dropping stuff down there!  Plus, I’ve had issues with water leaking, so I thought this would be the perfect time to solve that mystery too.

Here’s what you need:

  • A faucet kit (including drain assembly)
  • A wrench
  • Vice Grips/locking pliers
  • Plumbers Putty
  • A small bucket or paint tray to catch the water
  • Old towel

What to do:

This is a GREAT VIDEO to watch before you start.

1. Turn the water valves off.  (Turn the knobs as far to the right as you can)

2. Disconnect the water lines from the old faucet.  Disconnect the mounting nuts that hold the old faucet to the underside of the sink.

3. Remove old faucet from the sink.  Clean around the area and use a screwdriver (if necessary) to scrape carefully any residue/old caulk off.

4. Put new faucet into the holes in counter.  Reattach the mounting nuts to hold it tightly to the counter.

5. Reattach the water lines to the faucet hookups.

**If you’re also replacing the Pop-up drain assembly, continue with the directions.  Otherwise, turn the water back on and check for leaks.

6. Unscrew the tailpiece that connects the P-trap with the pipe coming from the drain.  See a great explanation of all of these directions HERE.

7. Unscrew the connector between the pip connecting the drain and the drain.  Pull the gasket (rubber) down.  Then you should be able to put the piece upward to loosen the drain connection to the basin in sink. Be prepared for all kinds of hair and gunk in there. GROSS.

8. Remove all old pieces.

9. Get out the plumbers putty and roll a snake.  Wrap it around the underside of the drain piece and set into the sink.  This creates somewhat of a seal, and it doesn’t matter if some seeps up while you’re pushing it down.

10. Then connect the new pipe, gasket, and washer underneath the sink.  Connect back up with the P-trap.

I got this picture from DIY Advice

11. Drop the stopper into the drain (facing the correct direction) so you can insert the pivot rod (rod with the ball on it) into the stopper.

12. Connect the pivot rod and the lift rod with the Clevis strap (yeah, if I didn’t have the diagram above, I would have no idea the proper names for these things…)

Then turn on your water for at least 15 seconds and look for any leaks.