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How much does water heater installation cost?

Water heater installation is a task best left to an experienced plumber. (Photo by Katelyn Kinney)

Have your showers gotten shorter due to a lack of hot water?

The average lifespan of a traditional tank-style natural gas water heater or electric water heater is only eight to 12 years, which makes replacement one of the most common home improvement investments.

So how much should it cost?

WATER HEATER INSTALLATIONS DIFFER

Mary Geiger of All About the Pipes Plumbing in Charlotte, N.C., says it's hard to provide a reasonable estimate without seeing the installation site.

"Cost depends on the type of installation, and that's unique to each individual project," she says. "It depends on what type of unit the customers currently have, what they're replacing it with and what has to change to bring the installation up to current code."

Geiger says most of her customers choose 50-gallon natural gas water heaters. According to Bluebook International, which publishes residential repair and replacement costs, installing one runs $795 to $1,550.

HIRE A PLUMBER FOR SAFETY

There's a reason this isn't a DIY project for most homeowners.

"Installing a water heater is dangerous, and we encounter improperly installed water heaters on a daily basis," says Steve Hyde of Washington Water Heaters in Bellevue, Wash. "On electric installations, you're dealing with 240 volts of electricity. On a gas water heater, if a gas leak occurs and it's not corrected, it could result in catastrophic damage to the house or its occupants."

Other considerations include making sure the unit is adequately plumbed, installing it with enough clearance and ensuring drip pans are equipped, if needed.

Jason Hanleybrown of Fast Water Heater Co. in Bothell, Wash., says one of the most important elements for gas-fired tank or tankless water heaters is to ensure the unit is properly vented to prevent exposure to carbon monoxide gases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning causes 400 deaths each year and 20,000 hospital visits.

Hiring a licensed plumber with experience in water heater installation — including how to properly vent exhaust gases — and one who pulls a permit, are safety measures every homeowner should take when installing a water heater, Hanleybrown says.

"Because of the carbon monoxide issue, we say people should always question anyone who is not pulling a permit," he says.

ENERGY-EFFICIENT WATER HEATERS

If you plan to invest in high-energy efficiency with an on-demand or tankless water heater, expect to pay more for its purchase and installation.

Installing a tankless model takes much longer, a full eight to 10 hours versus the two to three it takes for a traditional water heater.

It's also something only professionals should do, because they need to install a dedicated gas line that can supply large amounts of gas when the unit's in use, electrical work that may be necessary and any special venting.

For the unit alone, an electric tankless water heater costs $595 to $1,530, and a gas tankless version costs $1,005 to $1,770, Bluebook International says. However, because of the prolonged and complicated installation, expect to add several hundred to a couple thousand dollars more in installation costs.

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