Here’s When a Handyman Can Install a Water Heater—And When You Need to Hire Someone Else

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Q: I need a new water heater but I don’t know how to put one in myself. Can a handyman install a water heater, or do I need a different kind of professional? 

A: Water heater replacement can be either a simple task done by an experienced handyman or a more complicated project best left to a professional plumber. The type of professional a homeowner chooses to tackle this task will depend on a number of factors, including how much plumbing or electrical work is required as well as budget and the requirements of the local municipality. If the project is as simple as replacing an old water heater with a new one, a handyman can likely do it with no trouble. However, converting a gas water heater to an electric one or putting in specific wiring and framing for the water heater will likely require the skill set of a licensed professional. Find out the answer to the question “Can a handyman install a water heater?” as well as when it’s necessary to bring in other professionals.

What a Handyman Does

Homeowners wondering who to call for home repairs often find that a handyman can tackle many of the projects on their to-do list. Handymen usually have a wide variety of skills ranging from carpentry to repairs and even landscaping. Some projects may be simple tasks that homeowners don’t have time to tackle themselves, such as hanging artwork or cleaning gutters. Other jobs may require more skill, such as refinishing flooring or installing tile. A few of the most common handyman jobs include:

  • Appliance installation
  •  Appliance repair
  • Basic plumbing repairs
  • Painting
  • Hanging art or photos
  • Drywall repair
  • Tile installation
  • Furniture assembly
  • Yard cleanup
  • Garage door repair
  •  Fence installation
  •  Deck repairs

Some handymen have specialized knowledge in a particular area such as plumbing or electrical work. Skilled handymen may even be able to build and install cabinets and furniture, especially if they have a background in carpentry. Depending on the state where they operate, handymen may not be required to have a license. For this reason, it’s a good idea to determine a handyman’s level of experience before hiring a handyman near you to complete more complicated electrical or plumbing issues.

Closeup of plumber using screwdriver while fixing boiler or water heater, working on heating system in apartment. Closeup of plumber using screwdriver while fixing boiler or water heater, working on heating system in apartment.

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What Is Involved in Installing a Water Heater

The type of work that goes into water heater installation will depend on the type of water heater that’s being installed and the setup of the home. For example, a gas water heater will need to be installed by someone familiar with gas lines and connections so that it’s hooked up properly to provide hot water to the home. Electrical water heaters’ specifications will vary by manufacturer, so a handyman or licensed plumber will need to know how to identify specific wires to install the new water heater. It may also be necessary to upgrade the home’s electrical panel or install a dedicated circuit if the home’s current electrical supply cannot support the new water heater.

If there’s an old unit that needs to be replaced, handymen will need to know how to disconnect it and remove it to make space for the new unit. They’ll also need to be familiar with installing the correct pipes and valves necessary to properly drain the water heater while ensuring that no overflow occurs. Once all pipes, valves, and connections are in place, the plumber or handyman will need to check for leaks, tighten any loose fittings, and test the water temperature to make sure everything is working properly.

A technical service staff member in a white hard hat tinkers with a water heater.A technical service staff member in a white hard hat tinkers with a water heater.

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Who to Hire for Water Heater Installation

Deciding whether to hire a handyman to install a water heater will come down to a few specifics about the job. Considerations such as local licensing requirements and the project budget can further help homeowners decide whether to hire a plumber or a handyman for this project.

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Water heaters are typically installed by either a handyman or a plumber. The right professional to hire depends on the nature of the project. 

“Water heater installers” can encompass a variety of professionals, but in most cases, a plumber or a handyman is the best choice for this project. One of the most important considerations is whether the professional has had experience completing similar installations. For instance, there are key differences in installing storage tank versus tankless water heaters. The same goes for gas versus electric water heaters. If a professional does not have experience with the type of unit that is being installed, they may not be the best fit for the job.

Additionally, water heater installations can call for an expert with varied experience, or perhaps even more than one professional. For example, the job may call for carpentry work to frame out the water heater or put a base underneath it to prop it up off the ground. This is something a handyman will likely be able to tackle. However, if water lines need to be put in, a licensed plumber will need to be the one to complete this part of the job. Also, any extensive electrical work, which can occur if the water heater needs to be hooked up to a new panel, will need to be tackled by a licensed electrician.

In many cases, a handyman can take care of a simple water heater replacement or installation. 

Water heater installations can be straightforward if an existing unit is being replaced with a similar one or a new unit is being installed in a location with existing infrastructure. A handyman can usually replace or install new water heaters that don’t have a complicated setup. As long as they know how to disconnect and remove old water heaters, make the right plumbing and gas connections, and test and clean up once the heater is installed and running, they can take care of a basic installation project. Still, it’s a good idea to ask the handyman how much experience they have with water heater installation before hiring.

A water heater system is shows connected to a wall.A water heater system is shows connected to a wall.

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A handyman may also be able to handle any carpentry work that may be required to accommodate the new water heater, such as framing. 

If the new water heater is installed in a wall cavity or closet, framing may be required to create a designated space with the appropriate ventilation. Since proper airflow is essential to the safety of the water heater and the home, a handyman who has a carpentry background may be the right person to hire. This is especially helpful if the water heater is raised above the floor since a handyman can build a platform for it to sit on to ensure stability. A handyman will also likely be able to create a framed enclosure or cabinet to house the water heater, which can give it a more cohesive, finished look.

However, if a new gas or water line needs to be installed, it will be necessary to hire a licensed plumber. 

Making water heater connections is one thing, but installing entirely new lines is a job that a handyman may not be equipped to do. Many municipalities also require permits for adding gas or water lines. In this case, it’s wise to contact either a handyman plumber with years of experience or a traditional, licensed plumber who performs tasks like this on a regular basis. Working with gas lines and plumbing systems requires specialized knowledge and expertise to ensure safety, compliance with regulations, and proper functionality, which is why hiring the right person for the job is vital.

Some projects may additionally require electrical work from a licensed electrician. 

From installing a dedicated circuit breaker to connecting wiring and installing an outlet, some water heater installation projects may require more electrical work than the average handyman is equipped to handle. A licensed electrician, however, will have years of experience with these types of tasks and can provide an idea of how long the work will take and exactly what it will cost. Many electricians charge between $40 and $100 an hour for wiring fees, so homeowners may pay several hundred dollars for electrical work depending on how much wiring is required and whether the project includes converting a gas water heater to an electrical one. It’s worth noting that some handymen are licensed to do electrical work, in which case they are also adequately qualified for this job.

A man is standing checking the gas central heating boiler in a home.A man is standing checking the gas central heating boiler in a home.

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Licensing and permit requirements may vary by state, so it’s a good idea to check local regulations to find out who can legally perform each part of the water heater installation. 

Before a homeowner hires a handyman for plumbing or attempts to install their water heater themselves, it’s best to research state and local regulations to determine if it’s even legal to do so. According to Matt Kunz, president of Mr. Rooter, a Neighborly company, “Several states require a licensed plumber to work on and install a water heater. Plumbing professionals possess specialized knowledge and experience, ensuring compliance with local codes, proper sizing, and safe connections.” Work may also be subject to inspections, and if it is discovered that unlicensed plumbing work was performed, this can result in hefty fines for the homeowner.

Some homeowners are tempted to take on this project themselves to save on water heater replacement costs. However, it’s important to know that an incorrectly installed water heater could become a safety concern, especially if it’s a gas heater. Gas heaters that aren’t installed properly can cause fires, an explosion, and carbon monoxide poisoning. These hazards could not only damage the home but also lead to serious injury if they aren’t noticed soon enough. For installing a gas water heater, it’s wise to consider only licensed handyman plumbing services or professional plumbers to ensure that the water heater is not only working but is also hooked up correctly.

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One of the benefits of hiring a handyman is that they typically charge a lower hourly rate for labor than plumbers. 

One of the main advantages of hiring one of the best handyman services versus a plumber to take on water heater installation is that labor costs are likely to be lower. A handyman typically charges by the hour, with an average rate of $25 to $75 per hour, depending on the job. Replacing or installing a new water heater in the home typically takes only 2 to 3 hours, so the job may cost less than $100 once it’s all said and done. On the flip side, plumbers cost anywhere from $80 to $200 an hour, so homeowners may pay several hundred dollars to have their water heater replaced by a professional plumber.

Other advantages of choosing a plumbing handyman instead of a plumber include availability and versatility. A handyman may have a more open schedule than a plumber, and they are less specialized and more varied in their skill set in the event a job calls for electrical and plumbing work as well as building a frame for the water heater.

A technician uses a tool to fix the inside of a home heating system.A technician uses a tool to fix the inside of a home heating system.

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On the other hand, plumbers have more specialized training and will be able to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. 

Although a handyman may have experience replacing or installing water heaters, they won’t have advanced knowledge of plumbing systems unless they are licensed plumbers. This specialized training allows plumbers to identify any underlying issues when setting up the new water heater, which can provide homeowners with peace of mind that the job was done correctly and no mishaps are likely to occur. A plumber will know not only the basics of how to install a water heater but also the ins and outs of replacing a gas water heater versus an electric one. Since a plumber is also likely someone who fixes water heaters, they’ll be able to anticipate any potential problems. Plumbers may even be able to recommend the best water heater for the home and which water heater brands have the best reputation or hold up the longest.

Some of the best home warranty companies (such as American Home Shield and AFC Home Club) offer home warranties that cover water heater replacement. But it’s important to note that the warranty company may require that a licensed plumber perform the water heater replacement rather than a handyman in order for the job to be covered. Some companies may also require that the replacement be carried out by a plumber that has been approved by the home warranty provider.

If homeowners are uncertain about whether a handyman is qualified for their water heater installation project, it’s probably best to go with a licensed plumber. 

Homeowners will want to find a professional who installs hot water heaters regularly to feel confident that the project is going to go smoothly. When in doubt, it may be best to hire a plumber who has more robust plumbing experience than a general handyman. “While a handyman may have general skills, installing a water heater involves specialized knowledge of plumbing and gas or electrical connections,” adds Kunz. “Choosing a professional plumber helps minimize risks and ensures the water heater functions efficiently.”

Anyone who performs electrical or plumbing work on the home will also need to be licensed and insured, so it’s important to do due diligence beforehand. A plumber will also know the local building codes and be aware of any restrictions or requirements when installing the water heater. Regardless of what type of professional a homeowner chooses to hire, it’s wise to ask them a few questions to gauge their experience to ensure more peace of mind.

  • Are you licensed and insured?
  • Do you have water heater installation experience?
  • Do you manage permits and inspections?
  • How long do you expect installation to take?
  • How much will water heater installation cost?
  • Do you offer a warranty or guarantee for the installation?
  • Are you familiar with gas and electric water heater installation?
  • What safety precautions do you use when installing water heaters?
  • Do you have any reviews or references from past customers?
  • What type of water heater do you recommend for my home?
  • Will you remove and dispose of an old water heater?

The answers to these questions can help homeowners determine whether they want to save money and hire a handyman or dish out a few more dollars for one of the best plumbing services, such as Mr. Rooter or Roto-Rooter, to complete the job.

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