Replacing an old water heater is easy if you know how to wire a hot water heater properly and safely. Making electrical connections can be challenging for some folks, and if you’re like them, hiring a professional should save you worries.
However, you can always wire an electric water heater yourself. This guide will iron out the kinks if your electrical knowledge and skills are shaky. Adhere to the steps we’ll outline to properly install your new water heater in no time.
Table of Contents
- Step-by-step to Wire a Hot Water Heater
- Types of Hot Water Heaters
- Troubleshooting Common Wiring Issues
Step-by-step to Wire a Hot Water Heater
What to Prepare
Depending on the job, you may need more specific pieces of equipment. However, the following tools should suffice in most cases:
- Voltage tester or multitester
- Romex (NM cable) connectors
- Colored electrical tape
- Longnose pliers
- Wire stripper
- Lock nut
- Wire nut
Step 1. Temporarily shut off electrical flow to the water heater.
Safety is paramount when wiring a hot water heater or any electrical appliance. Hence, this step is crucial to avoid damaging your newly bought water heater and prevent unnecessary harm to yourself.
- Locate your home’s electrical circuit panel and open it.
- Look for a circuit breaker switch labeled “water heater.” If the panel has not been labeled, we suggest asking a contractor or a professional for help. You don’t want to accidentally switch off other appliances in the house or shock yourself when getting the wrong breaker.
- Turn the water heater breaker switch to the “off” position.
- Put a label beside the water heater breaker switch to remind anyone not to turn it on.
Note that water heater wiring requirements include a two-pole 30-amp circuit breaker with a voltage rating of 240. Most household circuit breakers in America have 120 volts. Hence, you might want to assess the water heater’s circuit breaker.
Step 2. Locate and access the electrical junction box linking the water heater to the residential circuit breaker panel.
The wires of a 240V water heater pass through a junction box before linking to breaker box switches. Hence, the first activity in this step is to determine the water heater junction box’s location to access and prepare it for the water heater electrical connection.
- Use a screwdriver to loosen the hardware fastening the junction box cover. Remove the lid and place it in a secure area.
- Examine the junction box, including the existing wirings and connections. You might see a similar arrangement as the image below. You can also refer to other diagrams specific to your water heater.
- Get your voltage tester and assess the electrical current of the lead wires. There should be none. Here’s an educational video to watch if you’re unfamiliar with how to use a voltage tester.
- Grab a needlenose or longnose plier and pry open the junction box knockouts.
Step 3. Prepare the wires.
Water heaters require 10/2 metal clad (MC) or non-metallic (NM) cables. A 10/2 wire features a pair of 10 American Wire Gauge (AWG) cables for a combined amperage rating of 70. You might want to check your water heater’s technical specifications for a 10/2 or 10/3 wire requirement.
- Examine each electric wire and identify “hot” and “neutral.” Most manufacturers use a black sheath to discern and protect a “hot wire.” Some might use red or white instead, although most will use “white” to identify a “neutral” wire.
- A multitester can help you positively identify a “hot,” “neutral,” or “ground” wire.
- Use a wire stripper to remove about six inches of the cable’s plastic sheath from its end. This length should be enough within the electrical junction box.
- Strip the cable about three-quarters of an inch from the tip to expose the copper wire.
- Secure the wires with a Romex connector, ensuring a tight clamp of the NM cable’s sheathed section.
- Insert the wires through the junction box knockout and secure them with the lock nut
Step 4. Connect the wires
Wiring 220V hot water heater units are easy because you only need to connect wires with identical sheath colors (with a few exceptions).
- Hold the circuit ground wire and secure it to the junction box’s ground screw (see the diagram in Step 2).
- Grab the water heater’s black wire and connect it to the circuit’s black cable. Apply a wire nut to secure this electrical cable connection.
- Wrap red or any colored electrical tape around the white circuit wire’s sheath to differentiate it from a “neutral” wire. You might have to do this step at the circuit breaker panel and the water heater.
Connect the electrical circuit’s white cable to the water heater’s white wire. Wiring red to white (water heater to the circuit) is also possible.
Step 5. Finish up
Double-check all electrical connections, ensuring zero exposed wires. Ideally, Romex connectors must never contact water pipes to avoid high temperatures undermining the electrical system.
- Reposition the junction box cover and secure it with the screws you removed in Step 2.
- Fill the water heater tank with water by opening the water inlet valve.
- Go to the home electrical panel and turn on the water heater’s circuit breaker switch.
- Remove the “don’t touch this” label.
- Wait for your water heater to heat the water, and you’re ready for a refreshingly warm shower.
Here’s a video showing how you can wire your water heater.
Types of Hot Water Heaters
We can categorize water heaters in many ways. Classifying them according to water-holding capabilities will give us storage tank-type water heaters and tankless units.
Grouping water heaters according to energy sources will give us gas, electric, and solar-powered water heaters. There are also condensing water heaters and heat pumps.
As a rule, only electric water heaters require wiring. They need a dedicated circuit breaker mated to a 240-volt system with two 10/2 AWG wires and a 30 amp ampacity.
A gas water heater doesn’t need electricity because it runs on a different fuel source (natural gas/propane). Gas-powered water heaters burn propane or natural gas to produce heat.
Meanwhile, electric water heaters rely on the flow of electrons along heating elements to raise water temperature. These electrons come from a power grid, requiring the correct wiring installation to facilitate the efficient movement of electrons from the circuit to the water heater.
Troubleshooting Common Wiring Issues
It’s not uncommon to have wiring issues when you install an electric water heater or any other electric appliance or device. Troubleshooting the issue should be easy if you adhere to these guidelines.
- Always start any wiring troubleshooting by ensuring safety, insulating the wires, and shutting off the electrical circuit.
- Identify the “hot” wire and label it accordingly.
- Identify each wire that connects to different appliances, fixtures, and gadgets.
- Disconnect each appliance, device, gadget, or fixture from its associated electrical wire and assess if such products still function without the connection.
- Isolate malfunctioning appliances, devices, or fixtures to determine other plausible causes of failure.
- Use an ohmmeter to assess electrical switches.
How many wires does a water heater need?
Most water heaters need two 10/2 AWG wires to complete a 240-volt, 30-amp dedicated circuit. However, some water heater brands might have different electrical cabling requirements. Hence, homeowners must refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the specifics.
How long does it take to wire a hot water heater?
Professionals can finish wiring a water heater within 45 to 60 minutes, although the process could be faster with an existing cable setup (such as during water heater replacement). Homeowners with limited electrical knowledge might need a longer time.
Can I wire a hot water heater myself?
Yes, you can wire a water heater by yourself. However, the chances of ensuring a proper and safe electrical connection are slim, especially if you have zero knowledge of electrical concepts.
Why is it important to wire a hot water heater correctly?
Correctly wiring a water heater is necessary to prevent electrical fires due to circuit overloads, short circuits, and other electrical safety events.
You now know how to wire a hot water heater in five ridiculously easy steps. Safety is paramount in this activity because you don’t want to harm yourself or burn your property and leave you homeless.
Although this guide offered a simplified method of wiring water heaters, we still recommend studying proper electrical connections, including how to use a voltage tester or multimeter.
And if you’re not confident or uncomfortable wiring the water heater to your home’s electrical circuit, hiring a professional is always an excellent choice.
As the founder of Usawaterquality, I have been working to deliver quality advice on utilizing water components for numerous households. Here, we believe that water quality is the most critical part of health care, so the investment and attention for the water system will never go to waste.