Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Utility Page 2 of 4

Installing a New Tankless Water Heater

Meet the beauty, who now lives in our home:


And here she is, undressed:


The other side of the room however, now looks significantly worse:



With PVC dust that is impossible to clean:


Following the breakdown of our water heater last Saturday, we got the insurance company straightened out and the old water heater pushed aside. We decided to cash out of insurance claim and invest it towards a tankless water heater. To save some $$$, Slav decided to install it himself.

Wednesday night, Slav and I went to Lowe’s and picked up the only gas tankless water heater they have in stock, along with a few supplies. It had been five days without hot water at this point; the cold showers really motivated us to push forward.


Slav did some research and determined that the Rinnai one Lowe’s has in stock is sufficient for our house. It has 7.5 gallon per minute output, which supplies a couple sinks and appliances (washer, dishwasher, etc) and a shower at the same time. It has temperature settings from 120 degree to 150 degree, which is similar and above the temperature we have set our tank heater in the past (~125 degrees). This unit also qualifies us for $100 X-cel energy rebate being high sufficiency (>90% energy factor), and we received a tax-free wavier from the Arvada city hall for purchasing it locally.


The water heater is $899 in Lowe’s now. With all the rebate ($100) and tax waiver, this unit now costs us only $800. We are getting about $550 from our insurance company, and Slav is installing it himself with a permit ($69) from the city. So for the heater itself, the price is about $320. We did need a bunch of fittings and PVC pipes, which cost a couple hundred dollars in total, but with tons of left overs for future projects. In the end, I think we are paying out-of pocket ~$500 for this heater.


The two metal pipes ($10 each) on the right are for cold and hot water. Slav also purchased a pair of isolation valve ($99) to connect them to the water heater. The yellow pipe at the bottom (similar) is for gas. We could use black iron pipe, but this flexible pipe makes the final 2 feet of connections much easier. We bought 25 feet and the leftover pipe will be used to connect the future gas stove in our upstairs kitchen.



Slav also bought some PVC pipes and elbows for fresh air supply and exhaust. The building codes dictate how long the PVC pipes could be between the heater and outside, and the use of any elbow will count towards the length. Therefore, it is important to check the installation manual and local building codes to make sure that the heater is not installed too far away from an exterior wall. Our ranch is very narrow, so it is not a problem for us to install the heater right at where the old one was.

Slav opened up the ceiling a bit more to make the PVC pipe installation easier:



And he worked through Thursday to install the heaters on the wall:


Our initial plan was to fit in an utility sink underneath, but unfortunately, the installation manual and building codes prevent us from mounting the heater any higher. I guess we would still do an utility tub if we want to.


The heater is connected to the cold and hot water lines and the gas line from the bottom. The yellow flexible gas line is connected to the black iron gas pipe with a shut-off valve:


It is a big upgrade from our old gas line, which is no longer up to code in our city:


Later on, we learned that by code, we needed to establish electrical continuity between the black iron pipe and the new flexible metal pipe. So Slav connected the piece of copper wire between them using two clamps:



The clear pipe coming out of the heater is for condensation. Tankless water heater like ours requires two condensation pipes, one from the heater itself and the other one from the exhaust pipe. You can see in the picture below a skinny PVC going straight down from the exhaust pipe to the condensation pump.


We installed this condensation pump during the HVAC installation. It has four receiving ports, one for AC and furnace, the other two are occupied by the heater. This pump is connected to the washer drain, which directs any condensation down the floor drain in the utility room.


The cold (blue) and hot (red) water lines are connected to the bottom of the water heater, with the two isolation kits in between. The isolation kits are technically not needed – you can connect the hot and cold water pipe directly to the heater. But they make future diagnose and maintenance a lot easier. The side valves on these isolation kits function as drainage and an access point for flashing the heater, which is a recommended yearly maintenance.

The copper pipe on the side of the hot water isolation valve is an emergency valve. If there is a buildup of hot water for some reason, this valve will open itself with certain pressure to let the hot water out, so we are not risking an explosion. We are not sure at this point where we should connect it to yet, a question for our inspector.


Connected to the top of the heater are fresh air supply and exhaust, which are two 3 inch PVC pipes.


They are directed away to the heater, running parallel to the PVC pipes of the furnace:



These pipe runs out of the back of the house, from the opening of the old fresh air supply:



Slav mirrored the furnace pipes. Now it looks like an art! A metal panel leftover from our furnace was cut out to cover the hole on our brick:


One of the good outcomes from this installation is that the exhaust vent is no longer needed. It actually came out of our roof, which was just reinstalled. It could be covered if the water heater was down just two weeks early! Oops!


The real advantage of removing the pipe is to save space in the neighboring bathroom. See the triangle shape of soffit on the very right corner? It encloses the exhaust pipe you see in the picture above.


We think the big bump next to it is for accommodating the exhaust pipe as well. We are pretty sure by this point that there are two pipes behind the soffit in the bathroom and the utility room above the washer and dryer, which are for the bathroom vent and the dryer vent. But these pipes are not supposed to take so much space.



We hope by capping the exhaust pipe and opening up the soffit in these two rooms, we can consolidate the pipes to make at least the soffit in the bathroom disappear. That will add so much head space in the bathroom!

With the momentum going strong in the basement, Slav is opening walls left and right in the utility room. 🙂 I am looking forward to showing you what we’ve found after the cleanup!

Our Water Heater Breakdown – Attack from the Within!

Our October goals, originally, had nothing to do with laboring in the basement. We want to hike with our pups, watch leaves changing colors, watch ski movies, and hit thrift shops and flea markets. We will still work on the ranch, but after replacing the roof, grading around the house, and caulking every seam inside and out, we were done thinking about anything water-related. For heaven’s sake – I typed the phrase “water-proof” so many times that my browser now auto-completes it for me!

Just when we thought we were done with water. Water is not done with us. Last Saturday, in a bright, sunny morning, our basement flooded:


We had done so much to protect our house from water coming from the outside, and did not think that we could get water from within. Yep, it was the water heater – the last piece of major utility appliances we had not replaced:


Fortunately, we have a floor drain nearby and the leaked water went down there. The flood was pretty confined.



Slav immediately terminated the gas and cold water supply to the heater, and started to drain the hot water tank directly to the floor drain:


It was last weekend we opened up the utility room to the neighboring bedroom. Imagine how difficult it would have been to work with the water heater if we have not done that!

We happened to have just purchased a wireless endoscope. It was immediately put in use:


This endoscope/camera kit transmits signal wirelessly to our phones and tablets. After some probing, Slav caught this video from his phone:

He slowly retracted the probe end out of the water heater, so we could see that the leak is really close to the bottom of the rusted tank reservoir. It makes sense since that is the location with the highest pressure. It also meant that the leak would only stop when all the water was drained out.


It took almost the rest of the weekend before the tank was drained completely. During this time, we contacted our insurance company. We purchased a separate home warranty for a year, which covers major appliances and plumbing during our first year of home ownership. We got it with the old furnace and water heater in mind. We had replaced the furnace out-of-pocket during HVAC installation, so it is not a bad thing that the water heater went out during the first year of our ownership.

We submitted some pictures and the video showing the leak, and on Monday, the insurance company sent a plumber to complete a report. Our claim was of course accepted, but only for a basic water heater that matches our capacity and labor cost for simple replacement, which added up to merely $500. From the plumber’s quote, we knew that it would not be the actual cost, because codes have changed dramatically since the last water heater was installed 15 years ago. Even installing a new basic water heater would require us to switch tubing and modify the gas line, adding about another $500 which we have to pay out-of-pocket.

Slav called me at work mid-day to discuss all options and our preferences. We decided to get a tankless water heater instead of a standard one. For one, tankless is what we had wanted all along. Second, it will cost us as much as the plumber’s quote, which is about a grand, and Slav can install it himself to save the labor cost. Our insurance company agreed to cash-in, so we are still getting the $500 that would have gone to the plumber, and still paying another $500 out-of-pocket which would have gone to the plumber as well. So we might as well let the $1000 go to ourselves for a new tankless water heater.

When I got home from work on Monday, this was the first thing I saw walking down to the basement:


The man has clearly done something. Let me tell you – Slav is a very, very, very patient man. He is the most accommodating and gentle person I knew. But there is a limit. This house is clearly pressing his button with the old, rusty water heater. The misbehavior will not go unpunished.

Within a few short hours Monday afternoon, Slav has gotten the insurance company straightened out, gone to the city hall to get a permit for self-installation, gathered codes and manuals for installation, and decided on a water heater to purchase. He also (!) disconnected the water heater and capped the water and gas lines:


And kicked it out of his way:


For a high energy efficient tankless water heater, two 3-inches PVC pipes are required to be directly connected to the water heater to supply fresh air and exhaust. Slav removed old supply pipe (labeled with blue arrow in the picture below) along with the exhaust pipe directly above the heater.

HVAC room


This old fresh air supply pipe came from the back side of the house, went through the ceiling and was parallel to the PVC pipes for the new furnace. You can see it in the pictures below:



It came out of the back wall immediately to the right of our furnace PVC pipes, above the window well:


After we removed the dividing wall last weekend, the pipe was already exposed:



So Slav removed it completely to make room for the new 3-inch PVC pipes. In this way, we have both PVCs come out of the house just like the setup for our furnace, and the roof vent can be capped.


With insurance cash coming in, and permit on hand, Slav started planning pipe layout and getting all the supplies. The man is on the move!

The First Wall Down (with videos!)

Happy Monday, friends and family! I am happy to report that we have knocked down the first wall in the ranch house. I am sure that there will be many more to follow, but this basement wall will forever hold a special place in my heart – this is my first time seeing a wall coming down and it is just so thrilling!

As usual, I tried to document everything with my lens, and it reaaaly annoyed Slav. He hates taking pictures, especially when he has to be in it. So I apologize for not getting many progress photos as I would like to get – we’ve all seen Fargo and you do not want to get on you guy’s nerves in a basement laundry room while he is holding a hammer.

You might remember our utility room from our basement tour, but in case you missed that video, let me take you back to the beginning – this is the utility/bedroom combo we inherited when we moved in:


We believe that there used to be only one room, based on our neighbors’ floor plans and the floor situation here. Switching out the old washer and dryer further convinced us that the wall between the laundry area and the purple bedroom was built later, likely by the last owner, because the old washer and dryer were too big to get out without removing the furnace.

After we moved in, the purple bedroom quickly became a storage space:


It has a closet under the stairs, which holds surprisingly good deal of stuff. Any closet in this 1964 ranch is appreciated.



We had a solid plan for our basement from the beginning – to convert it into a private guest suite. And the plan is to combine the purple bedroom and the laundry room to make enough room for a kitchen.

This is our current floor plan and you can see the laundry room and the third bedroom above the living room, to the left of the stairs:

Ranch basement_current

And this is what it should look like once we combine the two rooms:

Ranch basement_proposal 1

Although the basement renovation will not come until next year, we are super motivated to knock down this wall already, because our new front-open washer and dryer do not work well in this narrow space on the left.


We removed part of the door frame during HVAC installation, which made the room look a lot worse:


So on a bright Sunday morning, when Slav descended to the basement with his music, a hammer, and a pry bar, I knew exactly what’s happening and quickly grabbed my camera and followed him.

The frame was down in two songs:


After another 20 minutes, the purple dry wall was gone:


Then the dry wall on the laundry side followed. There was a lot of dust and debris, but the process was quick.


The framing here is not weight-bearing, and in fact very poorly nailed together. It was easy to take apart:


So much better! It was instantly brighter and the new utility room is so spacious! I always felt cramped down here, either in the laundry room or in the purple bedroom. Somehow the new room feels bigger than I imagined them together. It changed the entire vibe of the downstairs.

Yay for easy laundry access!


We are left with some dry wall to patch on the ceiling, but the concrete floor is continuous.



Since we are planning to change the water heater soon and putting in a kitchen eventually, we are not going to do any dry wall repair or electrical work for now. What we will do in near future, is to widen the doorway by a foot and a half to the right, so the kitchen and the living room are more connected.


The purple room has this weird moldy window looking into the living room. I am wondering if this was put in for fire safety concerns. We think it is dorky, but the window itself are too moldy to be saved.


After the wall was gone, I took a short video of our new utility room:

We decided to get all the storage out so we could map out the potential cabinet space for the future kitchen. So I took everything out of the room including the stuff in the closet:


After cleaning up, I taped out the potential kitchen layout. Below is option one – this is the corner to your right when you walk in the doorway:


It gives decent size of counter space for a simple kitchen setup and the closet on the left could be used as a pantry. However, these two walls does not offer any utility lines, including gas, water, and sewer. It makes more economical sense to put the stove and sink where the utility lines are and preferable with a window.


This wall faces the back of the house, which we could run a vent easily. It does have a shorter wall. One way of adding counter space is to lower the washer and dryer to counter height, so we could run a continuous “L” shape counter top. Luckily, the drawers at the bottom of Merry and Pippin are purely storage. They can be removed to make Merry and Pippin even shorter, to merely 38.5″. Standard kitchen counters are usually 36″ so we think that we could get away with it.


As of the furnace corner, the 2 feet dry wall behind the trash can will be trimmed down mostly, and the furnace will be concealed with a closet. We plan to replace the big water heater with a tankless one in the next a few month to free some space.


So, this is the new utility room we are left with after a day of demoing, cleaning, and organizing:

We love how big and bright it became – I found myself visiting this room a lot to daydream a simple, cute, and minimalist kitchen. If you have good ideas for cabinets or small appliance, tell us in the comments below!

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