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Thread: Water Heater, Need Recommendation for Lowboy/Low Profile Electric WH

  1. #1
    DIY Member BillyJoeJimBob's Avatar
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    Default Water Heater, Need Recommendation for Lowboy/Low Profile Electric WH

    Our cabin currently has an "Ace Hardware Countryman 501 Series" 115 VAC 40 gallon "Lowboy" (32" high) water heater. The tag on it says it was manufactured in 1988, it has rust on the outside and water is leaking down from on top. I can't say for certain that it's bad, but it's getting replaced anyways. I didn't want to even try to get it running.

    It's under the cabin and there is a dedicated electric connection for 115 VAC. My research shows most larger electric water heaters run off 220 VAC. I could get one, but do not want to have to pay an electrician to run a 220 circuit. Is this something I could do myself?

    Failing that, is there a 40 or 50 gallon hot water heater with a low profile (32" or so) available? I've found a couple, but do not want to purchase one over another without some reason to do so.

    Thanks in advance,

    BillyJoeJimBob

  2. #2
    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    Around here, the biggest WH you will find stock for 115 is 20 gallons. Larger versions can be ordered.

    Rheem makes a 38 gallon short at 31 inches, and a 47 gallon short at 32 inches. Both are standard 220, so you would have to order it at 115.

    At 115, you will have usually 1500 watt elements, and at 220, you will have 4500 watts, so it takes 3 times longer to heat the water at 115, but installing a 220 branch circuit is not a good first-time DIY electrical project.

  3. #3
    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    Since this is a cabin and not a high-end home, I doubt that an electrician would cost all that much to run a 220 circuit. It's really not too difficult, but as Jimbo says, not a good first-time DIY project. You want to be sure any required permits are pulled and the work inspected, because insurance companies don't like claims where loss occurs with electrical work that was not permitted and not inspected. The 220 heater will give you far better performance.

  4. #4
    General Engineering Contractor ballvalve's Avatar
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    You can buy any water heater and put 120 volts into it. The elements dont give a damn, last forever, and heat 1/2 as fast. Got a couple in the shop working that way set to 90 degree's for small sinks. Disabled the bottom element for cost savings.

    Or change to 120 volt elements for about 10 bucks each.

    Even if you put 10 volts into your resistance 220 volt element, it would heat the water. Dont try putting 480 volts in however. its like a light dimmer.

  5. #5
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    30, 40, and 50 gallon "undercounter"/"tabletop" water heaters are 32" high, and you can order them, or change the elements yourself to 115 volt ones. 220/240 operation is more efficient, however.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  6. #6
    DIY Member BillyJoeJimBob's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimbo View Post
    At 115, you will have usually 1500 watt elements, and at 220, you will have 4500 watts, so it takes 3 times longer to heat the water at 115, but installing a 220 branch circuit is not a good first-time DIY electrical project.
    Thank you everyone for the high-quality answers. FWIW, I'm a professional tradesman with about 20 years experience, and about 5 years being self-employed. I've been smart enough to steer clear of working with hard-core electrical, but I've done ceiling fans, etc... The scariest thing I've done is redone the siding on the house around an existing (and live) electrical panel. I'm not an electrician, but it wouldn't exactly be my first DIY project either.

    The word "efficient" has me interested in exploring the possibility of running my own 220 circuit. In this case, does the word "efficient" mean that the water heats/recovers faster, the total energy consumption is less, or both? The plan is to renovate the cabin and make it fully-functional and habitable in order to rent it out to vacationers at a premium daily rate. So at some point in time there could be 4 consecutive adults using the one shower. The lowboy requirement is due to the fact that the cabin is built on the side of the mountain (pier and beam), and the hill slopes upward as it goes from the front of the cabin to the back. I could move the water heater closer to the front and gain another 20 inches are so if I have to, but the next trip I am installing about 350 feet of vinyl flooring (which will require extensive demo and prep) and I also have a MAJOR well pump situation I have to figure out, so I want the change out of the hot water heater to be as fast and painless as possible. If it's not perfect, I can always fix it on another trip. The objective for the next trip is fast and "good enough".

    So, is there anything exotic involved in running a 220 circuit? Also, this is what we in San Antonio would call being "out in the County" (outside the village limits), so there won't be any inspection issues.

    The current 115 VAC circuit comes off a secondary breaker box that is located about 15 ft. from the water heater, and I could kill all power to that box by throwing the main at the primary. I've changed-out a couple of circuit breakers before, so I'm familiar with the structure of the box; I just don't understand what those rails inside are all about.

    Thanks again, and thanks in advance.

  7. #7
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    quote; In this case, does the word "efficient" mean that the water heats/recovers faster, the total energy consumption is less,

    A watt is a watt, so the total consumption is the same, it just happens faster. One difference between "dedicated" 120 volt and 240 volt heaters is that the 120 ones usually have single element which also affects the 'perceived" recovery time.

    quote; I just don't understand what those rails inside are all about.

    A picture would help show what you are referring to, but you probably mean the power buses which the breakers attach to.
    Last edited by hj; 07-21-2011 at 05:43 AM.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  8. #8
    Nuclear Engineer nukeman's Avatar
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    bv: If you apply 110/120 to a WH designed for 220/240v, it will work, but the recovery time will be 4x longer (not 2x).

    When dealing with a fixed resistance, Power = V^2/R, so 2x the V means 4x the power. The reason is that both the current and voltage are being reduced when you drop to 110/120v.

    If the unit is designed for 110/120, then the elements can be designed based on the circuit capacity. In this case, there will be a 2x increase when going up to 220/240v (assuming that both WHs are designed for the same size circuit/breaker).

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    General Engineering Contractor ballvalve's Avatar
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    Thanks, but No matter the math, it works and draws the same ultimate amperage. Its a great solution for some used water heater for the garage with minimum use.

    If this guy wants mainstream, in 5' of wire, there is no difference in efficiency between 120v and 240v, so just add a wire.

  10. #10
    DIY Member BillyJoeJimBob's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hj View Post
    A picture would help show what you are referring to, but you probably mean the power buses which the breakers attach to.
    Yeah, it's the "buses" I don't understand. I *think* what happens is that from the middle bus to an outside bus is 110 VAC, and from outside to outside is 220 VAC. With the middle being neutral, I think.

    Thing is I don't know how to make a circuit from the two outsides, with a double-breaker? It can't be that complicated. How do you make a 220 circuit?

  11. #11
    Consultant cwhyu2's Avatar
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    You need a double pole breaker,amp load on breaker must be within range of the appliance it is serving,and wire must be sized properly.
    30 amp #10 20 amp # 12 ,and use 3 wire so do not have to use white wire as a hot.
    As in 3 wire w/ ground romex.
    And you need a breaker that matches your panel and they snap in the same as a single pole breaker.
    Last edited by cwhyu2; 07-22-2011 at 06:21 AM. Reason: add

  12. #12
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    To ensure that a 220vac breaker actually gets 220vac, the panel is keyed so that they can only be inserted in specific locations. Generally, there is a fin sticking up that fits into a slot in the breaker. If it's to the side, you have to move down or up a slot to insert it...still, not rocket science. There may be other typse, but this is fairly common. It can be dangerous, as the bus you plug it into has only the main breaker to protect you.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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