Last week I purchased a water heater from our local Home Depot, a Rheem Gladiator model (one of those with the leak sensors and wifi/smart stuff). It wasn't easy lifting it into place in the confined space, but I surprised myself and did so gently. Hooking it up was simpler than removing the old one (no need to drain it first), and I was hopeful that everything was fixed.
Everything wasn't fixed. The new water heater provides hot water for maybe as long as a 2 minute shower, then it is cold (this is a 50 gallon model). I called Rheem's toll free line, they started a ticket promising to send someone to troubleshoot. However, the next day I received an email saying that there are no qualified technicians in my area, and promising to pay $175 for a licensed contractor to troubleshoot. No one I call is able or willing to undertake this.
I started troubleshooting myself. I noticed that there were scorch marks on the outside of the bottom heating element. Nothing I did caused this. The multimeter was giving wonky readings as well. Out of frustration, I bought a new heating element and decided to replace it myself... so now I have to drain the thing again. But if $18 and a couple of hours fixes it, at least it would be over.
Removing it wasn't fun. The 5500W elements bend over in such a way that this one got caught as I pulled it from the receptacle. I was careful and removed it... only to find it "blown out" near the plug... and covered in what looks like far too much rust for this to have been new when I installed it.
It was in a sealed, retail box though. I do not think Home Depot could have reboxed this after return, I do not think one of their customers could have reboxed it. The cardboard box is stapled shut and designed such that you can't open it without cutting.
If I had bought an unlabeled refurb for retail price, I might also have been upset, but I might also have never noticed. However, this can't be a refurb because refurbishment typically includes testing to make sure something works and the replacement of any broken/defective parts.
It's simply a "rebox". Given that Home Depot isn't the guilty party here (that I can see), how do I even approach this? I destroyed the box and packing materials just getting it open, even drained it will be leaking water and lord knows how much lime and rust all over the insides of the van we initially brought it home in, and it has a big label on the front saying "do not return to store where you bought it" on the front. Will Home Depot accept this as a return? I dare not ask first (giving people warning seems like a bad idea), and I also dare not show up out of the blue (what if they won't accept it as a return?).
Rheem, on the other hand, is likely to be completely useless. They asked for the serial number over the phone... there's no way that they didn't know they'd "refurbed" this, and no one mentioned that when I gave it to them. I hesitate to make accusations of fraud that I cannot prove, but my non-accusation should leave room for you to fill in the blanks yourself. Is "Rheem" what this company does to its customers? Was that the warning I should have taken the hint of?
Summary: What are my strategies to return this either for a new unit (preferably not Rheem) or for a refund without getting screwed out of anything more than the personal labor I've put into this?