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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?

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    When installing if you fail to bleed the air from the tank and turn it on, the elements instantly destroy themselves and look as you noted. Oct 20 at 16:37
  • Seems like this may be a better fit for Law than here (Read their rules first). This seems to be more of a legal issue than a Home Improvement issue
    – FreeMan
    Oct 20 at 16:46
  • afaik, the "do not return to store" label is a result of agreements the big-box stores have with their suppliers of such large items where having the store handle the return costs more than they're prepared to cover, and the agreement passes that cost on to the supplier (which the supplier wishes to avoid where possible). It's not something which actually binds you.
    – brhans
    Oct 20 at 17:12
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Hopefully you paid with a credit card and didn't pay the bill yet. Deduct the water heater from your credit card payment. Inform the credit card company why. They should back you up.

The lemon laws apply to large appliances (in many states). The company has three chances to resolve the problem. If they can't, they have to make good on restitution. They will probably give up and you won't pay but you will be stuck with a non-working water heater.

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    Most likely to involve Magnuson-Moss warranty act, rather than "lemon law" which is often exclusive to vehicles, but yea, there should be legal protections in place for this in your area.
    – JPhi1618
    Oct 20 at 15:26
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The simplest solution is to return it to Home Depot where you bought it. Having your receipt will help but they can also find it on your credit card. In my experience they will take it back within 30 days if it is defective.
You may have to accept a store credit but you can use it to purchase another hot water heater.
Not having the original carton may make it sticky but based on past experience I would give it a shot.

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  • Sounds like OP has the original carton, just no longer in "carton shape". Bring along all the cardboard - a tarp on the floor of the van, then the carton as best as can be made of it, then the heater inside that (or on top of the pile of cardboard, depending on what's left).
    – FreeMan
    Oct 20 at 16:45
  • @HoneyDo I have parts of the original carton. But the things are just so massive, I don't keep them around for 48 hours while breaking-in the new stuff, went out to the dumpster within a few hours while I was waiting (futilely) for the water to heat up.
    – John O
    Oct 20 at 18:15
  • I would still take it back to HD. A few times I've purchased items that were returned after it being mishandled, repacked by a customer and resold to me. That may have happened in your case.
    – HoneyDo
    Oct 20 at 19:17

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