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I need to replace my water heater. I've happily been using gas for the last 30 years and will continue to do so.

I have a minivan which will easily swallow the heater and all its packing material, but I'd have to lay it down to get it in. Are there any components inside the heater (or welds, etc. holding them together) which might be damaged by being transported for ~30 miles on its side?

The exact brand/model of heater to be purchased have not yet been determined, so I cannot consult the manufacturer's information to determine if this is permissible. Also, I've seen the boxes at the store and they all have a "This way up" arrow, so, of course, they're intended to remain upright.

I can get a truck to transport it upright if necessary, but that'll add 60+ miles to the trip to pick up the truck then the heater, then return the truck, and it'd be easier if I can avoid that.


My concern, which wasn't well articulated, may have been based on the assumption that there are a lot of internal workings in the heater itself, somewhat like this:

enter image description here
image courtesy of americanwaterheater.com. No endorsement intended or implied

While it appears that the majority of gas, tanked water heaters are probably more like this:

enter image description here
image courtesy of mrrooter.com. No endorsement intended or implied

i.e., I thought there were a lot of internal gubbins that might get broken if transported horizontally, while it appears that, most likely, I'll be buying a very simple (non-condensing) model that will have very few internal components to break if they're laid on their side.

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    The "This way up" indicator doesn't necessarily mean they're intended to stay upright. It could just be so that after you've transported it on its side, you know which end to tip it onto. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 17:59
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    I find it very interesting the number of people flagging the "This End Up" as a way of knowing which way to tip it back upright after its been laying down. How many people would look at the box and stand it up with the writing upside down??
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 20:49
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    @FreeMan Not all boxes have easily visible words. Take wood crates or generic cardboard panels, for example. Also, search up a picture of a Whirlpool refrigerator box: the Whirlpool wordmark is printed bottom to top while small text at the top shows the proper orientation.
    – user71659
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:23
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    @DeanMacGregor In my experience, any package/container I have purchased that needs to be kept upright for any reason will say "Keep upright" or "Keep this side up".
    – Logarr
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 4:08
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    I have not, @JacobKrall, though I don't think there's been one among the options we've looked at so far. Hadn't really thought about the difference until the edit above, but it's on my radar at this point.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 14:22

7 Answers 7

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I recently purchased a direct-vent water heater, and after consulting the salesperson I learned that certain markings on the carton indicate which sides are acceptable for transport. Every unit will have different packaging, and it's critical that gas-carrying components are not stressed. You could experience hidden leaks.

Also, be aware that the central part of a carton is often not shielded or supported--most such support is high or low. If you were to tip the carton against a truck bumper, for example, you could damage the heater cabinet.

When in doubt, carefully cut a window in a hollow area of the carton and have a look. It should be fairly apparent what the manufacturer intended, and then you can see where the fragile components reside.

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  • Probably best advice here.
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 18:56
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    Although I would caution that cutting into a box will weaken it... and there'll always be a risk of cutting too far and damaging e.g. cables or pipes coiled loose. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 21:46
  • Thinking about my current heater, there are a couple of potentially fragile attachments on the outside (the PRV, for example), but I was thinking more about the internal design.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 13:04
  • The manufacturer won't say this side's okay to lay down if the internals can't handle it. Also, any appliance should be protected from shock at all times, not just during transport.
    – isherwood
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 13:39
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A water heater can be transported laying on its side, as long as it's not violently bounced or rattled. I would keep it in any packaging if possible until it's being installed.

I called a plumber friend. He said every tank, gas or electric that he ever I installed he placed on its side, in his van... never was a problem.

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    This answer lacks important detail. Many such cartons have specific sides on which they can be laid, and choosing the wrong one can result in damage (possibly hidden). It's mostly simple assertion. What reasoning goes behind it? Your "plumber friend" isn't exactly an authority. Many folks do many wrong things for many years and get lucky, and they may exclusively use one brand with particular packaging.
    – isherwood
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 14:19
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Radical suggestion: Ask the manufacturer how to transport it safely in a minivan? I would bet most purchased by consumers get brought home that way, and the manufacturer can probably tell you what precautions to take. Try to get them to promise that this does not void the warranty. If they won't, it might be worth considering finding a manufacturer that does approve ... or pay the surcharge to rent a truck to bring it home.

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  • How would the manufacturer know the unit was transported horizontally, so as to void a warranty? As a mater of fact how would anybody know exactly what had transpired during the transportation of any unit from manufacturing plant to point of sale.
    – RMDman
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:22
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    @RMDman re "how would anybody know": If one of these tilt indicators is used prior to shipping, the recipient, at least, can know.
    – Matt S
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:41
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    I'm not do much concerned with whether they know as with whether they will say "don't worry"
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 16:29
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    It's a common precaution taken when shipping orientation matters, at least in more costly items. Worth being aware of the possibility..
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 16:45
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    So pick candidates, contact manufacturers, a d use their answers to help you make the final selection. I don't know any other way to get an official answer. .... Or go for it in the knowledge that most folks seem to get away with it, and hope.
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 19:41
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Based on one I helped decommission from gas (dented outer shell and discarded in new condition) for use as a solar storage tank, there may be parts important to gas safety that could bounce loose laid sideways.

The one that comes immediately to mind is a large ceramic plate with many small holes that serves to let combustion air in, while (I presume from the small holes) keeping flame from going back out the same path - this was set just below the burner, and was not held in very firmly (I took it as an object of potential but as yet unrealized use) - we filled the flue-hole with foam for storage tank use. Of course, that same function may be realized differently on other model of gas heater. But I could see that getting jolted loose and needing to be restored to its proper position.

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I would not think twice.

After all, this is how people (including the average plumber) transport big items and the manufacturer should be aware of this fact.

Also, the new water heater is in fact a big empty container made of sheet metal and styrene/urethane foam. The rest is a feet or two of gas tubing and some electronics. Neither is particularily heavy to be sensitive to acceleration.

If ever in doubt, RTFM (read the fancy manual).

Whatever the make and model of your water heater is, chances are it has its both user manual and service manual somewhere online. The manufacturer website is a good place to start searching.

Failing that, I will look at the box for symbols like this:

enter image description here

(Image credit: Adobe)

Chances are there will be none.

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  • The "big metal container" I'm not worried about, it's "the rest" that has me wondering. Also, I do know that all the units I've looked at as I've been browsing do have "this end up" arrows (as noted in my question), hence the reason I'm asking this question.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 13:49
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    "This end up" is different. This is how you start unpacking.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 15:08
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    "This end up" is different than "this side up"? I was unaware of the subtle difference. Do you have anything to support that assertion?
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 16:00
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    @FreeMan If there's a difference and I become aware of it, it's gonna make my day. Maybe even my week,
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 22:19
  • I am at loss finding a ref. On the other hand, I have seen "this end up" (without the picture) even on an unpacked equipment.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 8:33
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Ok...this end up or this side up are the same they refer to how to stand the box when opening so you have item correctly oriented after cut box away from it...its not a fridge(which is why most are asking this question)...if there were issues with transporting sideways or upside down the manufacturer would say so just like they do with items with refrigerants inside compressors and they tell you if you must transport sideways do not immediately plug in until its been upright for x hours. These things are jostled during shipping to the stores more than you think just be careful handling it you won't break it in its orig packaging. Yes I've installed a few myself. I find it ironic those who say why would they tell ya how to open it if the letters on the box are correctly oriented!! Youre talking about a world where you have put cautions on grinders not to put your body parts in them or fan blades not to touch them lol yes they idiotproof the world

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So many people say to look for "this end up", but doesn't that simply tell you which end is the top? I would assume that unless the box states "keep upright", or something of that nature, you should be fine to transport it in your van. If all else fails, ask whoever you buy it from.

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