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Once again it's time for a new water heater and I find myself dreading the task. The water heater sits on a pedestal that is approximately 18" high (required by code) and lifting a 50 gallon water heater onto/off of that pedestal about at the limit of my strength--and we have no friends that we could ask for help with a heavy lifting task like that.

To make the lifting problem even worse I put a catch pan under it last time after it made a mess. It's proved it's worth--this time instead of a mess I just have a wet area outside where the hose drains. However that means the water heater has to be lifted over the lip of the pan--and the pan most certainly would be crushed if the weight of the water heater were to come onto the edge of it.

I would think some sort of block and tackle system would be the ideal solution here but I've never seen anything built for the task and it's an awful lot of weight and bulk to be confident lifting with a homemade rig. What would be even better is if the connection to the ceiling was to something that could slide--lift, slide it to open space and lower.

Any fixes beyond simply hiring two strong people?

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    What would be your expectation of how heavy it would be? The water can be drain out completely through a valve at the bottom. Otherwise it is a hollow tank with a lightweight hollow tank (cover) around it. I picture it being around 100-150 lbs. Too heavy for one person but not so for a little apparatus that can be cobbled together with some wood and screws. I have an idea in mind if you can get some 2X6s and 3/4" plywood together that will allow you to lift it, rock it away from the pedestal and lower it down. It can be used to lift the new one in place. You will need straps a come-a-long too. – Jack Oct 11 '15 at 16:42
  • I haven't tried to weigh it, I think your weight is if anything high. It's very big and awkward, though--if it were a barbell I wouldn't be having an issue with the weight. – Loren Pechtel Oct 11 '15 at 22:09
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Here is a frame that can be made to use with a cable hoist. lift 1

The hole in the top is where the ratcheting cable lift will pick up the heater with straps around the heater. Lean the frame to the wall after the frame is set where you want the heater to set at on the floor. lift 2

To rock the heater away from the wall, ratchet the heater up enough to clear the flange the inch or two it needs and step on the bottom slowly to add enough weight to counter balance to frame with heater back so the heater is beyond the pedestal.frame 2

After using care on rocking it back, use the ratchet lift to lower the heater to the floor

Not everything is to scale, you will need to confirm some things yourself, for example if the building of the frame itself is something you may want to handle, the size to the top shelf that the lift will set to to lift will need to be bigger, or even if something like this will fit where your heater is..

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A pulley or two, and some rope should make the job manageable. When moving heavy items, simple machines are your friend.

If there's not a suitable structure above, a simple A frame should do. A lever or inclined plane, and some muscle might help get the heater up into place.

Depending on the pulley setup, and the weight of the tank. I'd either use rope in a pipe hitch, or a couple lifting slings under the unit.

If you're not familiar or comfortable with pulleys and lifting things, a ramp and hand truck might be easier.

NOTE: You'll want to lift the tanks empty, as water will add 8.33 lbs per gallon (416.5 lbs for 50 gallons of water).

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  • +1 In the days of CRT TVs I made a wooden ramp so I could slide my very heavy TV onto its TV stand. I can imagine doing the same for a heater using scrap lumber. Putting some eye-bolts low-down into a strong wall would provide an anchor for a ratchet strap. – RedGrittyBrick Oct 11 '15 at 10:06
  • But how would you attach the rope to the water heater? – Loren Pechtel Oct 11 '15 at 22:07
  • See edited answer for how to attach the rope. – Tester101 Oct 11 '15 at 23:54
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Reading over the answers here gave me a few more ideas to plug into Google--and I found the right way to lift it:

A scissors lift--a simple manual thing, not the big things for working on high ceilings. No big deal to slide it over, with the lift at a minimum it was possible to slide it off by tipping. The catch pan even survived the process, albeit with a few cosmetic dings.

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You could rent an engine hoist - they are a very handy portable crane for small things like this. If the 18" pedestal is required by code, that sounds like it's probably in the garage, which might have a good floor for running one on. You do need some space to use one.

Rigging the the heater to the hoist is still going to take some ingenuity, but it's more awkward than heavy with the water out of it. It's an infrequent enough task that permanently mounting a sliding rail system to the ceiling is likely to be cost-prohibitive.

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  • The flooring is fine, the engine hoists I find listed at home depot at least don't reach high enough. It also still leaves the attaching problem. – Loren Pechtel Oct 11 '15 at 22:08
  • As I said, rent one, unless you have other uses for it. Take a measuring tape with you to the tool rental and check them out. Think beyond home depot here, they are not a serious tool rental outfit. Mine at full extension goes over 7 feet high. The "adjustable arm" types will have a maximum height that varies inversely with maximum weight (fortunately, a water heater is lightweight.) – Ecnerwal Oct 11 '15 at 23:03
  • The top of the tank is 6'7" above the garage floor, there are a few inches of flue sticking up out of that. – Loren Pechtel Oct 11 '15 at 23:25
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A real simple solution that might work for you if you can recruit a helper:

The Forearm Forklift

These straps, if you use them as intended, work surprisingly well - you and your helper don't need to be gorillas to lift a water heater.

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  • That would work an awful lot better if they hadn't put it in the corner. – Loren Pechtel Oct 11 '15 at 22:04
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Do you have a car jack (aka floor jack; trolley jack)? Rig a plywood platform strapped to the jack plate, raise it to the height of the platform. Sacrifice the spill pan to avoid having to lift over it: cut the lip in a couple spots and hammer it flat. Slide the heater onto the platform and lower it down. You will still to pay special attention and use some muscle to prevent it from tipping over as they are unwieldy beasts.

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  • That would certainly help with removing it but given the bad luck I've had with them I certainly want a spill pan under the new one. – Loren Pechtel Oct 11 '15 at 22:05
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Put an ad on CraigsList in the "free" section. Make an offer to give away the heater on the condition that the person lift it off the stand. Someone will surely come take it quickly. If the new heater is also too heavy for you to lift, put that in as a condition also.

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  • It's going to be a warranty exchange, I won't have the old one left. – Loren Pechtel Oct 11 '15 at 22:05
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Here's a simple solution that worked for me to both remove the old and put in a new water heater on a 18" platform, here it is seen top down

Ramp

  • I made the ramp from some spare scrap wood - a few 2x4 and 1x2 trim, plus 4x4 to block up the end
  • Screws and a cordless driver are easier than nails
  • Having a drill press to pre drill the rails makes it easy to install them without splitting
  • Recommend edge protector on your platform as shown in the picture (screw it in so it doesn't move around - I had this leftover packing corner protector strip)
  • When removing the old tank, tip it down (the top) onto a furniture dolly at the end of the ramp
  • Have a second dolly on the ramp, then with two people lift the end of the water heater onto the second dolly and roll away
  • For the new heater, use a hand truck
  • The key with the new one is that the ramp doesn't have to go all the way to the top at 18", just push the hand truck halfway up the ramp, then the end of the water heater will clear the lip at the other end
  • Simply push the top of the water heater up, sliding it onto the platform

Easy job for two reasonably healthy adults. The key is that you're never moving more than one end of a heater, so you're never holding the entire weight of the heater. In this way one end or another is always supported by the ground, making the operation much easier.

Key advantages

  • Simple to construct
  • Easy for two normal adults
  • Ramp can be constructed from scrap material
  • Ramp length can be adjusted based on skill, strength and materials
  • Only ever holding 1/4 of the weight of the water heater at most (empty water heaters weigh around 200 lbs). So for a 200 lb heater, 1/2 is carried by one end, 1/2 by two people so 1/4 or 50 lbs by each person. In reality it's much less than that because most of the weight is at the bottom
  • Heaters are always supported by the ground
  • Easy to go safe and slow
  • Copious use of dollies, trucks and ramps to do the work for you

Disadvantages - Need 1 or 2 furniture moving dollies - Need a hand truck - Need to build a small ramp

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  • Critical disadvantage for me: it requires a fairly long approach to the pedestal. I have about 3' on both sides--I had considered building a ramp and rejected it because of the space. I had no problem walking the water heater around even alone, I doubt this answer actually needs two people. – Loren Pechtel Jul 9 '16 at 0:06

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