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Question DetailsAsked on 2/11/2017

Cost to remove 1.5 sq ft of Mexican tile countertop and plywood backing to get to top of hot water heater

My heater in under the kitchen counter which is Mexican tile over plywood. I can't afford to replace all of the countertop so I need to cur a 1.5 sq section out above the hot water heater to get access to the wire/water connections to fix or replace it. Can that be done in a way where I can just put the section of top back, or maybe replace it with a cutting board? and what might be a ballpark estimate of the the cost?

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You may have a bit of trouble with the plumber on this - it is illegal to install a fixed heating appliance without adequate access to work on it, and certain minimum clearances which yours might not have above it - so if an illegal installation the plumber might refuse to work on it.

Have they looked at emptying it and cutting the piping and tilting it out enough to get at the wiring to disconnect it, then reinstall (or replace as necessary) with "pigtailed" plumbing on the water heater - pre-installed pieces or flex tubing pre-connected at the top before it is put back in to connect to the adjacent piping at the side of it (instead of on top) once it is in - and of course putting in enough slack in the wiring to allow that to be accessed with the heater tilted or lying down too.

Another possibility - if it is sitting on the "flooring" of the cabinet, it may be possible to drain it, prop it up, and cut away the cabinet flooring (the insert panel in the cabinet, typically about 4 inches or so above the actual room floor - be aware wiring or piping is sometimes run in there) and drop it down. In fact, if one looks at it closely, it may be they installed it that way, especially if it has flex tubing for the water lines - hooked everything up with it sitting on the kitchen floor (but still inside the cabinet), then lifted it up and slipped in the cabinet floor piece(s) under it. That was common with 25-30 gallon "football" electric water heaters in the 60's in apartments and cottages in southern California. In many of those cases the wiring was arranged so it could be easily disconnected at the electrical box on the cabinet back wall - or sometimes even (though illegal now) fitted with a corded plug to just unplug it.

Anyway - for your cut out if you want to go that way, probably about $200-300 for a ceramic tile contractor (and with tile countertop I would use a tile contractor, not a handyman) to cut the hole - and probably included that range or maybe adding a bit more to install a stainless steel rim or "rim it" with quarter-round or bullnose or such so there is a finished edge, and install a drop-in chopping block (cost for that about $10 and on up depending on fanciness and materials used. A bit of thinking should go into the chopping block - should be sealed at the tile with a compressible rubber strip or long-life silicone caulk, so water cannot run down on top of the water heater and cause rusting or shorting out. And remember it needs to be able to come out again in the future. There are also stock and of course custom-built self-rimming chopping blocks that install on the top of the tile just like a sink - run a bead of caulk around, drop it in, and presto. Cheaper than building a tile rim around the opening - so if going that route getting the block first might control the exact dimensions of the cutout.

And if a cutting board is used - bear in mind unless it is substantially rimmed (has a raised rim around it), that you will build up a lot of nasty gunk around it at the caulk/seal line and it will be hard to clean - so might be best to get a raised-rim one. And of course, if a pervious material like wood, should be removeable for cleaning.

One after-thought if you do the cutout - talk to the contractor about whether the plywood backing under the tile needs to be reinforced (like with 2x4's screwed and glued to the underside around the cutout) to avoid that being a weak spot that can sag and cause countertop breakage - especially if within a foot or two of the sink cutout, which is already a serious weak point. That might also influence the cutout size needed so the reinforcing clears the water heater too.

An d of course if the wiring or pipes are up closed to the underside of the countertop like it sounds like, be sure he takes care not to cut into them in doing the cutout.

Another possibility of course, depending on your house configuration and available space and climate, is moving the water heater to a totally diffearent location and connecting it into the water lines there (not necessarily connecting in under the countertop where it is connected now), or even if in a non-freezing or just occasionally barely freezing area, putting it in a new utility closet up against the house on the outside. Either of these solutions would also provide the opportunity for a larger capacity water heater in the future if desired - though likely initially a bit more expensive than your solution.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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