Preparing to Replace Your Water Heater

It can happen to anyone. You’re in the middle of taking a shower and the stream of hot water that feels so good becomes cold. It just doesn’t make any sense. No one else is using a shower, the sprinklers aren’t running and neither are your washing machine or dishwasher. You jump out of the shower, dry off and rack your brain for what could have gone wrong. Then it dawns on you, even though you’ve been diligent about doing yearly maintenance on your hot water heater, you’ve had it for 15 years and it’s finally time to replace it.

Replacing Your Water Heater

After you’ve checked everything like your tank’s thermostat, the dip tube, the pressure release valve and for leaks and sediment buildup, you’re not left with any choice but to replace your water heater.

What To Consider

To begin the process, your first consideration should be determining what kind of water heater you’re going to get as a replacement. Do your research. Were you satisfied with the performance of your old water heater? Did it provide enough hot water to meet the demands of your family? Are there other options out there more environmentally friendly or more efficient that can lower your monthly energy bill?

Removing Your Old Water Heater

The first step to removing your old unit is to turn off the power supply to the water heater. If your water heater runs on gas turn the gas supply valve off. It is usually located within two or three feet from the water heater at the bottom of the unit. Next, disconnect the corrugated flexible gas pipe where it is connected at the water heater. If you have an electric water heater turn off the breaker to the water heater and then remove the electrical connection from the water heater.

Allow the water heater to cool down for a few hours. Or use the hot water by doing some laundry, washing the dishes, or giving your dog a bath. This will cause the hot water to be used and replaced by cold water. Just remember you already paid to heat it!

If you don't want to wait for the water heater to cool, then make sure you use a hose that can withstand hot water. Connect a hose to the drain valve but don't open the drain valve yet. Place the other end of the hose where hot water will not harm anything, like curious children, pets, plants or shrubs. And please definitely don't forget the hose and especially the hose outlet may be too hot to handle with your bare hands.

Now you can turn off the cold water supply valve to the water heater. Turn on the hot side of a any faucet closest to your hot water heater to allow air to flow back to the water heater to stop any vacuum from keeping the water from flowing out of the drain. Open the drain valve slowly until it is completely open. Let all the water drain out. By draining your old water heater, you greatly reduce its weight making it easier to haul away.

Pro Tip: You can also use a water heater drain pump to speed up the process. Depending on which water heater drain pump you use you can empty a 50 gallon water heater tank within 2-1/2 to 10 minutes instead of waiting for the water heater to drain by gravity.

If your water heater runs on gas, you will need to disconnect the vent pipe from the top of the heater. This part is normally connected to the draft hood, at the top of the tank, with a few screws.

Next, you’ll notice two pipes connected to the top of the unit. These are your lines that supply incoming cold water and outgoing hot water. If they are corrugated stainless steel or copper you can unscrew them off of the threaded nipples to detach the tank. If they are solid pipes there should be a union fitting between the wall and the water heater which can be unscrewed with a pipe wrench or large crescent wrench. If they are solid copper piping you can use a hacksaw to cut through them.

You will also need to disconnect the temperature and pressure relief valve (T&P Valve) drain line. The T&P valve can be located at the top of the water heater tank or on the side of the tank, depending on where the manufacturer designed it to be located. These drain lines can be copper, PEX, CPVC, or galvanized steel. You may need to cut the drain line to free it from the T&P valve.

The last thing to remove would be any earthquake straps if your water heater has them. Since 2016 earthquake straps are now required for all water heaters nationwide, not just California, Oregon, and Washington, according to section 507.2 Seismic Provisions of the Uniform Plumbing Code.

When the water heater is completely isolated from any piping, wiring, venting, or strapping, it is ready to be moved. Water heaters are heavy and awkward. If you have an extra body or two to help you remove the tank, your back will thank you later and you reduce the risk of even more serious injury.

Disposing Of Your Old Water Heater

Now that you’ve successfully removed your old tank, you have to get rid of it. Unfortunately, it might not be as simple as just hauling it off to the dump. Depending on where you live, there are likely some specific regulations that govern just how and where you can leave your old water heater.


If your water heater still works or only needs some minor repairs, there’s a possibility you can donate it. Try calling your local Goodwill or other donation organization and inquire if they accept functioning water heaters. If so, you’ll probably have to drop it off, but the good news is your donation will be tax-deductible.

Place An Ad

There’s no denying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If you can’t find a place to donate your water heater, try placing an ad on Craig’s List or in your local newspaper. Even if it’s not working, there’s a good chance someone out there could have a useful purpose for it, or for scrap metal.

Recycle Centers

Many community recycling centers will accept water heaters because the metal can be salvaged. Before you throw your tank in the back of the truck though, call the center to find out if they will accept it. States and local municipalities have different restrictions about how waters heaters can be disposed of.

If you can’t find any information, contact your local government as they will often have plans to help homeowners discard household appliances.

Garbage Pickup

Still can’t find a way to get rid of your old tank? Call your local garbage pickup service. Many times these companies will pick up your water heater from right in front of your house. You might have to pay an extra fee but at least you won’t have to worry about lifting the tank in and out of your vehicle.


If you’ve exhausted all your options to recycle your water heater, call your local landfill. More often than not, they will allow you to dispose of it for a small fee. This isn’t the most environmentally friendly option, but it’s there if you need it.

All Things Considered

Your water heater works hard every single day. Between showering and running appliances like your washing machine and dishwasher, its job is exhaustive. Taking that into account, it’s little wonder that even the best tank type water heaters on the market only last 10 to 15 years. Eventually they need to be replaced.

When that time comes, it’s a project you can tackle yourself or with the help of an able body or two if you know what you’re doing. If you take the time to ask the right questions and employ the strategies above, you’ll be able to make the process as efficient and stress-free as possible.

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