How to Remove an Old Water Heater - DIY Tips

Learning how to remove an old water heater is a valuable skill for any homeowner looking to update their home's water heating system or simply clear out space.

With the right tools and a bit of know-how, this can become a manageable and rewarding DIY project.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the process step by step, ensuring you can confidently tackle the task, regardless of whether you have an electric or gas-powered tank-type heater.

Why remove your old water heater yourself?

Undertaking the removal of your old water heater as a DIY project offers several advantages.

First, it can significantly reduce the overall cost of upgrading to a new unit, as you'll only be paying for the new water heater and its installation.

This is particularly advantageous if you're renting a water heater and are responsible for the removal of the old unit as part of an upgrade or termination of your rental agreement.

Additionally, this project provides an excellent opportunity to deepen your understanding of your home's plumbing and heating systems, empowering you to tackle future maintenance and repair tasks with greater confidence.

It can help you better prepare the space for the installation of a new water heater, especially if you're upgrading to a more energy-efficient model or a different type of heater. You have the opportunity to clean the area, assess the condition of existing plumbing and electrical connections, and make necessary repairs or improvements.

How to remove an old water heater

Preparation is key

Before you start the removal process of your old water heater, understanding the task ahead is crucial. Old water heaters, especially those that have served for many years, can become significantly heavy due to sediment buildup.

This sediment, accumulated from years of heating water, adds extra weight to the tank, making it more challenging to move.

Therefore, it's essential to enlist the help of a friend or two, including the use of a dolly, ensuring you can safely navigate the weight of the tank.

Required tools and materials

  • Adjustable wrenches
  • Pipe wrenches
  • Hacksaw (for cutting through metal pipes)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Garden hose (for draining the tank)
  • Bucket (for catching any residual water)
  • Tape (for marking wires and connections)
  • Safety goggles and gloves

emergency plumber

Step-by-step guide

  • Safety first: Before beginning, ensure your work area is clear and safe. Wear safety gloves and goggles to protect against potential hazards.
  • Shut off power: If you are removing a gas water heater, turn the gas supply OFF at the gas valve serving the unit. If it is an electric unit, disconnect the power by turning off the circuit breaker dedicated to the water heater.
  • Shut off water supply: For both types, turn the water supply OFF at the shut-off valve leading to the water heater.
  • Disconnect supply lines: For a gas water heater use an adjustable wrench to disconnect the gas pipe leading to the gas control valve. For the electric unit, ensure the power is disconnected, then remove the electrical wiring cover plate on the heater. Note the wiring connections and disconnect them, marking each for easy reconnection later.
  • Draining the tank: Attach a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the tank, leading the other end to a suitable drain area, away from people and property. Open the drain valve. To expedite draining, open a hot water tap nearby to allow air into the system. Wait until the tank is completely empty, reducing its weight and minimizing the risk of water damage.
  • Disconnect exhaust (Gas heaters only): For atmospheric-vent units, remove the vent pipe from the draft hood, typically secured with sheet metal screws. Power vent and direct vent units may require additional steps but follow the principle of disconnecting the exhaust from the unit.
  • Cut or unfasten water pipes: Identify the cold water inlet and hot water outlet pipes. For copper pipes, use a hacksaw to cut them about four inches from the unit. If the pipes are galvanized and fitted with unions, use a pipe wrench to loosen them. This step completely separates the heater from the home's plumbing system.
  • Removal: With the tank now disconnected from gas, electricity, water supply, and drainage, and with the help of friends, carefully move the unit out of its location. Be mindful of the potential for residual water to spill.

Post-removal tips

  • Recycling and disposal: Explore your local recycling and disposal options for the old water heater, as many places have specific rules and services for managing such appliances. Taking charge of the removal process yourself gives you the opportunity to make sure that the old unit is either recycled or disposed of in a way that's environmentally friendly.
  • Area cleanup: After removal, clean the area thoroughly to prepare for the installation of a new unit or whatever else you have planned for the space.

Duration and skills required

The total time to remove an old water heater can vary but generally falls between 2-3 hours.

This estimate assumes that you have the necessary tools and a basic understanding of electrical, gas, and plumbing systems, including skills like soldering pipes.

The most time-consuming part of the process is often draining the tank, which varies depending on the size of your unit.

Final thoughts

Removing an old water heater is a significant undertaking but one that can be accomplished with careful preparation, the right tools, and a bit of patience.

By following this guide, you're well on your way to successfully completing a DIY water heater removal, saving money, and gaining the satisfaction of a job well done.

Whether you're updating to a more efficient model, such as tankless, or making space for a new project, the skills and knowledge gained from this experience are invaluable.

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