How to Remove a Water Heater - DIY Tips and Instructions

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Fix a water heater that is not workingImage by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Learn how to remove a water heater like a pro, and save. Use this DIY step-by-step guide to remove your old or broken water tank heater - fast and easy.

Note that water heaters can last about 10-15 years, so before it dies on you and starts leaking water or simply wasting energy due to low performance, it is time to consider a replacement.

Below you will also find tips on how to avoid common water heater installation mistakes.

Required tools

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Teflon tape
  • Hacksaw or a pipe cutter
  • Garden hose or a bucket
  • Dolly (hand truck)
  • Pipe and fittings
  • Multimeter

How to remove a water heater in 10 steps (plus video)

Removing a water heater doesn't have to be challenging or require a licensed plumber. This is an easy DIY home project for handymen and homeowners with the right tools and some knowledge of gas, electric, and plumbing systems.

As opposed to removal, water heater installation (especially gas type) is fairly complicated, and requires more than the basic knowledge.

The time required to remove a water heater is approximately 2-4 hours, depending on your skills and the tank size, as it takes longer just to drain water.

To remove a water heater, follow these steps:

  1. Close the gas. Make sure to turn the burner and pilot off on the gas valve and shut off the gas supply to the unit. To close the gas supply to the unit, turn the gas valve handle so it is perpendicular to the gas line.
  2. Turn the power off. Turn OFF the electricity on the circuit breaker that controls the unit. Use a multimeter to make sure the power is off.
  3. Shut off the cold water supply. Turn off the cold water supply on the shut-off valve, and if necessary, close the main water valve (the one that controls water delivery to the entire house).
  4. Check and disconnect. One of the critical steps when removing a water heater is to make sure that the gas supply is OFF, and once checked, disconnect the gas line at the gas control valve found at the bottom of the unit.
  5. Drain the tank. The next step is to drain the water heater. Open a nearby hot tap and leave it open to allow easier draining. Be aware of a burn hazard when water temperatures are above 120 F. Before draining, ensure that the outgoing hot water is lower than 100 F. Once the temperature is safe, connect a hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the heater and put another end outside, if possible, or to an adequate drain (such as a sump pump pit). Open the drain valve and wait for a few hours. For larger tank sizes, it takes longer to drain. Once the tank is empty, close the drain valve.
  6. Remove the flue pipe. Once the gas line is closed and water is drained out, disconnect the vent pipe from the draft hood found at the top of the unit. Simply remove the screws and lift the vent pipe up to disconnect it. For the power vent models, remove the clamp.
  7. Unhook plumbing. Once all the water is removed, unplug the heater from the home plumbing. If your gas heater is connected to the plumbing with the galvanized pipes, remove the unions using the pipe wrench. If copper pipes are used, use the hacksaw and cut approximately 4-8 inches before the connection. Use the stubs as handles to remove the old unit.
  8. Disconnect the discharge pipe. Keep in mind that sometimes it is hard to remove a water heater due to mineral buildup. Deposits collected over the years of working are making it very heavy. Don't forget to disconnect the TPR valve and its discharge pipe from the side of the water tank.
  9. Remove the earthquake anchor straps.
  10. Remove the tank. Once disconnected from the gas and plumbing system, including electric wires, ask someone to help you remove a water heater, and use a hand truck or dolly for handling.

How to avoid common water heater installation mistakes

  • Installation is not done per instructions. Whether installing an electric or gas water heater, always follow the manufacturer's installation guide and building codes. Read and follow the instructions to avoid unit failure, problems, and property damages.
  • The unit is not correctly sized. Sizing a water heater according to your family's needs is crucial to avoid high energy bills. Installing an undersized water heater would increase your costs because the unit will work longer to keep up with the demand. An oversized unit would cycle ON/OFF more often, which will shorten your unit's lifetime.
  • Hard-to-reach locations. Your water heater needs some space around and above the unit to allow easy access for maintenance and service. Also, gas models produce carbon monoxide, so they need to be vented to the outside atmosphere and have enough space for the air intake. According to the manufacturer, it is not safe to install it in an enclosed space.
  • The tank is half full. Never run an electric water heater if the water tank is not full of water; otherwise, it will burn out the heating element.

What's next...

Note that after you remove a water heater, you cannot just throw it away. Check with the building code department as you might need to obtain a permit.

We suggest getting familiar with the recycling program, if there is any in your city, or call your local waste management company and see where you can drop it off. Or, try to get some ideas online to repurpose it.

And remember, if you run into problems while removing your old water heater, contact the licensed technician.

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