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What to Do with an Old Water Heater

Updated
Wondering what to do with an old water heater? Here are some solutions.

Getting a new water heater is always exciting but there are practical concerns you will need to address. It’s easy to get distracted by your shiny new heater and how well it works, but you will also need to do something with your old heater.

Whoever fits your new heater may be able to dispose of the old one for you. You might want to dismantle it yourself and scrap it or take it for recycling. Alternatively, you might want to repurpose it and continue using it for another task.

In this article, we will look at how to dispose of your old water heater and explore some options for recycling, repurposing, or scrapping it.


How to Remove an Old Water Heater

Before you can do anything else with your old heater it will need to be removed. To do this you will need to:

1. Cut the Power Supply

It’s critical that you do this first! Disconnect the gas supply or electricity that has been powering your water heater.

Gas Water Heater

With a gas-powered water heater, there will be a shut-off valve located on the supply pipe. Follow the supply pipe until you find a lever. This will usually run along the pipe when it is open; turn it 90 degrees to shut off the supply.

Electric Water Heater

For an electric water heater, you will need to use your main electric service panel. This is usually located on a wall in your garage, basement, or the outside of your home.

If you know which fuse or breaker switch supplies the power to your heater then either remove that fuse or switch the breaker off. If you’re unsure or can’t find the right one, use the main lever which will be at the side or top of the box. This will cut the power to your entire house.

Use a voltmeter on the copper wiring of both the black and white wires attached to your water heater. If it shows no reading, it’s safe for you to continue with the disconnection.

If you don’t have experience working with electrical wiring or are uncomfortable doing it yourself, call a professional to remove your water heater.

2. Drain the Tank

The next step is to turn off the water supply and drain the water from your heater. The water supply comes from a cold water inlet located near the top of the tank. Again, follow the pipe until you find the lever or knob to shut off the water.

Turn the water off and open all the hot water faucets in your home. This allows air into the pipes and forces any remaining hot water back into the tank.

Once the water is off, attach a garden hose to the drain valve on the bottom of the water heater. Make sure you have the other end of the hose over a drain or outside the building. If you don’t have a drain or outdoor access for the hose then you might need to use buckets.

Open the drain valve and let the water out. If you’re replacing your water heater, it might not be working very well, but you should still be careful in case the water is hot.

3. Remove the Tank

The final step is to disconnect the pipes from the tank. You can use a wrench and some elbow grease to disconnect the joints. If they won’t unscrew or are “hard plumbed” you might need to hacksaw your way through them.

Recycling Options for Your Old Water Heater

Here are the steps to recycle an old water heater:

1. Recycling Centers

There are many recycling centers that will take a water heater off your hands. They usually dismantle them and move on the scrap metals to be reused to make other products.

Water heaters are generally made from steel with copper and brass attachments. Some centers will pay you a fixed rate for your old model, and some will charge a pickup fee to collect your old heater or allow you to drop it off yourself.

While it varies from state to state, there are laws surrounding the sale of scrap metals. Be prepared to provide ID and have a photograph and vehicle details logged. In some cases, even your fingerprints are taken (1). It’s a good idea to check with your local recycle center what their requirements are before you go.

2. Local Government Pick Up

Some areas offer a free water heater disposal service that will collect your old heater as part of their waste management policy. Some local governments might charge a fee for doing this, so check before arranging removal.

3. Give It to Charity

You might be upgrading your old water heater due to lifestyle changes or a house extension, not because your old one no longer works. If your old heater is still in working order, you can donate it to somewhere such as Goodwill. This gives someone less fortunate the benefits of your old heater and you could claim a charitable tax donation (2).

4. Scrap It Yourself

We mentioned earlier that water heaters are made from different metals. The most valuable metals such as copper and brass can be removed from the old heater and sold for scrap. This could raise some money to help pay for your new water heater.

You can check which pipes have iron in them by using a magnet. If it sticks they do, if it falls off they don’t. Non-iron pipes are likely to be copper or brass.

There are likely to be copper wires inside the heater that can be removed, and the fittings are often also sellable. Make sure to scrape away any corrosion to check — you never know what you might find.

Finally, if you have a gas water heater, the gas control valve (or gas regulator) is another item you can sell. Take it to the scrap yard along with your metal and see how much you can get.

As with the recycling centers, you might need an ID to sell the scrap.

5. Advertise for Disposal or Sale

You can always place a sign with your old water heater outside your house telling passers-by that it still works. You might get a few bucks for it but chances are that you will end up giving it away.

Other ways of advertising include local press or Craigslist. You can use social media such as Facebook and Instagram or an online selling site such as eBay. Even if you don’t get any money, it will be taken off your hands.

Reinvent Your Old Water Heater

There are some great ways to reuse your old water heater for a new purpose. People have shared many success stories and you are only limited by your imagination. Some of the things you might want to do include:

1. Make a Smoker or Grill

Water heaters, thanks to their cylindrical shape, lend themselves to being turned into a grill or smoker for your backyard.

This project might take a little time and some welding expertise, but the design itself is straightforward. Simply cut it whichever way you want — vertically for a smoker or horizontally for a grill. Attach some legs, hinges, and handles and you’re good to go.

You could even go the extra mile and attach wheels and a wooden ledge to serve as a table.

You can keep things as simple as cutting the tank in half, drilling some holes for airflow, and using it as a firepit. This is great for toasting S’mores on a cool evening!

2. Make a Solar Water Heater

As long as your old tank doesn’t leak, you can reduce your fuel bills by creating a solar water heater (3). With the power of the sun, you can preheat your water and feed it into your hot water tank via the cold water inlet. This means your tank won’t need to do as much work to heat the water you use.

You will need to take off the outer casing of the tank and remove the insulation. Paint it with heat-resistant flat black paint.

Next, build a box large enough to house your old water tank and line the inside with a reflective material. Cover the top or front with a large dual pane window or perhaps some polycarbonate panels like those you find in greenhouses.

Remember to check the pressure relief valve — this will still be needed, especially if you live in a very sunny state. You don’t want any overheating accidents.

Connect your new solar-powered tank to your water heater and you’re ready to go.

3. Make a Planter

All sorts of items are repurposed as planters for the garden, from kettles and rain boots to high heels and tires. Why not use your old water heater to create a feature in your backyard?

You could cut it in half or cut it into sections. You might even get creative and sculpt some patterns out of the side. Fill it with soil and plants or veggies to create a conversation starter at your next barbeque.

FAQs

Are Water Heaters Recyclable?

Many of the materials used to make water heaters are now recyclable, but it might not be obvious which ones. If you’re unsure, it’s possible to take your old heater to a local recycling center, where the staff will know what to do with it. Steel, copper, and brass are the most widely reused metals that you are likely to find in a water heater. They each have numerous uses that will give the parts of your boiler a second life.

Can You Scrap a Water Heater?

It is possible to break down your water heater and sell the parts as scrap metal. Copper and brass are the most valuable metals that are often used in water heaters. One of the easiest ways to check for these materials is to hold a magnet against the pipes and internal parts. If the pipes are magnetic, they are probably made of iron. If they aren’t, they likely contain copper or brass and you can sell them to raise some money.

Do Old Water Heaters Have Copper?

Many water heaters contain copper, particularly electric models. This is because the heating elements in electric heaters are often made of copper, which means they are a reliable source of metal. Any copper parts in your heater can be removed and sold as scrap, or you can simply sell the entire heater to someone who will perform the same task after buying it.


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About the Author

Peter Gray

Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.