What to Do with an Old Water Heater

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

Have you recently changed or are about to change your water heater? Once your shiny new toy is giving you nice hot water, what do you do with the cast-off? Here are some ideas.

Firstly, whoever is fitting your new heater may be able to dispose of the old one for you. It could be that you want to dismantle it and scrap it yourself or take it for recycling. Alternatively, you might want to repurpose it so you can carry on using it for something else.

Let’s look at how to remove your old water heater and some options for recycling, repurposing or disposing of it.

How to Remove an Old Water Heater

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

1. Cut the Power Supply

First things first! Disconnect the gas or electricity that has been powering your water heater.

Gas Water Heater

On a gas-powered water heater, there will be a shut off valve located on the supply pipe. Follow the supply pipe along its length until you find a lever. This will usually be level with the pipe when on; turn it through 90 degrees to shut off the supply.

Electric Water Heater

For an electric water heater, you’ll need to find your main electric service panel. This is generally 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 home then either remove that fuse or switch that breaker to off. If you are unsure or can’t find the right one then use the main lever which will be at the side or top of the box. This will cut the power to your whole 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 then it’s safe for you to carry on 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 forcing 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 out of the property. If you don’t have a drain or access to outside for the hose then you might need to use buckets.

Open the drain valve and let the water out. Chances are, if you’re replacing your water heater, it might not be working all that well. However, be careful just in case the water is hot.

3. Removing the Tank

The final step is to disconnect the pipes from the tank. You can use a wrench and a bit of elbow grease to disconnect joints. On the other hand, if they won’t unscrew or are “hard plumbed” you might need to hacksaw through them.

Recycling Options for Your Old Water Heater

1. Recycling Centers

There are many recycling centers that will take an old water heater off your hands. They usually dismantle it and sell 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 might pay you a fixed rate for your old model. On the flipside, some centers might charge you a fee to either collect or allow you to drop off your old water heater.

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

2. Local Government Pick Up

Some areas might offer a service that will pick up your old water heater from your home. They might charge a fee for doing this though, so check first.

3. Give It to Charity

Maybe you’re upgrading your old water heater for a new model with more capacity. If your old heater is in working order, donate it to somewhere like Goodwill. This gives someone less fortunate the benefit of your old heater and you could benefit too by claiming a charitable tax donation (2).

4. Scrap It Yourself

We’ve mentioned that water heaters are made from different metals. Those that have the most value like copper and brass can be detached from the old heater and sold for scrap. This could make some money to pay towards 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 also likely to be copper wires on the inside of the heater that can be removed, and the fittings are often sellable, too. Make sure you scrape away any corrosion to check — you never know what you might find.

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

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

5. Advertise for Disposal or Sale

You can always put 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 you’ll end up giving it away.

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

Reinvent Your Old Water Heater

Using your old water heater for another purpose is a great idea. There are several things you can create and you are really only limited by your imagination. Some of the things you might want to do include:

1. Make a Smoker or Grill

Water heaters, with 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 know-how, but the design 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 all out and attach wheels and a wooden ledge as a table.

You could even keep it as simple as cutting it in half, drilling some holes for airflow and using it as a firepit. Great for toasting S’mores on a cool evening!

2. Make a Solar Water Heater

Provided your old tank doesn’t leak you can save on fuel bills by creating a solar water heater (3). Using the power of the sun, you can preheat your water and feed it into your hot water tank through the cold water inlet. That way your tank won’t need to do as much work to heat the water you require.

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

Next, build a box large enough to house your old water tank and cover the inside with a reflective material. Cover the top or front with a large dual pane window or maybe 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 just cut out sections. Maybe even get creative and sculpt some patterns out of the side. Fill it with soil and plants or veggies for a talking point at your next barbeque.

Time to Dump It or Remodel It

There are many things you can do with an old water heater, whether you just want rid of it or whether it could be reincarnated somehow. Recycling or repurposing is better for the environment so consider this before you decide what to do.

We hope you found our instructions on what to do with an old water heater useful and informative. Have you disposed of or reinvented an old water heater? Let us know what you did by leaving us a comment below, and don’t forget to share.

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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.

1 Reader Comment

  1. Stephen Keller

    Can cut it in half, then weld both halves together to make a snow plow for your lawnmower or tractor.

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