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When your hot water gets tanked: removing an old electric water heater

When your hot water gets tanked: removing an old electric water heater
Hot water is the kind of thing most people don’t think a bit about until it’s gone. Just like anything else that carries water, a hot water heater will rust and leak if left alone long enough. If your water heater is more than ten years old, or just looks rusty, replace it. If you have an electric water heater, you can do it yourself, too.

Here’s how to remove your old electric water heater. Later on I’ll post some tips to get you started putting in a new one. If you have a gas water heater, don't risk a gas leak. Call a plumbing professional.

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To remove your old water heater, you’ll need a hose long enough to stretch from the water heater to your tub or outdoor drain, a medium crescent wrench, and flathead and Phillips screwdrivers.

1. Turn off the electric breaker to the water heater before doing anything. If you’re unsure which one it is, turn them all off.

2. Unscrew the plate for the electrical supply and disconnect the wiring. Remember to put the wirenuts back on the exposed wires for when you turn back on the power. You could get shocked by accident otherwise.

3. Hook up the hose to the drain at the bottom of the water heater here:

Before you open the valve there, turn off the supply valve to the water heater. Otherwise you’re just running water right on through it. To get the water going, loosen the supply line from the water heater valve to let a little air in. Gravity should take care of the rest. Also, open the hot side of faucets throughout the house. This will let residual water in the pipes drain out through the water heater instead of all over your floor when you disconnect the supplies.

4. When the water is mostly drained, disconnect the supply lines from the wall pipes—not from the water heater. It’s cleaner this way, and you’re going to get new supply lines anyway.  

5. Have somebody strong help you physically remove the old, drained water heater. DO NOT DO THIS YOURSELF. Unless you’re the Hulk, or other such superhero. Or just silly like me.

Now you're ready to install your new water heater. Take a look at the second part of this water heater guide before you get started.

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Willa on May 16, 2014:

I would like to know how to remove it entirely - like how to plug the pipes and such so you don't have a water heater at all. We are converting our house to a wood stove and having a tough time with knowing what to do with everything once the water heater is no longer there.


Alden on Dec 29, 2011:

Thanks for this advice, it was very helpful! I also recommend using pipe thread tape on screw-in copper joints, and plumber's pipe compound is important to smear on if you have to screw a pressure connector to a copper pipe.


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