Tank water heaters are a dependable way to secure a fast supply of hot water for your home. The addition of a storage tank ensures some hot water is always available. But over time, foreign substances can accumulate inside the storage tank. This may be sediment or mineral buildup arriving from the main water line or an opening in the pipes. Whatever the culprit is, this buildup will sometimes negatively impact the efficiency of water heaters. In severe cases it can plug up drainage and might even lead to premature failure.
Thankfully, draining your water heater and clearing out sediment buildup is a relatively straightforward task. An experienced plumber in the Wasatch Front region can handle the process, but you can also drain the tank yourself if you know what you’re doing. Either way, draining the tank now can help lower the risk you’ll need premature water heater replacement.
Before You Begin…
Before you start draining the tank, you should shut off the cold water supply. The supply valve connects your water heater with the main water line. Unless you have access to a well (and you may need to drain the tank more frequently if you do), the water main provides all the potable water your home uses. Keeping the valve closed will prevent more water from flowing into the tank, allowing you to completely drain it.
You’ll also want to fetch a rubber hose, like one you could use for yard work. The hose allows you to safely drain the water heater tank without spilling water all over your garage, utility closet, attic or wherever the water heater is stored. Make sure you place the other end of the hose far away from your home to keep the water from seeping back inside.
Finally, a screwdriver can help you loosen stubborn screws or valves. You shouldn’t need any more tools than this unless you discover a problem with the water heater or adjacent piping. At that point, it might be best to hire a certified plumber in the Wasatch Front region.
Step 1: Shut Off the Water Heater
After you’ve turned off the water supply, you can shut off the water heater itself. This will be on the thermostat for natural gas water heaters or through a breaker switch for electric models. The pilot setting on gas water heaters can continue to stay on during flushing, but electric models need to be completely off. This is due to the heating elements electric water heaters have, which remain submerged. In a drained tank, they could quickly overheat. You should also find the model’s manual, as some water heaters must be completely full before the heating elements are reactivated.
Even after you’ve shut off the water heater, you’ll need to wait for the water stored in the tank to cool down. It could be hours before the water reaches a safe temperature, so it is usually best to leave the rest of the process for the following day.
Step 2: Secure the Hose to the Water Heater’s Drain Valve
Tank water heaters are designed with a drain valve you can use to empty the storage tank. Once you’re confident the water supply is disconnected and the water heater itself is off, go ahead and find the drain valve. Some models might have it covered up. Make sure the hose is firmly attached to prevent spilling hot water near you and the water heater.
Step 3: Open a Faucet or Other Hot Water Tap
Your home’s plumbing takes advantage of pressure inside the piping to maintain a consistent flow of water from the main water line to the rest of the house. This pressure needs to be relieved before the hot water can actually flow from the tank. By heading to the nearest faucet or spigot, you’ll release the pressure inside the piping. All you have to do is open the hot water tap to relieve the pressure before heading back to the water heater.
Step 4: Release the Drain Valve
Remember that this water may still have some residual heat. Open the drain valve and allow all the water to drain from the tank. This should pull sediment buildup out of the tank and away from your home. But some buildup may be stuck to the inside of the tank. Turning the cold water supply back on will help flush stubborn minerals and other substances from the tank.
Repeat this step until the water appears clear of sediment or minerals. If the drain isn’t working because of a clog, a trained plumber may be required.
Step 5: Re-Shut the Valve Before Refilling the Water Heater
If everything proceeds like it’s supposed to, you should be able to take care of most excess sediment hiding inside your water heater. Close the drain valve, disconnect the hose and open the water supply to get things working again. As the water heater tank starts to fill, head back to the hot water tap you opened. Once cold water starts to flow, you know the pressure is back where it needs to be.
At this point, you can open the gas valve or flip the breaker switch back on. Like we mentioned before, don’t forget that certain models may need to be entirely full before the water can be safely heated. Make sure you review your manufacturer’s instructions before starting the process.
Keep Your Water Heater Sediment-Free for Best Results
Tank water heaters continue to be a great option for supplying your hot water needs. Draining the tank every 1-2 years will help remove sediment buildup and keep things running at peak efficiency. If you think your water heater is past the point of efficient heating, consider looking for water heater replacement in the Wasatch Front region from a technician you trust.