Washing vegetables underneath running sink

The title of “homeowner” can carry many duties – landscaper, decorator, even plumber. And while it’s best to leave big jobs to the professionals, some tasks, like draining your water heater, are often manageable.

But why drain your water heater in the first place? Water heaters have large tanks that hold surplus water to ensure a supply is always available. The problem is, sediment builds up in these tanks over time, reducing their carrying capacity, clogging the drain and shortening their lifespan. Homeowners can help their water heaters last longer by draining their tanks. And if you’re not sure how it’s done, you’re in the right place. Let’s get into it.

Signs you need to drain your water heater

First off, how do you know when it’s time to drain? Most people don’t even think about their hot water heaters unless they’ve stopped working, which, unsurprisingly, is one of the main signs your heater needs to be drained. Lack of hot water isn’t the only sign, however. Other indications include strange noises coming from your water heater or a bad smell, which could indicate bacteria growing in the sediment.

Steps to drain water heater

Turn off water supply and water heater

It’s generally a bad idea to work on any piece of machinery while it’s on, and water heaters are no exception. Turn off your water in addition to your water heater to ensure more water doesn’t flow in while you’re working. For electric heaters, cut power by flipping the associated breaker switch on your electrical panel. If you’re trying to learn how to drain a gas water heater, your method will be slightly different - simply turn the thermostat to its pilot setting before proceeding.

Connect a hose to the drain valve

You’ll find a drain valve near the bottom of the tank. This valve should be able to connect with a garden hose just like you would with an outdoor spigot. After connecting the hose, feed it into a safe draining location like a large tub, floor drain or some outdoor space.

Open hot water tap

Before you go any further, find whichever hot water tap is closest to your water heater and open it up while you work. This will ease pressure in the tank and help it drain.

Open drain valve

Once you’ve got everything else ready, go ahead and open the drain valve. Keep in mind that the water is very hot, so be careful! Let the tank drain until it’s empty, then turn on the cold water to flush it out. Turn the cold water on and off until you don’t see any sediment in the water draining from your tank.

Close the valve, refill tank, restart water heater

Once your tank is clean, close the valve, remove the hose and turn your water supply back on so the tank can refill. Turn off the tap you opened earlier once water begins to flow from it again. Finally, turn the water heater back on either by flipping the breaker switch (for electric) or turning the gas valve back to the “on” position. Before doing this, check whether your tank needs to be filled completely to be safely turned on.1

How often to drain your water heater

A good rule of thumb is to clean your water heater annually. This will help it last longer and prevent other issues like pressure buildup and diminished efficacy.  Be on the lookout for the previously mentioned signs that draining may be necessary, however. Sediment may build up at a faster pace and require more frequent draining. Learn more about hot water heater maintenance.

Routine maintenance is a great way to prevent unexpected issues, but sometimes the unexpected happens anyway. And when it does, a reliable homeowners insurance policy can go a long way in protecting your home. Get an obligation-free quote from Nationwide today.

[1] “How to Drain a Water Heater: 6 Steps & Tips,” snellheatingandair.com/blog/how-to-drain-a-water-heater-6-steps-tips/ (Accessed November 2023)

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