Back Button

How to Winterize Hot Water Heaters

Larry Parr

If you are going to be away from home during the winter and you live where temperatures routinely fall below freezing, then you will need to winterize your hot water heater to prevent it from freezing and potentially breaking. The process of winterizing a hot water heater is fairly simple, but it is important that all steps be followed. The most important step is to drain all the water from the heater and the pipes feeding the heater.

  1. Unplug your water heater if it is electric or turn off the gas to the heater if it is a gas heater. If shutting off a gas water heater use a crescent wrench to turn the valve on the gas line 1/2 turn counter-clockwise until the valve is perpendicular to the line. Check to see that the pilot light has gone out. Locate the control box at the bottom and front of the heater and turn the knob to the OFF position.

  2. Locate the incoming water line for the house and turn off the water. The shut-off valve may be on the outside of the house where your exterior hose connection is, or it may be just inside the basement where the water line enters the house. There should be a wheel-type shut-off valve--turn it all the way shut (clockwise).

  3. Locate the drain at the bottom of the tank. The drain should have a connector that a garden hose can be screwed onto. If you have a floor drain or can direct a garden hose to an outside area where the water from the tank can safely drain, then attach a garden hose to the drain. If there is no way to drain the tank with a water hose then you will need to use a bucket and drain the tank one bucket at a time.

  4. Turn the drain on by turning the handle all the way open in a counter-clockwise direction. Open the air vent at the top of the tank by flipping the lever into an upright position. Depending on the style of tank you have and how old it is, it could take up to 30 minutes for the tank to drain completely.

  5. Open all sink faucets in the house, including any faucets in the basement, the kitchen and the bathroom. Leave the faucets open. They should drain a small amount of water and then stop.

  6. Wrap pipes leading into and out of the top of the heater with insulation and wrap duct tape around the insulation to hold it in place. Place a water heater blanket (either a blanket specifically designed for water heaters or a homemade blanket made of a sheet of insulation material and held in place with duct tape) around the tank. It can be argued that this last step is not required, strictly speaking, but if you plan to use your heater again before all danger of freezing temperatures has passed, then wrapping your pipes and heater is an excellent idea.