How To Lift A Water Heater (Quickly & Easily!)

Ryan Womeldorf
by Ryan Womeldorf

Everything has a shelf life. No matter how many good years you manage to get out of your water heater, it will eventually need to be replaced. For most of us, that means going from a fairly huge tank to a new tank or tankless water heater.

But how do you lift the old water heater out so that you can install the new one? Safety is important as it can be all too easy to hurt yourself along the way. Sure, you could lift it without any assistance, but why do things the hard way? The most efficient way is through the use of straps and, ideally, a hand cart.

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How to Lift a Water Heater

To put it in comparison to another appliance, an empty water heater will likely weigh anywhere from 125-175 pounds. Obviously, that can vary depending on the size of the tank involved, but that is generally what you are going to contend with.

The challenge is not necessarily in moving it, but in doing so safely. There are far too many stories out there where someone tried to lift their water heater tank by themselves only to end up in a bad way.

Step 1: Get a Friend

If you don’t want to get too fancy about your removal process and don’t want to go it alone, a friend or family member is never a bad idea. You can even plan ahead so that you know you have help at the time of removal.

This way, one person can grab each end and the two of you can carry the water heater out easily. Where stairs are involved, a two-person operation is probably the most ideal. This way, all of the burden is not on you to carry the weight and navigate the staircase.

Step 2: Just Lift It

This is definitely not recommended for more than a few reasons. The most obvious being that the water heater tank is heavy and a slip and fall could have it crashing down on you. If you are feeling bold or don’t want to go through the effort of another method, this one could work.

The caveat is the layout of the house. If you have a single-story house, it may be relatively easy to just lug the old water heater out yourself. But for multi-story homes, where the water heater is likely in a basement, navigating the stairs can present serious dangers.

Should there be stairs involved, it is strongly recommended that you do not try to remove the water heater by hand and by yourself. There are better, more efficient ways to get the job done.

Step 3: Hand Truck

This method and the next one are virtually the same with a major difference. Having a hand cart around can come in handy for more than a few things, moving an old water heater in particular. If you do not have a hand cart already, consider adding one to your inventory.

With a hand cart, you can angle the bottom panel underneath the water heater, tipping it back toward you. This part can be tricky without the proper safety precautions, so work slow and steady to ensure that the water heater doesn’t come flying back at you.

For single-story homes, you can probably get away with not using straps. With a little time and patience, you can load the water heater onto your hand cart, rolling it through the front door. It is where stairs are involved that things become questionable.

Step 4: Hand Truck and Straps

The single most effective method for removing an old water heater tank on your own is this one. The hand truck is part of the equation. It takes nearly all of the stress of lifting off of your shoulders, making it easy to move even the heaviest of items.

That said, stability is an issue. Enter the straps. The proper hand truck kit should come with metallic strap supports. You then wrap the strap around the tank, through the supports, and weave them accordingly through the handles of the hand truck.

The idea here is to make the water heater rest steadily on the hand truck. This is optimal for navigating staircases because then you don’t have to worry about the water heater tank falling off of the hand truck. For one person removals, it is highly recommended that a hand truck and straps be used.

What to Do With Your Old Water Heater

You have made the decision to upgrade to a new water heater. The old unit has been removed and put to the side while the new unit is installed. Everything is in place and ready to start working. But what do you do with the old water heater tank?

There are plenty of options when it comes to the removal and disposal of your old water heater. Here are just a few of the most practical options.

Donate the Old Water Heater

An upgrade may be necessary because the old unit is simply that: old. It can also be due to an increase in usage that the old water heater cannot accommodate. So long as your old water heater works properly and is in good shape, you can give it away.

Call your local donation center, like a Habitat Restore, and ask if they are accepting water heaters. The good news is two-fold. One, you have a way to get rid of that old water heater. Two, you can make it a tax-deductible donation.

The only bad news is that you have to get it to them. If you don’t have any help or a vehicle big enough to transport it, you may need to find another option or call up a friend that can help.

Recycle the Old Water Heater

Maybe your old water heater isn’t in the shape where it can be donated. Either that or you determine that it is simply too big of a hassle to donate the thing. So, what do you do with it then? Try recycling your old water heater.

The vast majority of water heater tanks are made from steel. Not only that, but they have brass and copper attachments. Your local recycling center will typically offer you the going rate for those materials but beware as there may be a disposal fee involved.

Depending on your recycling center, some may even be able to arrange a pickup. Because state laws pertaining to scrap metal can vary, be sure to talk to the recycling center before just dropping it off.

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Trash It

Depending on your municipality, there may be designated mass trash pickup days. That means you are able to put out larger items like tables, furniture, and even water heaters. Give your local garbage service a call to see if they offer it.

Some areas even offer a curbside pickup to recycle or refurbish the unit. You may have to pay extra in some instances, so it is imperative to call ahead first. Still, this is a fast, effective way of getting rid of that old unit.

Take it to a Landfill

If your municipality does not offer a pickup and you don’t plan to donate it, throwing it out is still an option. But don’t just take it to your local dumpster. Call your local landfill; they typically accept water heaters for disposal, but likely will charge a fee. Some landfills may even have a recycling program, but call ahead first to avoid any unexpected surprises.

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Ryan Womeldorf
Ryan Womeldorf

Ryan Womeldorf has more than a decade of experience writing. He loves to blog about construction, plumbing, and other home topics. Ryan also loves hockey and a lifelong Buffalo sports fan.

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