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Water Heater Disposal: Recycling Your Old Water Heater

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, we may receive a small commission for made purchases.

For as long as I can remember, you would have disposed of your home’s old water heater at a junkyard. Our current understanding of environmental concerns makes water heater recycling a much more appealing alternative. It isn’t just the environment that’s at stake, either. A new water heater can be expensive.

By recycling your old water heater, you reduce your overall carbon footprint. It’s also a handy way to generate some quick cash, which can help make up for having to buy a new water heater. Whether your water heater leaks beyond repair or is simply old and inefficient and you’d like to save on your energy costs, there is more than one option when it comes to disposal of your water heater.

How to recycle your old water heater, with little fuss.

All across the United States there are local scrapyards which offer cash upfront for a variety of reusable materials. Some people even save cans and glass bottles from everyday use, then take them to these scrapyards when they’ve accumulated a significant amount; this is particularly common in states which don’t offer bottle redemption (I’ve done it myself in Ohio when living there).

If you take your old water heater to one of these scrapyards, you can usually recycle it as-is. This one-step method is easily the most convenient way to engage in water heater recycling with an eye towards the immediate benefit of your wallet. Scrapyards post their prices openly, and are likely to feature a specific price for water heaters.

If you have the tools, you can tear a water heater apart, and see what’s inside!

Typically, a scrapyard will present a price for water heaters. This may be dependent upon what is inside of a water heater, which includes a metal coil for heating water as it passes through the appliance.

While modern water heaters are sometimes manufactured with coils made of other materials, older water heaters are usually manufactured with copper coils. Since a water heater lasts anywhere from 10-20 years, depending upon how often it is used, there is a substantial likelihood that any old water heater you pick up will have a copper coil inside.

It is possible that, depending upon what your old water heater’s coil was manufactured from, you can get a better price on its contents than you can on the appliance as a whole. This is reliant primarily on how much effort you’re willing to put into your water heater recycling, but disassembling an old water heater isn’t particularly difficult.

Take the time to pull off bits and bobs.

Water heaters are usually classed by scrapyards as mixed-metal items containing tin and a light amount of iron. However, there are most likely small pieces, spouts, pipes and spigots which are crafted of non-ferrous metals, most notably copper. Copper is a more valuable scrap metal than iron or tin.

By removing these protruding pipes and other bits, you can improve the overall scrap value of an old water heater by a substantial amount, even if you don’t bother opening it up to see what’s inside. I would still strongly advise that you do so: if there are copper pipes on the outside of your water heater, you stand a good chance of finding a copper coil on the inside.

Recycle copper and other non-ferrous items separately, and benefit from their increased return. If you’re a salvager, and you’ve been able to get your hands on several old water heaters for recycling, this step will be of considerable value to you.

Practical water heater recycling involves putting old water heaters to new use.

This one requires a little knowhow, but it’s possible to use an old water heater to improve the efficiency of a newer water heater. This can prolong the lifespan of the newer water heater considerably.

To do this, take an old water heater (make sure you use one that isn’t leaking) and put it in a warm location. Don’t connect it to any power source, but connect it to your home’s water system so that it functions as an intermediary stop for cold water that’s on its way to your new water heater.

Your old water heater will function as a tempering tank, warming up cold water passively. This will reduce strain on your new water heater, as well as reducing demands on your home’s energy expenditure, saving you money in the long run.

Consider donating your old water heater.

Sometimes, a water heater requires upgrading because it’s simply not big enough to handle the output demanded by a large house. If this is the case, and your old water heater is still in working condition, I might suggest that you at least consider donating it.

You can run an ad in the local newspaper, or online, offering a working hot water heater for anyone who can haul it away. Alternatively, you might try your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. Some of their locations accept hot water heaters which are still in working order; they’ll even come and pick it up for you, and you can claim the donation as a valuable tax deduction.

author avatar
Anthony Barnes
Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age


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