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How do you (safely) access the water in your water heater in case of outage?

When talking about water preparedness I always hear that we should take into account the 30 or 40 or however many gallons of water stored in our water heater. I mean that if the water goes out we can drain the water heater for drinking, washing, and whatever other vital uses. But for a person like me, who’s not very handy or knowledgeable about repairs, I have no idea how to drain my water heater except in the normal way, by running the hot water in my faucet. Can anybody provide any guides or links to guides where I might learn?

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  • Comments (7)

    • 5

      Your water heater should have a spigot on the side, near the bottom, for draining it for repair. It connects to a standard hose fitting if it is too low for a bucket.

    • 4

      Your hot water heater should have  a faucet, threaded for a hose attachment, somewhere at its base.  You can drain water into containers, turning the flow on or off at will.

      • 4

        This. Plus the water will flow more easily if you open a faucet elsewhere in the house (turned fully to hot, of course).

      • 3

        Why does running a tap elsewhere makes the on-tank valve flow more easily? I assume it has to do with pressure, but can’t see why.

      • 2

        In order for water to flow out of the tank, something else has to flow into your plumbing system to displace it. Ordinarily that would be fresh cold water entering the tank through its supply line, with that water ultimately coming from your water main. If no water’s coming in from your water main however, the only other option is for air to displace the water in your pipes (or tank) to allow that water to flow out. If all of your taps are closed when you try to drain the tank, then the only place the air can enter your system is at the tap on the tank itself. You know how when you try to pour water out of a jug it goes “glug, glug, glug” as it alternates between water pouring out and air getting sucked in? That’s what will happen when you drain the tank, unless you open a hot water tap somewhere else in the house, in which case water can drain from the tank, and air can enter the plumbing system simultaneously, which is much more efficient.

    • 2

      Two things. One is that from reading a little about it online in the last couple of days, it’s obvious that you don’t just turn on the faucet on the tank and drain it. There are quite a few more steps. Two: it seems that, if you don’t drain your water heater for a long time, the water that comes out of it is disgusting, dirty with lots of corrosion. That would be a big disappointment if planning to use it in an emergency!

      • 1

        I drained mine last fall and we literally just opened the tap on the bottom. Closing the cold water supply, shutting of the gas/electricity should be done when those are operational. If they aren’t, that’s not a problem. The electric is as easy as flipping a breaker. The gas shutoff is a valve turn.

        Yes, as part of regular maintenance, you should drain your water heater once a year to remove any sediment from around the element. It helps the element stay cleaner and working happily. However, if you have a “gunky” hot water heater, it is sediment from your water supply, which I presume is potable, and something that you can filter with a cloth if you need the water.