Plumbing, Water Heaters

What To Do With An Old Water Heater? (12 Recycling Tips)

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After 12 years of service, your water heater might have started to show signs of aging. It’s common for well-kept water heaters to last more than 15 years. However, if you are spending more money on water heater repairs, it might be time to toss it out for a new and better model. 

But depending on its working condition, here are some of the best things to do with an old water heater:

  • Donate it to a charity if the heater still works and claim a charitable tax donation
  • Give it away to someone else in need if all it needs is a minor touch up
  • Remove valuable metals such as copper and sell them
  • Scrap it as a whole 
  • Recycle it into something you can use at home, such as a smoker or solar water heater
  • Or simply dump it if it’s past salvaging.

If you are gearing up to upgrade your old water heaters and are looking for ways to get rid of your old one, we cover the what, where, and how to make the most of your old water heater. 

How Do You Get Rid Of An Old Water Heater?

Water heaters are heavy units. Some weigh up to 150 pounds. Therefore getting rid of an old water heater can be a challenge. Some professional removal companies provide water heater removal services for a fee. Some of those removal companies even offer post-removal cleanup. 

However, an old water heater doesn’t mean it has zero value. It could still be in working condition. Or it may be salvageable for a few parts. 

1. Donate it to a Church or Charity

If your old water heater still works, consider donating it to a church or charitable organization. These charitable organizations sometimes take working units to expand the organization’s capacity for providing conveniences like hot water. 

Places like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and Habitat For Humanity are great places to look if you want to donate. They might have limitations such as you paying for transport to get the water heater to them. However, that is up for discussion since you are already giving them working equipment for free. 

Check with local churches or schools to see if they may have an interest in using it. Many churches have elderly members who could benefit from a used water heater.

The best thing about donation is that you can claim it as tax-deductible when you file taxes. 

2. Junk It At A Landfill

After long service, say 12-20 years, you’re likely to have gotten the most out of your water heater’s initial value. At this point, junking it is well within reason. However, not all landfills accept water heaters. 

Water heaters are mostly empty spaces. The space can sometimes fill up with hazardous gases. These gases can damage the landfill or harm the people that work at the landfill.

Therefore, you need to get the correct information to know whether your local landfills accept old water tanks as junk. 

If a landfill is a non-option in your locality, you should check for municipal clean-up days. Clean-up days allow you to put out anything you want to dispose of. The city authority authorized to collect the junk will take away your old water heater at no cost. Again, like landfills, check your city’s policy to see if it’s an option. 

There’s another option if the last two aren’t available. 

Bulk waste collection is a service in some cities where residents put anything on the curb, and the waste management authority picks it up and does away with it.

However, due to the weight and size of water heaters, you might want to call and ask if there are any specific charges for disposing of an old water heater. 

If you’re tossing out the old water heater for a new one, call your installation company and ask about their disposal policy for the old ones. Most installation companies will remove the old water heaters and dispose of them. There might be an additional service charge, but most will do it for free as a professional courtesy. 

3. Call Home Depot Or Lowes

If you plan on getting a new water heater from megastores such as Lowes and Home Depot, you can get them to get rid of your old water heater at zero cost. They will take your water heater and dispose of it for recycling. They’ll likely have an easier time disposing of it for recycling because of their big-brand status. 

This is generally the case only if they are installing the new water heater.

4. Sell Your Old Water Heater Online

If your old water heater works, there’s a chance someone will want to buy it. The initial investment of a water heater is high for some people. They would appreciate having hot water and only pay a lesser amount for the convenience of one. 

Place an advertisement on mass traffic sites such as Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Facebook has groups for second-hand stuff. Craigslist and e-commerce sites such as eBay get a ton of traffic of people looking for a bargain.

5. Buyback Programs do Exist if You Look

Some programs buy back your old water heater heaters IF you are installing a new one. These programs have different conditions. 

For instance, some programs will give you a specified amount for your old water heater only if it is less than eight years old. The value depends on the assessment they do. This kind of arrangement is not pegged on the installation of a new water heater. Instead, they buy water heaters that can be fixed. 

Some programs that buy old water heaters when installing a new one from them will even deduct the cost from your current purchase and installation fee. 

6. Scrap it at a Local Metal Salvage Yard

Scraping old water heaters is a popular option when people want to get rid of their water heaters. You can either scrap the entire tank or take it apart and strip it of all the precious metals. 

Water heaters typically have non-iron materials. Heater manufacturers extensively use copper and brass in water heaters. Remove the metals and sell those separately.

Ensure you have checked for any valuable metals, especially metals such as brass that are more susceptible to corrosion. You’ll need to chip away the corrosion with a flathead screwdriver to get the brass beneath.

Gas models have more value at scrap yards. The gas regulator is a valuable asset to a scrap yard if it is working. 

More on that shortly. First, let’s consider some repurposing projects around the house.

Can I Repurpose My Old Water Heater?

Recycling a water heater is a great way to reduce waste and get yourself a nice DIY project you can use around the house. Once you remove the important bits, such as the brass fittings, copper wires, and aluminum anodes, you can still make useful products. These are some nice DIY projects you can get from an old water heater: 

1. Turn An Old Water Heater Into A Horizontal Or Vertical Smoker 

This DIY project needs some elbow grease since you have to scrape out the insulation, fill out any holes left where fittings used to be, and then prime inside so it will be food-safe. 

Add doors and hinges, weld on some legs for support, and add an adjustable grill. Voila! You have a smoker ready for weekend barbeques. Check out these guides on how to build DIY smokers from old water heaters.

2. Turn An Old Water Heater Into A Storage Tank

This is an easy DIY conversion project that uses your old water heater. Connect an inlet pipe to the old water heater’s inlet. Connect the outlet of the old heater to the new water heater’s inlet. This way, the water that comes into the old water heaters gets to room temperature before it’s dispersed to the new unit. 

Additionally, you have it as a storage tank for water you can use outside. Use the water in your old tank to water your yard, wash your car, or fill up your inflatable pool during summer playtime. 

3. Turn An Old Water Heater Into A Solar Water Heater

Just because it’s an old water heater doesn’t mean you can’t turn it into a solar water heater. It is even more effective in a household that has high utility costs because of heating. The solar water heater uses the sun’s power to preheat water before it gets to your home. 

Remove the tank’s casing and strip down any insulation. Paint the surface with non-fade black paint to retain heat and reduce reflection. 

Build a housing unit for the old water heater and line it with reflective material. Cover the housing box with polycarbonate panels. Connect your DIY water heater to your home’s central water system and test it out. 

Ensure the pressure valve is working the reduce the risk of an overheating accident. 

Pro tip: This is an intensive DIY. You might need a solar energy expert to do the water heater to solar heater conversion. If you consider it a worthy project, call a professional. 

4. Turn An Old Water Heater Into An Outdoor Wood Stove

Outdoor wood stoves work almost like a fire pit. The only difference is the wood stuff has targeted heat direction. 

Typically, some water heaters are long, so you might need to cut them down to a comfortable size. Weld legs or a stable stand at the bottom to raise it off the ground. Cut off a section of the heater to make the air inlet. You can fashion the cut-out into a door and leave space at the bottom as an ash collection point. 

Attach a cylinder cut out on the opposite end as a chimney. 

5. Create an Outdoor Planter Bed

Planter beds can be made from all sorts of things, even old water heaters. It’s better to repurpose old items rather than see them end up in a landfill or junkyard.

There is always room for fun planters in a home garden. Old water heaters make beautiful garden planters.

You can cut the water heaters vertically or horizontally in the middle. Use both halves to plant whatever you want. Tomatoes, bell peppers, chilies, and flowers can grow well in planters.

Horizontal planters that look like half-cylinder troughs have more space but less depth than vertical planters. 

Cutting the water heater in half and removing the internal tank and insulation can be used for a raised planter bed. You may want to weld a metal stand to the halves to prevent the rounded half from rolling around.

However, it’s not really necessary. The weight of the soil will be sufficient to hold the water heater planter in place.

How Much Is An Old Water Heater Worth For Scrap?

Scrap yards usually price scrap by ranking it as light iron, light steel, shred, or mixed steel. Selling the entire water heater can get you about $0.04 or $0.05/lb. If your old water heater weighs about 150lbs, you’ll make about $7. Prices can go up to $30. 

Factors such as your old water heater’s size, your location, and the current scrap price will affect the amount you get. 

Is It Worth Scrapping A Water Heater?

Scrapping a water heater will prove worth it even if you’re not getting much for it. After all, if you are going to dispose of it, you might as well make some money. You can make money from scrapping your old water heater if you take it apart and sell valuable bits of it

How Do You Get More From Scrapping An Old Water Heater?

Stripping your water heater off all its valuable metals before scraping will ensure you get more money than taking it to the scrap yard. Additionally, you can do the following:

Remove valuable non-ferrous metals

Water heaters are loaded with precious metals that would sell better as individual items. They have copper, zinc, magnesium, and brass that fetch better prices. Find non-ferrous metals using a magnet. Run it from the top of the heater. You are likely to find precious metals that won’t stick to the magnet. 

The magnesium anode may not be worth anything, especially if they’ve been eaten away by the corrosion. The anode is typically sacrificial for impurities that would otherwise erode the tank’s lining. 

Sell the regulator

Gas tanks with the regulator are hot property at the scrap yard. You might even get more for the regulator than the water heater. Remove the regulator and sell it as a separate component. 

How To Scrap Your Old Water Heater

Before turning in your water heater to a scrap yard, you might want to make sure you deliver it in prime condition. Follow these steps.

Step 1. Drain The heater

Scrap yards will weigh your tank and value it according to the metal’s weight. Therefore, they will either drain it or ask you to drain it. Drain the tank before cleaning it. 

Step 2. Strip Any Precious Metals

If you’re looking for more value for your heater, this is the best approach. These parts are loaded with such metals.

For copper, look for heating elements in electric water heaters. The copper is either wound up or in pipes. In other models, check the pipes, tubes, and other fittings. You can get up to $2.50 for a pound of copper.

If you want to get brass, find the fittings, drain valves, and protective caps. Gas tanks have brass in the control box knobs and burner assemblies. You can get up to $1.50 per pound of brass.

Aluminum-rich drain pans, valves, and pipes will fetch between 10 cents and $1.50. If you wonder why anode rods are not included here, it’s because they are mostly not worth the trouble unless they have only recently been put in. 

Step 3. Find A Scrap Yard

You might not have to go too far to get a scrapyard. Most places have local scrap yards. However, if you have trouble finding a scrap yard, sites such as Scrap Monster and Scrap Spot are valuable resources. You can also use apps to find out about prices and yards. 

Hint: Some scrap yards need ID verification before they accept scrap. Carry yours. Have your documentation ready and check your state requirements about scrapping and recycling. 

What Is The Lifespan Of A Water Heater?

Most water heaters have an anticipated lifespan of between 8 and 12 years. However, some water heaters cross that line depending on maintenance. These other factors can also affect your water heater’s lifespan.

  • Water quality
  • Maintenance frequency
  • Initial installation quality
  • Your home’s location

It’s normal to want a new replacement if your old water heater is past its lifespan. 

Final Thoughts

Old water heaters might be stubborn fixer-uppers. If it gets to that point, explore the best options, such as recycling or selling them to a scrapyard. If you are unsure how to get rid of an old water heater, contact a water heater recycling center and explore all your options.

Resources such as Earth 911 are valuable in finding recycling centers and sharing recycling tips. 


Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.