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Winterizing house - what to do with water heater?

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Winterizing house - what to do with water heater?

Old 11-16-2020, 08:04 AM
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Default Winterizing house - what to do with water heater?

I'm been leaving my house for several months over the winter for the past 6 years with no real issues yet. Recently I was talking to a neighbor about his water heater failing and now I'm rethinking my strategy. I typically leave my house's heat on 58, shut off main water supply into the house and turn the water heater on low. My water heater is a stand alone gas unit that is 12 years old. I was thinking of completely draining the unit this year while I'm away but I'm wondering it that be worse for tank with air in it in terms of rusting out. I flushed the tank last weak and zero rust or sentiment came out.
Old 11-16-2020, 08:18 AM
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I would not drain it. Oxygen is what drives corrosion, and draining it introduces lots of air (with oxygen). The water captive in the tank has a little dissolved O2, but once this is used up in corroding metal, the corrosion stops.

If in an area exposed to your 58F heat, I'd turn it off. If it could freeze, leave it on low.

Where is the house? How cold can it get?
Old 11-16-2020, 08:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Corndog38 View Post
I would not drain it. Oxygen is what drives corrosion, and draining it introduces lots of air (with oxygen). The water captive in the tank has a little dissolved O2, but once this is used up in corroding metal, the corrosion stops.

If in an area exposed to your 58F heat, I'd turn it off. If it could freeze, leave it on low.

Where is the house? How cold can it get?
House is in southern RI. Tank is in unheated basement but I bet it it never gets much below 50 down there.

My biggest fear is tank leaking while I'm away.
Old 11-16-2020, 08:59 AM
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Any drains in your basement that you could divert a leakage to, if it ever happened? If not, turn off the gas valve to the tank as well as the cold water supply to it. Worst case is you'd only have the contents of the tank leak out. It goes w/out saying to make sure nothing water-sensitive is left on the floor while you're gone.
Old 11-16-2020, 09:06 AM
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I'd leave it full and maybe pick up a leak detector. The price for these has come down significantly and you can link them via wifi now. I had them put in my business when I found out how cheap they are now....just in case we lose a HW heater during a holiday period.
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Old 11-16-2020, 09:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Cobia 217 View Post
Any drains in your basement that you could divert a leakage to, if it ever happened? If not, turn off the gas valve to the tank as well as the cold water supply to it. Worst case is you'd only have the contents of the tank leak out. It goes w/out saying to make sure nothing water-sensitive is left on the floor while you're gone.
Unfortunately no drains. 50 gallon tank.
Old 11-16-2020, 09:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Bucklene View Post
Unfortunately no drains. 50 gallon tank.
I like the leak detector idea, or even one of the security cameras that you can monitor on your cell phone. Cheap peace of mind either way.
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Old 11-16-2020, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by PolishFly_Maine View Post
I'd leave it full and maybe pick up a leak detector. The price for these has come down significantly and you can link them via wifi now. I had them put in my business when I found out how cheap they are now....just in case we lose a HW heater during a holiday period.
I was thinking of getting a Simply Safe system with water alarms but didn't get my act together in time. I have a neighbor check the house weekly while I'm away.
Old 11-16-2020, 09:22 AM
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So it doesn't seem like anyone is in favor of draining the tanking for the winter?
Old 11-16-2020, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Bucklene View Post
So it doesn't seem like anyone is in favor of draining the tanking for the winter?
Since you've got a human monitor, I'd just continue to do what you've been doing. Maybe ask the neighbor to check it more frequently due to the tank's age. If you drain it, you could end up needing to replace it soon after you return and refill it (see posts above about O2).
Old 11-16-2020, 09:44 AM
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As long as you are turning the water off to the house and the water heater is in a pan with a drain you should be fine to leave it full. With the water off to the house you have a limited about of pressure if you leak somewhere outside of the pan area so that damage is minimized. As long as the pan drains some where safe the if the heater leaks that should be contained as well.

Last edited by rldraugh; 11-16-2020 at 09:51 AM.
Old 11-16-2020, 10:35 AM
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Water heaters usually start with a slow leak

Run a dehumidifier to a condensate pump that pumps the water outside.
If really concerned, add a pump to a pan under the water heater.


Old 11-16-2020, 10:45 AM
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Surprised that a basement in the NE has no sump. Most all I've been in have had a way to pump out water from whatever source.

With water supply to house turned off, worst case leak would be the 50gal plus a bit more in piping. With a sump pump it would be no big deal.

And agree with others that a tank with no pressure is highly unlikely to dump its contents should a leak form. Probably just a wet spot on tank insulation, leak will become real when you turn the water back on in the spring!
Old 11-16-2020, 10:48 AM
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We own a property in a marina in Wyoming where it gets damn cold in the winter. Most of us drain our entire homes, including water heaters, put RV antifreeze in toilets and p-traps, AND leave the heat on low, like 55 degrees just in case. One year we got a lot of snow and the propane company couldn't get in to refill tanks on their regular schedule. The tanks ran out, everything froze, and those that didn't drain had water heaters, toilets and all kinds of pipe breaks to fix at the start of the spring thaw. If the tank rusts through, at least I will likely be there when it fails and can throw another one in.
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Old 11-16-2020, 10:53 AM
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Second that ^^^^ about draining whole house piping above basement in case heat fails.

I'd still leave water heater tank full in basement due to the corrosion issue.
Old 11-16-2020, 11:16 AM
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We drain ours but the house is un-insulated so we drain everything blow out everything then put antifreeze in the traps and toilets.

We run no heat turn off all the powers and turn off water at the street.
Old 11-16-2020, 11:24 AM
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I drain my lake house for the winter... every pipe and the water heater. Our WH is electric so the trick with that one is not to turn it back on before it gets water in it. I put a hunk of tape over the breaker so no one accidentally powers it up.
Old 11-16-2020, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Corndog38 View Post
Surprised that a basement in the NE has no sump. Most all I've been in have had a way to pump out water from whatever source.

With water supply to house turned off, worst case leak would be the 50gal plus a bit more in piping. With a sump pump it would be no big deal.

And agree with others that a tank with no pressure is highly unlikely to dump its contents should a leak form. Probably just a wet spot on tank insulation, leak will become real when you turn the water back on in the spring!
I have never owned/rented a house with a sump. I won't buy one with one either. Dry basement / no flood zone is my preference.

That said, back to OPs question, I'd blow out lines with air/drain everything. I would not rely on heat going unless I had an unlimited supply and/or backup generator to keep things going during extended power outage.

Same with my boat, its heated but I drain everything in case the power goes out during freezing temps.
Old 11-16-2020, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Rockchalk View Post
I drain my lake house for the winter... every pipe and the water heater. Our WH is electric so the trick with that one is not to turn it back on before it gets water in it. I put a hunk of tape over the breaker so no one accidentally powers it up.
Yup been there done that
Old 11-16-2020, 01:00 PM
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We kill the water (water well for us).

Kill the water heaters and fully drain, we leave two faucets open just in case there is water still in the lines to allow for expansion.

We do it multiple times a year at the camp.

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