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Water Heaters 101> Emergency Preparedness

What you'll find on this page: A water heater can play an important role in case of a disaster. It may be the only drinkable water you have left. But it may fail you at that critical moment if you haven't taken steps to make sure water will really flow out of it when you need it.

A pile of sediment vacuumed out of a water heater

You might not realize it, but a water heater can be a key element in your planning for emergencies. That's because the water it holds is supposed to be drinkable. But depending on what you do with your tank, this may not be true.

Plastic cone and spigot drain valves

For one thing, the plastic drain valves that come with water heaters, such as the two that are shown at left, rarely work well and often are easily clogged by sediment buildup. You can see a typical pile of sediment at the top of the page. It came out of a tank in a hard-water area. If a plastic drain valve gets clogged and you need the water, there is no way to get it short of tilting the tank over, and a full one will weigh several hundred pounds.

It is also true that various kinds of gunk build up on the tank bottom. The water heater is supposed to be full of drinkable water, and for the most part, it's safe. But if you ever flush one, you shouldn't be shocked to see rusty water, sediment that looks like gravel or sand, and if there is an aluminum anode, a lot of jelly.

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Nobody would want to drink any of that without filtering it, and the jelly-like aluminum corrosion byproduct is the most pernicious. We have a little booklet written by a doctor after World War I. He did experimentation on how readily aluminum leaches into water and its effects on the human body. It's unhealthy stuff. I got rid of all my aluminum cookware and aluminum deodorant when I read it.

Waterheaterrescue.com is both business and public service. I never push anyone to buy something they don't need, but in this case, EVERYBODY should replace their water heater drain valve with a ball valve drain assembly like the one above -- plastic-lined steel nipple, brass valve, hose adapter, cap -- at bare minimum. It's not that hard to do, especially when the heater is new.

A full sediment flush kit with curved dip tube and ball-valve assembly is an even better idea. It's good for extending the life of the heater, which is what we're mainly about, and good for keeping the amount of undrinkable gunk building up on the bottom of the tank to a bare minimum, to say nothing of keeping it from clogging the drain valve. If your heater is going to be an emergency water supply, you're going to need to be able to access it!

An advantage of ball valves is that they have a straight path that can easily be cleared with a screwdriver if something does clog them up. That's impossible with those sad little plastic drain valves. The ball valve, which is the kind we sell, just happens to have another slight advantage to it. Due to a change in California law, it's lead free. Click on the link to learn more about that.

Another thing that can be an issue, depending on where you live is the need for earthquake strapping in seismically active areas. You can buy kits for that, but they should be bolted into wall studs, not plasterboard. You don't want your water heater to break loose and blow up or start a fire.


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