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We are new homeowners. Our 11-year-old 2nd-floor water heater was leaking and the first plumber who came told us he would need to come back with a partner to take it away. I asked if I could drain it in the meantime and he said that doing so could disturb the sediment at the bottom of the tank causing a much worse leak and likely water damage. He said he usually removes leaking water heaters without draining the water till they're outside the house.

This sounded like a recipe for disaster, and it probably would have been. As commenters and the correct answer below say, if you're ever told this, at the very least:

GET A SECOND OPINION!!!

The plumber who came today said that in 20 years he has never had problems draining a water heater, and he drained ours without incident. It was then easy to remove and replace.

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    What exactly did he mean by cause a disaster? Bigger leak? Drain outlet clogging from the sediment leaving it partly full? With the carrying of the water heater down the stairs, the sloshing will disturb the sediment causing more leaking and what happens when a water heater full of water gets away being trundled down stairs, plus the possilble damage to the stair treads from all that weight... I kind of wonder. With the cold water shut off, no more water goes in, so eliminating the water means less of a leak. Sep 15 '13 at 15:15
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    Maybe the plumber meant that if you drain it once a day, and fill it and power it up once a day for showers and stuff, the sediment will clog valves and orifices in hot water appliances and ruin clothes in the washer. But carrying it out full would be a joke. I'd find a new plumber.
    – mike
    Sep 15 '13 at 16:54
  • Check with your insurance company. Damage from failed plumbing should be covered. Sep 15 '13 at 22:07
  • Where is it leaking from? Turning off the cold water supply shuts off the main pressure but you'll still have the pressure of all the water weight so it makes sense that your leak won't magically stop. If you're going to replace it and your relief valve has a hose bib, you can safely drain it out of the house no problem
    – Jason
    Sep 16 '13 at 15:20
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Ranch experience says, shut off the power and the cold water inlet valve, drain the thing and leave it sit empty.

Get out your biggest Dutch Oven, fill it with water, heat it and take sponge baths. If you're out of clothing, go to the nearest laundromat and process your smalls and whatever else you're running out of.

Whatever this "Home Warranty" thing is, as "The Evil Greebo" points out, you probably have other coverage that will be more useful in a timely manner.

And find a plumber that isn't going to hand truck a full tank of water down stairs when you could run a hosepipe out the nearest window and water the lawn.

Make sure he's licensed, bonded and insured in case you decide that "50 Gallon Air Drop" is a viable way of removing this water heater.

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Water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon, so a 55 gallon heater will weight about 450 pounds. I would be worried about stairs breaking!

Seriously, I have never heard of a full tank removal of a hot water heater for replacement. We drain, and if necessary, pump, and then remove a nearly empty or empty water heater.

Besides, if that 450 pound water heater with 55 gallons of water got away from the plumber, how much damage would it do, versus a 50 or 70 pound empty or nearly empty water heater?

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If you really had to, you could de-pressurize it and put a smaller diameter hose in the top (e.g. through the sacrificial anode hole) and use a pump to pump the water out. Might take a while, but far easier than trying to move a full tank of water.

This also avoids the problem of clogging your output valve.

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If using the draincock is not desired due to inaccessibility or fear of clogging it, one could siphon from the top inlet or outlet. The siphon is easy to start with a nearby faucet, and a larger diameter hose can be used to help suck up debris at the bottom of the tank if desired.

If there is not a nearby place to dump the water, it can be siphoned into 5 gal buckets, and those dumped while the hose is pinched off.

A siphon is simpler than a pump.

This answer is simply addressing a way of draining the tank not using the draincock at the bottom of the tank.

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