Whenever you're going out away for an extended period of time, it's always a good idea to turn off your gas water heater. Shutting off your gas water heater when you won't be using it for a while saves on gas and helps prevent overheating problems that might arise when you aren't there to take care of them. That's not the only reason you may need to shut your heater off, though. If you notice the water heater leaking from the bottom, the pressure-relief valve spewing water or hear the hiss of gas from anywhere around the heater, shutting off the heater is an emergency procedure that can prevent a disaster. The procedure is simple, and it's important to know how to perform it.
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Water Heater Shut Off Valve
The gas control valve is usually red or black and is located on the front of the tank near the bottom. It may be hidden by insulation; if so, pull back the insulation to reveal it. The dial selector should be pointed to the "On" position. Turn the dial past the "Pilot" position to the "Off" position. This shuts off the pilot as well as preventing the burner from igniting. Remove the heat shield from under the valve and look inside – you shouldn't see any flame from the pilot tube. If you only want to turn off the heater for a few minutes for servicing, turn the dial to "Pilot." The pilot flame will remain lit, but the burner won't cycle on.
Turn Off the Gas Line Valve
If you're leaving the house for an extended period, or you hear hissing coming from the heater, you should also turn off the gas valve in the gas supply line. You should see a shut-off valve on the gas line somewhere near the heater. Turn the gas valve 1/4 turn until the lever is perpendicular to the gas line to shut off the gas. If you don't see a valve near the heater, follow the gas line until you find one. You shouldn't have any trouble locating it because it's required to be in an accessible location. If you can't find it for some reason, contact your gas utility for recommendations.
Turn Off the Water Heater
If you plan to leave your house during the winter when temperatures might get cold enough to freeze the water in the tank, you should drain the heater as a precaution. Wait for 12 hours after turning off the gas to let the water in the tank cool down to avoid getting scalded. To drain the tank:
- Place a bucket under the open end of the pressure relief valve's discharge pipe. Open the pressure relief valve and hold it open to release any pressure or steam from the tank. Release the lever gently.
- Attach a hose to the drain valve on the bottom of the tank.
- Run the hose to a location where you can safely drain the water. It's usually best if this location is at a lower elevation. Draining the water into your garden is a way to avoid wasting it.
- Close the cold water valve to the heater and open one or several hot-water faucets in the house.
- Open the drain valve and wait for all the water to run out. Close the drain valve.
- Close the faucets.
If the water won't drain, it's probably because mineral deposits are blocking the drain opening. Remove the hose and clear the deposits with a length of wire. Shut off the valve and reattach the hose as soon as the water starts running.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.