How Much Copper is in a Water Heater?

An old water heater can be a nuisance to get rid of, but this process could also net you some cash! The components in your old water heater are valuable, specifically when made from brass, aluminum, and (see title) copper! In this article, we’re showing you how to locate the copper in your old water heater and how to scrap it correctly for the most valuable pay-out.

Copper is in a Water Heater

The amount of copper in your water heater varies depending on its design. Typically, there will be a few components made from coppers – the pipes, the tubes, the fittings, the mineral deposit stick, and the heating elements (in the case of an electric water heater). Copper is worth more than other water heater materials (usually about $1.50-$2.50 per pound), so it helps to scrap your water heater tank properly to get full value for what you’re selling. Below, we’ll show you how to do just that.

Related: How long does a water heater stay hot without power?

What is inside of a water heater?

Scrapping your water heater means taking it apart to sell the parts separately. By doing this, you can get more value for each part of the heater because they can be weighed, assessed, and measured individually. Additionally, you can keep buyers honest.

Here’s how to scrap a gas water heater:

Step 1: External Pipes

Start by looking at the top of the water heater (above the cap). There will generally be a couple of pipes extending out the top.

These may be copper pipes and may also use brass, cast iron, galvanized steel, or stainless steel connectors. If you attach a magnet and it doesn’t stick, the pipes likely use these more valuable materials.

Remove the pipes using a simple wrench. If the pipes are rusted or corroded shut, you may need to cut them off with a metal saw or even hammer them loose. (Different ferrous metal may corrode at different rates due to galvanic corrosion, but pex pipe does not corrode.) Gather your copper piping and connectors, and move on to the next step.

Step 2: Check Valves

There should be a drain valve (or multiple) attached to your water heater, which may be located at the top or side of the unit.

Use your magnet to see whether this valve is made from copper or brass. Use a pipe wrench to twist the valve free, or bang it with a sledgehammer to jar it free.

These valves might be among the most valuable parts of the unit.

drain valve located base water heater

Step 3: Gas Regulator

The gas regulator should be located toward the bottom of the water heater unit and include a knob for regulating the gas in the unit. The regulators might be made from many valuable metals and may also be attached to copper wiring. No matter the case, remove the gas regulator from the unit and assess its components.

Removing the gas regulator might require some brute force! You can generally ram it with a sledgehammer and then pull it loose.

Step 4: Do a Thorough Check

It’s worth noting that water heater designs differ. If you see any other components you think may be valuable, then they are worth removing. Other components may include any pipes, fittings, tubes, caps, knobs, or anything else you can spot! Be sure to use your trusty magnet to see whether they are made from more valuable metals.

Step 5: Scrap the Rest of the Tank

Once you’re done removing any components of value, then you still have the entire storage tank! This tank can be scrapped as “mixed metal” to most scrap yards. It’s still quite heavy and should net you a solid price.

As you can see, by separating the tank, we’ve increased our pay-day quite significantly. Note that the process for a tankless heater is different.

What About Electric?

The above guide was for a gas water heater, but you may also encounter an electric water heater. The process is similar, with some unique considerations.

An electric water heater will have heating elements that may use from valuable metals. The heating elements are inside the water heater itself, meaning you will need to open it up to gain access. Also, keep an eye out for any components that may be valuable within the unit.

Aside from this, you can generally scrap the entire heater as mixed metal, similar to what we mentioned above.

Do hot water heaters have copper in them?

Most do! Ultimately, it depends on the brand, type, and style of the water heater.

How much is a water heater worth for scrap?

So, with all that said, how much money can you expect to make by scrapping an old hot water heater when you buy a new water heater?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to give an exact answer. Not only will the price depend on the amount and weight of the components, but it will also depend on the quality of the components. Additionally, it will depend on the market price and the price offered by the scrap yard itself.

Copper will typically be your most valuable part and might be found on pipes, fittings, tubes, mineral deposit sticks, and on heating elements (in the case of an electric heater). Copper might run you $1.50-$2.50 per lb., but it will depend on quality and market price.

Brass is also quite valuable and may be worth close to $1.50 per pound, depending on condition. Brass fittings may be used to make a water heater’s valves, fittings, caps, regulators, and knobs.

Finally, some components may use aluminum scrap or light iron. Of the two, aluminum is more valuable and might be worth up to $1 per pound, but often quite a bit less. Aluminum might be used to make pans, rods, water pipe, and more.

What are water heaters made of?

Water heaters have many components, including a storage hot water tank, flue pipe for the burner, lining to protect the inside of the tank from the water supply, copper heat exchanger, anode rod, a dip tube, heating elements, insulation, pressure relief valves, a drain, compression fittings, discharge pipe or plastic pipe, and a metal enclosure for protection. That said, this does not apply to a tankless water heater.

Conclusion – Scrap It!

As you can see, the exact interior and exterior components which make up a water heater vary quite significantly and will net you a different price depending on the heater (and its current state!). This is why we emphasized the process above.

The best way to get a good price for your water heater is to separate the components yourself. This allows each component to be identified and measured so that you get the maximum value available, especially for copper plumbing. Follow our guide to increase your payday from your old plumbing system!

If decide to scrap it, make sure to follow the proper process in installing your new water heater.

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