Transporting a Water Heater Laying Down (Don’t be fooled)


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Water heaters can be transported horizontally or laying down on their side. Care must be taken to place it on a flat surface and nothing can be stacked on top of it. Straps must be placed in the right place.

So it’s finally time for a new water heater, there have been many myths about transporting water heaters. Let’s get them all cleared up.

While it is safe to transport a water heater lying down, there are some guidelines that will guarantee your new water heater will arrive at the destination in perfect condition.

Why Some People Say Water Heaters Must Be Transported Upright

There is so much false information about bending anode rods or dip tubes, shattering glass lining, or some other mythical problem that could occur when transporting water heaters laying down.

Most of the false information actually comes from salespeople trying to force water heater delivery on people. It’s a common sales technique, but that does not make it right.

The salespeople say the water heater must be transported upright because they know a large water heater will not fit standing up in typical cars. People who believe the salespeople tell the same story to their friends, and this is how the wrong information is spread.

It is very easy to fall into this particular trap. After all, you have just spent a lot of your hard-earned money on a water heater, the last thing you want is for it to be damaged before it’s ever used. The salesperson probably also scared you by telling you that if you transport it on its side and it is damaged, the warranty is void.

In the end, most people, whether they genuinely believe what they are told or they are simply not willing to take the chance, pay for the transport. I hope that reading this article prevents you from being swindled in the same way!

What Do Plumbers Say?

The truth is if you drive reasonably there is absolutely no risk of your water heater being damaged if you place it on its side. It is also worthwhile checking your intended route beforehand to note any road imperfections that would lead to major bouncing or jostling of the water heater.

I have spoken to many plumbers and they all transport them horizontally.

In fact, plumbers think it is safer to transport the water heater laying down since there is no risk of it tipping over. A 60″ water heater tipping over will definitely damage something!

Keep reading to find out how to transport water heaters safely; the same way 90% of the plumbers do it every single day across the country.

Transporting A New Water Heater Laying Down

Unless you bought a floor model, the new water heater most likely comes in a cardboard box.

There are some things to keep in mind to help you transport the water heater safely.

Load The Water Heater On a Flat Spot

First, I would recommend using a dolly to move the water heater so that you don’t hurt yourself. Whatever dolly you get, make sure it can handle the weight of your water heater. If you are unsure where to start, you can check out these two:

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Most likely you are trying to transport the water heater in a trunk of an SUV/car. For larger water heaters it might be necessary to fold down the back seats to make the water heater fit into the car.

The seats on most SUVs don’t fold completely flat. By placing the water heater on an uneven surface you risk damaging the controls, outer shell, or insulation.

However, there is an easy solution to this problem, which will give you a nice flat base for the water heater!

  1. Fold down the seats.
  2. Place two pieces of straight lumber across.
  3. Add pieces of scrap wood underneath these boards to support them.
  4. Load the water heater on top of the boards.

Below is a table for common water heater sizes including the packaging. This can give you an idea of if it will fit in your car.

Tank SizeTank HeightTank Width
20 Gal.33-1/2″19″
30 gal. Short30 “21-3/4″
30 Gal. Tall49-1/2″21″
50 Gal. Short34″28-1/4″
50 Gal. Tall60-7/8″22-1/4″
Water heater dimensions with packaging

So, go ahead grab a measuring tape and see if the water heater will fit in your car laying down. If it can’t, then you can probably spring for the delivery fee, but this time, the cost will be for a legitimate reason.

Fasten The Water Heater With Ratchet Straps

Whenever transporting something in a vehicle, it is essential to securely fasten it to the car. This is not just for the item’s protection, but also to ensure the safety of those in the vehicle.

Most modern cars have hooks on the bottom of the trunk for just that reason. However, the hooks on passenger cars are quite small, so make sure you get ratchet straps with small hooks.

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The above-pictured ratchet strap (or something similar) is ideal for fastening loads in a trunk. But, they are less suitable for fastening heavy loads on trailers. The open-top nature of trailers means that there are more external forces acting on the heavy item during transport.

Where To Place The Straps?

Most water heaters have polystyrene packaging on the bottom and top of the box.

One strap should be placed 2 inches from the bottom of the box and the other 2 inches from the top.

This ensures that both straps are compressing the polystyrene, not the empty cardboard box, which could buckle and result in the strap coming loose during transport.

Which Side Up?

So, you are going to lay your water heater down for transport, but now you are faced with the dilemma of which of its sides it should lay on.

Deliberate no longer! If it makes a difference which side should be up it will be marked on the box.

Furthermore, in most cases, it does not matter, since the polystyrene packaging is larger than the controls, so the controls will not be crushed even if they are facing down.

Transporting A Used Water Heater Laying Down

Sometimes it might be necessary to move a used water heater to a new location.

Some people are overwhelmed by the idea of transporting their water heater to another location because they think they will have to pay for professional help; an expense that will have to be added to the normal costs of moving.

As we have already established, you don’t actually need professional delivery; laying it down should not cause any problems. However, if it is still in good working order, care should be taken to transport it carefully so that it remains in that condition.

One of the big differences in transporting a used water heater is that there is no packaging to protect the water heater. While this means that the transport approach will be different, it is still perfectly safe to transport it horizontally/laying down.

Drain the Water Heater

Before you lay the water heater down, you will need to drain the water from it as laying it on its side while it is still filled with water can cause damage.

I have written an article on replacing water heater gas valves, which includes a detailed description of how to empty your water heater, but these are 5 basic steps to this process:

  1. Turn off the water supply.
  2. Turn off the water heater.
  3. Attach a hose to the drain valve.
  4. Turn on the hot water tap.
  5. Open the drain valve.

Position The Controls Up

In this case, the controls are not protected by polystyrene packaging, so you should lay the water heating so that the controls face up.

Since water heaters are round, it is impossible to lay them on the side and keep them in the correct position without any side support. If the sides are not supported then the water heater could roll onto the controls. This could mean your trip will end in a dump since it is rarely worth it to replace the controls on an old water heater.

Once again, there is an easy solution, and once again, all you need is a couple of pieces of scrap wood.

Here’s what you do:

  • Place two 20″ 1 x 4’s on the floor
  • Screw a 4″ piece of 2 x 4 to one end
  • Lay the water heater on top
  • Screw another 4″ piece of 2 x 4 to the other end.

Here’s a picture of what I mean:

Water Heater Tank Being Transported Laying Down

If you place a water heater on top of this frame and strap it, there is no way it can roll, and damage the controls or connections.

Protect the Water Heater From Dents and Scratches

The easy-rigged transport frame I have described will also help to protect the water heater from being dented on the journey. You need to be careful not to dent the water heater as this will significantly increase the energy consumption of the unit because it interferes with the insulation.

Furthermore, it is a good idea to use moving blankets to protect the water heater from scratches. Scratches might not necessarily interfere with the function of the water heater unless it removes any weatherproofing that may be on the water heater. In this case, scratches could lead to corrosion.

The blanket below would be perfect and you can reuse it anytime you need to transport something.

WEN 272406 72-Inch by 40-Inch Heavy Duty Padded Moving Blankets, 6-Pack
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  • Polyester double stitched material provides extra strength and flexibility during transport
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Related article: Can You Transport a Front Load Washer Lying Down

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