Many homeowners don’t consider using a water heater drain pan until their water heater is actually leaking. At that point, it’s often too late. These handy additions, when properly installed, can provide the added peace-of-mind when it comes to prevent serious water damage.
Water heater drain pans are inexpensive to purchase, relatively easy to install, and offer protection to your home from a potential disaster. This article will give you the information you need to know about buying and installing a water heater pan, and we’ll even show you a couple of our favorites.
What is a Water Heater Drain Pan?
A water heater drain pan is often referred to as a water heater pan, and is simply a pan that sits under your water heater. They are wider in diameter than your water heater and have a hole where a drain fitting is inserted. PVC pipe is attached to the drain fitting and routed to a nearby drain where the water can be safely discharged without causing water damage to your home.
Essentially, a water heater drain pan is a safety tool that’s designed to protect your home from unexpected leaks. A water heater leak often begins slowly with just a drip or two of water, but small leaks often go unnoticed until they become a much larger problem. These pans will “catch” and safely remove the water until you discover and repair the leak.
The average water heater tank holds 50-gallons of water, and although a water heater pan won’t be able to hold anywhere close to that amount of water, it will provide a mechanism to drain the water as it leaks from the heater.
Is a Drain Pan Required for a Water Heater?
Water heater drain pans are required in many areas, so if you’re a DIYer and plan to install the heater yourself, it’s a good idea to check your local plumbing codes. But even if they aren’t required in your area, most plumbers and industry professionals would certainly recommend installing one.
They aren’t very expensive and when you consider the amount of potential damage a leaking water heater can cause, it’s really a no-brainer decision to have one installed.
Buying a Water Heater Pan
Surprisingly, there are quite a few different types of water heater pans to choose between. Here are a few things to consider when purchasing one:
Selecting the Right Size Pan
When it comes to finding the right size water heater pan it’s a pretty straightforward process. The most important factor is that the pan fits into the designated space. Grab a tape measure and jot down the dimensions of where your water heater will be installed. The pan you purchase can not be larger than these dimensions.
Next measure the dimensions of your water heater, if at all possible look for a pan that is at least 2″ wider. This will allow water to collect and drain without immediately overflowing the pan. As an example, if your water heater has a diameter of 20-inches you’ll want a drain pan with a diameter of 22-inches.
The plumbing code states that the water heater pan should be at least 1-1/2″ deep, but the deeper the pan the better suited it’ll be for larger leaks, simply because it’ll be able to catch more water before overflowing.
However, it’s important to note, that water heater drain pans are designed for small leaks. If your tank ruptures or you have a major leak, the water will simply overwhelm the pan and cause a flood. But since water heater leaks are typically small, it’s highly likely that you’ll notice a problem before it develops into something more serious.
Plastic vs. Metal
There are basically three choices when it comes to the material a water heater pan is made from: It’s either made of plastic, aluminum, or steel.
Plastic – Plastic pans are usually the least expensive, but they also don’t hold up very well. They frequently crack or become brittle from the heat, which makes them unable to fulfill their intended purpose. In most cases, it’s better to spend a few additional dollars and purchase an aluminum heater pan.
Aluminum – Aluminum pans are a great choice. They offer a much longer lifespan than plastic, yet are less expensive than steel. They are a good compromise between plastic and steel.
Steel – If you’re looking to purchase the most durable water heater pan you can find, than steel is the way to go, but they are also the most expensive.
We highly recommend purchasing either aluminum or steel, the final decision really boils down to durability and budget.
How Much Does a Drain Pan Cost?
If you’re just looking at buying the drain pan by itself, you can find an inexpensive one for around $30. But if you need to hire someone to install it for you it’ll cost a little more. Still the job is typically straightforward and shouldn’t take more than an hour to get it up and running.
If you’re buying a new water heater, having a drain pan installed is often part of the overall installation. This is the simplest method since there’s no need to drain the tank. The plumber will simply position the pan, install the water heater, and attach the necessary PVC piping.
How to Install a Water Heater Drain Pan
If you enjoy tackling these types of projects, you can always install a drain pan yourself. Here’s what to do:
- Turn off the water heater’s power and water supply.
- Disconnect the incoming and outgoing water lines and any other attachments. You’ll also need to disconnect the earthquake straps. Any attachment to the water heater makes it difficult to lift in order to place the pan under the heater.
- Drain the tank. You can find detailed instructions here.
- Once you’ve drained your tank, you’ll need to lift it high enough to place the drain pan underneath. We highly recommend having someone help you to prevent hurting yourself or damaging the pan.
- Double check that the pan’s drain hole is facing towards the drain.
- Attach the drain fittings to the pan and connect the PVC pipe.
- Reconnect the supply lines and light the pilot (gas) or flip the breaker (electric) to the water heater.
- Check the inlet and outlet water lines for leaks. Then attach the earthquake straps to secure the heater.
- Although, not necessary, it’s a good idea to pour a small amount of water into the water heater drain pan to ensure it properly travels to the drain.
Does a Water Heater Drain Pan Need to Be Emptied?
If everything is working as it should, there should be no need to empty your water heater drain pan. With that being said, it’s a good practice to check it regularly to see if there’s any moisture or leakage. Leaks typically start small and if left unchecked become a bigger problem. If you notice water in the pan, you’ll want to troubleshoot to determine the cause, many leaking water heaters can be repaired.
It’s best to think of a water heater drain pan as insurance against a water damage. So, if your water heater is working fine and not leaking, the pan should be dry. However, if your heater is leaking, the pan will be wet and may even have a small amount of standing water. If this is the case, your water heater pan is draining the water from your heater and preventing a flood. You should take action as soon as possible.
Best Water Heater Drain Pans
These are a few of our favorite water heater drain pans:
Holdrite HOLD QP-22
Holdrite offers an inexpensive solution with their Holdrite HOLD QP-22 water heater drain pan. It’s available in six different sizes ranging from 20 to 30-inches, and comes with a lifetime warranty.
It’s made from lightweight aluminum, and has rolled edges for safe handling. The circular design is 2-1/2 inches deep and includes an integrated PVC drain fitting.
If you’re looking for extra protection you should consider the Camco 20932. With it’s 4-inch depth, it’s one of the deepest water heater pans on the market today. Built from zinc plated steel, it’s both durable and rust resistant.
It’s square in shape and measures 24-inches at the bottom and 25-1/4 inches at the top, which allows it to hold extra water should there be a need. However, if you are limited on space, be sure to factor in the larger top measurement for a proper fit. A PVC drain fitting is included and it’ll will fit a 1-inch or 1-1/2 inch PVC pipe.
The Eastman 60086 drain pan is a circular aluminum 24-inch (outer dimension; 22″ inner dimension) water heater drain pan. Eastman offers five different sized pans to match nearly every need, all at a very affordable price.
A 1″ PVC fitting for the drain connection is included. This is an excellent choice for both gas and electric water heaters.