Water Heater Safety (Part 1)

Water heaters are often taken for granted. They sit in our garage or utility closet and perform their assigned duty day in and day out. If installed correctly they will operate with little fuss for many years. Most of us rarely give the water heater a second thought, but they have a life cycle just like every other component or appliance in your house.

At the very minimum you should take a careful look at your water heater at least once a year. One of the most common points of failure is at the top of your water heater where it connects to the house plumbing. If the water heater was not installed with proper dielectric connectors, you will get corrosion where the copper plumbing meets the steel tank. Corrosion at water heaterThis area is often difficult to see. A tank can be five feet tall and when properly installed on an 18 inch platform, the top of the tank is 6-1/2 feet off the ground. This area can easily be over looked.

Water heater rustIf you see heavy rust in this area, your tank is ready to leak. remember that your plumbing system is under pressure 24 hours a day. It doesn’t take much corrosion to eat through the plumbing. Even a small leak can flood your house. Even if your water heater is in your garage, a leak can find it’s way to the interior of your house. Water often sprays out of a small breach in the plumbing with such force that it quickly destroys the drywall, and get’s inside the walls, and into your house. Just a small amount of water can destroy wood flooring, baseboards, carpeting, furniture, or personal items that are sitting on the floor.

Rusty water heater piping can cause leaks

Rusty water heater piping can cause leaks

In addition to looking for corrosion, look for evidence of soot at the exterior of the tank. This can be found around the burner compartment cover at the bottom of your water heater. If you are comfortable doing so, open the cover and look inside the compartment. Be careful of hot parts. If the water heater is on the inner cover will be hot. Once you remove the inner cover look for scale and rust inside the burner compartment. Old, damaged parts in the burner compartment can cause the water heater to remain on and over heat. This is a major cause of house fires.

Proper venting is critical to the safe operation of a water heater. Check the flue. It should be properly aligned with the top of the tank. And the sections of the flue should be well seated. Do not use duct tape on the flue. It can catch fire. An improperly installed flue can allow Carbon Monoxide to leak into your living space.

A general rule of thumb is to proactively replace your water heater when it has reached the end of its warranty period. That usually means that if your water heater is more than 7 years old, it should be replaced before you have problems with it. The price of a water heater is usually less than your insurance deductible. When in doubt, have your water heater inspected by a licensed plumber. It does not cost much and could save your family from injury, and you home from damage.

Part two of this blog will include information about proper seismic strapping, recalled gas flex lines, and determining the age of your water heater.