Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Hot Water Heater Safety Tips

We’ve written many DIY blogs, but the recent water heater explosion in Boston (see reference on our Facebook page) gave us pause. Usually, plumbing fits nicely with a handy homeowner’s skill level, but tasks involving gas lines, pressure valves, pressure tanks, etc. are best left to a licensed professional.

Your water heater may remain unseen, hidden in a utility closet or sitting alone in a basement, but keep in mind that it needs regular maintenance for safety reasons. To make sure yours is safe, understand its parts and a few facts.

Parts of a Water Heater
Besides the tank (residential tanks are designed to withstand pressures of 50-100 pounds per square inch; commercial tanks can withstand much higher pressures), a water heater’s main parts include:

• A replaceable anode rod to slow the rate of corrosion within the tank
• A temperature or pressure relief valve that keeps the tank from exploding
• A drain valve
• A dip tube (a.k.a., the cold water intake tube)
• A pipe (to release hot water to your household taps/spigots)
• A thermostat (controls the water temperature inside the tank)
• Heating elements Gas models include a connection to your home’s gas lines; electric models are connected to your electrical system

Temperature or pressure relief valve
The experts at Nationwide note that “A temperature or pressure relief valve helps prevent a tank from exploding if temperature or pressure exceeds safe limits. Unfortunately, residential valves are somewhat prone to failure.” This valve should be tested annually by a qualified plumber who takes the following actions.

• Pull up on the handle and verify that water flows freely, then stops when the handle is released. If any other results are noted, the valve should be replaced.
• Using the drain valve, flush the hot water heater annually to remove sediment buildup. You should have a drain line, usually to within about 6 inches of the floor, or plumbed outside. NOTE: There is a scalding danger involved with flushing a hot water tank through the drain valve. It’s an activity best performed by a professional plumber.

Temperature control
Everyone loves a good, hot shower; the recommended temperature setting for is 130 degrees. Because residential tanks, are vaguely labeled as the “Warm”, “Hot”, “Very Hot”, it’s best to choose a setting and test the actual temperature at the tap. A household cooking thermometer will provide an accurate reading.

Energy Savings Tip: If you are going to be away from home for a few days, set the thermostat at it’s lowest setting. Standard hot water heaters constantly draw energy to heat the water in the tank. If no one will be using the hot water, why make it?

One of the greatest risks in today’s homes is lack of ventilation. Gases such as radon and carbon monoxide can build up without proper ventilation. Ensure that:
• The water heater vent is the same diameter as the tank’s draft diverter
• The water heater vent goes straight up and out, without any dips.:
• Where the vent passes through walls or roofs, a double-walled vent section is used.
• Refer to local codes for proper ventilation information.

Earthquake Straps…in Ohio?
Although that New Madrid fault could shake things up in our area, the probability is small. But for general safety purposes, strapping a hot water heater in place is a sound practice. Should a hot water tank happen to be knocked over, there’s a potential to sever a gas line and create an explosion-prone situation. Strap away!

But Wait, There’s More!
Below are some common-sense safety tips.

• Clear the heater area of dust bunnies, loose papers, and other flammable items.
• Thinking of bug bombing near your water heater? Extinguish the pilot light before releasing aerosol devices.
• The pilot light should be 18 inches above the floor, especially if the heater is in a garage or other fume-prone area. Flammable vapors are heavy and collect near the floor.
• If you have a natural gas water heater, do not use insulation or pipe wrap within 6 inches of the draft hood or flue exhaust vent.

Water You Waiting For? At Allied, the importance of safety cannot be over stated. Accidents such as the one in Boston can easily happen. When working with pressurized devices, gas lines, valves, vents, and electrically-powered systems, we strongly recommend contacting a professional, licensed plumber. If you feel your water heater needs some attention, call Ray and ask for his opinion. He’s known for his honesty, trustworthiness, and straight-shooting approach. Pick his brain and you won’t be disappointed. (513) 396-5300.