Top 5 Water Heater Mistakes and Code Violations

With DIYers filling up our social media feeds, it's no wonder we're all skipping the contractors and tackling home projects on our own. But, before you channel your inner Bob the Builder, did you know that some common water heater installation mistakes can be life-threatening?

Installing a water heater isn't rocket science; you might even find it easy. The only problem is, seemingly easy installation or not, you can still fail the inspection. Also, there's a big difference between installing a new water heater in a new construction home and replacing a water heater in an existing home. Did you know you need a building permit to put in a replacement water heater? Read on, and we'll fill you in on some of the most common code violations we Cleveland, OH, home inspectors see in the field. 

Expansion Tanks

Some people say that expansion tanks are required with every water heater, but that's not exactly true. The actual rule is that there needs to be "a means for controlling the increased pressure caused by thermal expansion… where required". That's where it gets tricky. How do you know when it's required without getting a professional's input? 

 Many people decide to add an expansion tank every time to cover their bases. The problem with that is that expansion tanks can need additional physical support. Although there are other devices and methods to control thermal expansion, a professional can help you pick the best one for your home. If hiring a home inspector for a consultation isn't in the cards (or budget), then carefully follow the manufacturer's directions on the expansion tank you purchase. It'll help ensure you don't break code and fail your inspection. 

Unlisted Cord and Plug

Now, if you have an electric water heater, this tip is for you. Electric water heaters are usually meant to be hardwired into a location. Still, people often buy a generic cord-and-plug unit and plug the heater into any available outlet. 

This is a definite hazard. You can only use a cord-and-plug unit if the manufacturer explicitly says so, and you'll need to use the cord and plug unit the manufacturer lists for your heater. If there's no such recommendation, stick with hardwiring your heater. 

Drip Pans and Drains

Drip pans are necessary when a tank-style water heater is installed in a location where damage will occur if it leaks. For example, think of a finished basement vs. an unfinished one. A slow leak on a concrete floor is no problem, but mold becomes an issue if it is wood or carpet. The pan won't protect against a flood from your 50-gallon water heater; it will just catch the slow leaks that could cause damage over time. 

The tricky part is that drains and pans were not always required in the past and only became a consideration in newly finished spaces. Now, however, pans are required anywhere a leak can cause damage. So, even if the heater you're replacing doesn't have one, you'll want to be mindful of this code change before your house inspector comes. 

TPRV Installation

If you're still reading this, click here for your two free tickets to a Cleveland Cavs home game! Kidding, but now that you're focused again, pay attention because this one is important. 

The TPRV or temperature release valve is an essential device on your heater that protects the tank from taking on more pressure than it can handle. The proper installation of the pipe between the valve and the discharge means the difference between a hot relaxing shower or an explosion sending your house 50 feet in the air. 

Without going all Bill Nye the Science Guy on you, the fundamental issue is this: as the pressure in the tank increases, so does the water's boiling point. As that happens, water can get heated past its standard 212°F boiling point, causing the tank to rupture. That rupture, bringing 50 gallons of superheated water to normal atmospheric pressure, causes a massive explosion. 

The IRC provides a list of 14 specific criteria meant to keep this pipe open. You'll want to pay close attention to this list. Unfortunately, many installations are tripped up by these specific requirements.

Venting and Vent Connector Clearance

Conventional water tank heaters usually use B-vent or single-wall vents and vent connectors. They get hot, producing a draft to remove the combustion from the building.

Now B-vent and single-wall do not function the same way. The outer wall of the B-vent doesn't get very hot, so the code only requires 1-inch of clearance between it and other combustibles. Single-wall vents get very hot and need a 6-inch clearance. Don't make the mistake of trying to conserve finished floor space by not boxing off enough space and clearance between your wall framing and your vent pipes. Remodeling and finishing projects are the most famous code violations of this kind. 

You made it! You've got the top 5 water heater mistakes and code violations to look for under your belt. If you have more questions, we at Keystone Home Inspections are experts in home inspections in Cleveland, OH, and we are here for you. 

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