How to Improve Water Heater Safety at Home
(updated 2018)

Have you ever thought that your water heater, operating for so many years in the basement of your house, could be dangerous, even if it was professionally installed?

While water heaters are mostly safe and reliable, what happens if something gets wrong, the unit is not properly installed, maintained or serviced?

Here’s why you should care about your water heater safety…

One of the most overlooked dangers we have at home is the use of water heaters. We tend to think that these devices are safe and entirely beneficial when in reality they might come with a few drawbacks that make them dangerous.

Having hot water is excellent, but not knowing what a water heater can cause at home when it is not taken care of correctly can put us in a risky situation.

That’s why we want to help you learn more about water heaters, how to avoid the most common dangers and why it is important always to do the proper maintenance. Here’s what you need to know about water heater safety and how to improve it.

Common dangers with water heaters

Water heaters typically do what they are designed for, heat water and bring hot or warm water to the shower, washing machine or hot water tap. Water heaters use gas or electric power to heat up the water, which, due to its chemistry, can cause a lot of deterioration to parts of the heater. The deterioration, in the long run, may scale into highly dangerous accidents and long-term problems such as contamination, bulging, rupture even explosion.

Here are a few of the issues you may encounter with the water heaters:

Carbon monoxide danger

Gas-powered water heaters, similarly to vehicles, produce carbon monoxide (CO) continually. But the production of CO is really low and usually not dangerous, mainly when the vents of the water heater work correctly. Sometimes, however, the vents of a gas heater are not working properly, making the device to exert more CO into the home environment and producing health effects on its inhabitants.

Capable of producing vomiting, confusion, headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, and severe poisoning which could be potentially life-threatening, toxic CO is a highly dangerous side-effect of improperly operating and maintained water heaters, especially when located in the bathrooms and living space. CO is known for being a silent killer, as its symptoms may not be noticeable until it is too late.

If the heater is releasing carbon monoxide, the problem must be solved as soon as possible, and before the dangerous amount is released. That is why it is important to have the carbon monoxide alarm installed.

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Bacterial contamination

Water heaters are often a vast depository of bacteria as well, especially if not properly maintained, cleaned and kept on the recommended temperature. Especially those that have tanks, warm and humid places are perfect for bacteria to develop and flourish. This bacteria-rich water is eventually delivered in showers and sinks, having direct contact with people and possibly infecting them with dangerous contaminants. The Legionella, for example, is a common water contaminant which produces pneumonia. It is confirmed that the lower tank temperature could induce growth of this bacteria.

Solution: Keep the temperature of hot water high enough – as recommended by the manufacturer, and it is usually between 125 and 140 F.

Flashback Fire

The problem comes from the flammable products such as paints, gasoline cans, paper, dust, clothes, and other combustibles if they are stored nearby a water heater. The vapor of the flammable materials could catch a fire from the combustion chamber. In the USA alone, flashback fires are a common problem with water heaters, happening in about 800 cases in residential homes, with an average of 130 people suffering injuries and up to 5 deaths each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Solution: Buy a gas water heater with the FVIR system which prevents the combustion of the vapor outside the combustion chamber.

Explosions

A water heater explosion happens for two reasons: water heater is too old and its bottom is not sealed so it doesn’t maintain heat and gasses inside, or it simply has pressure problems which produce an explosion when the device cannot hold the pressure inside anymore. These explosions are not uncommon, especially for pressure problems in devices where there is not a working T&P valve (temperature and pressure relief). However, there is an additional reason for a water heater explosion, broken thermostats that cause temperature instability and extreme values.

Tips to improve water heater safety

For the unit’s safety, it is important to maintain the device correctly. Here are a few tips that will help you do just that:

Know your device

Learning about different parts that compose a water heating appliance and how to maintain each will help you avoid several dangers.

Copper piping: Used to transport gas from the gas meter to the water heater. They should be exempt from leaks and physical harm.

Dip tube: Distributes cold water into the tank. Not as dangerous as other parts, but could make the device malfunction if broken.

Anode rod: It protects the tank from corrosion. It should never be taken out even if the water is smelly.

Thermostat: A little device that is part of the gas control valve, which controls the temperature of the hot water inside the tank. It is essential to it check regularly and that it is working correctly.

Drain valve: Helps to flush the tank from impurities and sediments that stays on the bottom. It is an essential part to maintain the tank clean and in working condition.

T&P valve: Stabilizes the heater regarding temperature and pressure. Professionals recommend testing the valve regularly to make sure it works correctly so it opens when needed. 

Discharge tube: Maintains scalding water inside the device when pressure or temperature is too high.

Do a yearly maintenance

If you are familiar with how water heaters work and have experience in plumbing, you can do the maintenance yourself to make sure the device is operating efficiently and complies with all the safety measures. If you are not familiar with these devices, let a professional plumber do it for you.

Let professionals handle It

If you sense that the device needs reparation, there is nothing safer than leaving a professional handle it. When installing a water heater, the right choice is always doing it with experience. Bad installations and reparations done wrong may cause several problems, including the ones we mentioned earlier, such as explosions and contamination.

Maintain the right temperature

To avoid scalding burns, bacteria growing, and even explosions, having the proper temperature in your water heater can be the best preventive action you can take. Professionals and manufacturers recommend not going below the 125ºF (51ºC) to avoid growth of bacteria, and not exceeding the 140ºF degrees (60ºC) to prevent scalding and burns. Higher temperatures may even cause the device to malfunction.

Insulate a water heater

There are insulation kits on the market that you can use to maintain your water heater safe. These kits also avoid any filtering of scalding water, diminish the risk of fires and explosions, and keep your device a lot cooler, which makes it last longer and function more efficiently. Insulation kits, however, should always be installed by professionals.

There is nothing more important than using a water heater –safe and making sure to comply with the safety requirements. Follow our advice and start enjoying your hot water without worrying.

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How to improve water heater safety at home

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