Water Heater Safety

Water Heater Safety
October 6, 2011 Lorelie

Water heaters are basically household appliances the heats the water coming out of the tap. This is done so we can have a warm shower or other things we use warm water with, such as on the dishwasher or clothes washer. More often than not, water heaters do what they do best – to heat water. However, there are times, especially if we ignore some of the water heater safety that the manufacturers have given or built into the system, a situation can get hazardous and life threatening. This makes it very important for us to know the dangers and warning signs involved with water heater safety.

Vents – if you are using gas-fired water heaters, then you’ll know exactly how important having proper venting is. First of all, the diameter of your vent should be equal to the diameter of the draft diverter of your water heating unit. Atmospherically vented water heaters should have a vent that goes up and out only. Direct vent heaters must go out a side wall. Power vent heaters on the other hand are more flexible since they are equipped with a fan that sucks and blows out the fumes.

A vent should always be double-walled whether it passes through the wall or roof. In case a vent is single-walled, each section of the vent should be crimped and shoved together, and screwed with at least three screws per section. It is important that the vents are connected and secured properly because if a section falls apart, then the silent killer carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas, will likely escape through the broken section and enter your home.

Backdrafting can also be a big issue with vents. There can be many reasons to why vents can backdraft. However, one of the most common reasons is soot buildup or a backpitched vent connector. Regardless of what’s causing the backdraft, this should be immediately corrected in order to avoid combustion or fumes from seeping into cracks and other areas of the home.

Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve – this valve is connected to the water heater and its purpose is to prevent the unit from exploding should the temperature and pressure exceed safe operating limits which they do by opening and venting. The main problem with these valves, especially for residential types is that they are prone to failure. This makes it very important for homeowners to regularly check the temperature and pressure relief valve of their water heater units in order to ensure that they are not running a ticking bomb in their home. Checking this valve is quite easy. All you need to do is pull up on the handle wherein water should freely flow out and stop as soon as you release the handle. However, if you pull the handle and it runs, drips, or does nothing, then you should have the valve replaced immediately.

The truth is most people don’t like to be bothered testing the temperature and pressure relief valve of their water heaters. However, when you are stuck with the notion that someday you might end up getting hospitalized or have a big hole in the roof to fix due to an exploding water heater tank, then it may be a good idea to do it after all. Besides, it will hardly take any of your time to do it. When a water heater explodes catastrophically due to failure, severe injuries (most likely scalding or injury to shrapnel) or death are almost apparent, not to mention the severity of damage to property.

If you are a fan of Mythbusters or have had the opportunity to watch one of their shows where they did the exploding water heater myth, you will be surprised how much energy and damage a water heater can do when it fails catastrophically.

Another important thing to remember about temperature and relief valve is to always make sure it has a drain line, usually around 6 inches to the floor, or plumbed outside. This will help to prevent anyone from getting scalded should the valve open when someone is standing next to it. In case you notice water running out of the line, it may just be a case of bad valve, or a signal that your unit is running dangerously high pressures, an issue of defective control which should not be ignored.

Earthquake Straps – if you live in an area that is prone to earthquake, your water heater unit and its vent should be properly strapped. This will help to prevent your water heating unit from falling over and severing the gas line connected to it, or prevent the vents falling or getting dislocated from how they were stacked.

Shell – the outer part of the water heater that you see is basically its shell. It is a strong sheet metal covered with insulation to help keep the heated water inside from cooling fast. If you notice that the outer shell of the unit does not look good, full of dents and all, chances are, the inside of the unit does not look great either. It would be best to just junk it instead of waiting for a catastrophe to happen.

Temperature Control – temperature controls for residential water heaters are set on warm, hot, and very hot; unlike commercial water heaters where you can set them to the degrees you want. Since there is such a big variation with these settings, especially from heater to heater, it would be a good idea to measure the temperature of your heated water from the tap. The ideal temperature would be 130°F to 140°F. You can use a kitchen thermometer to do this test.

It is important to set the temperature at not lower than 130°F as legionella bacteria, a Gram negative bacterium which causes the Legionnaire’s disease can still grow at 120°F, and not higher than 140°F as this could cause scalding, more energy use, as well as sediment buildup. This makes it ideal to have 130°F to 140°F as the range in temperature to have in your tap.

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