You have work…school…guests coming over… and everyone in the family needs hot water now. Unfortunately, life as you know it has just been interrupted by a leaking water heater. The inconvenience is bad enough, but when you factor in the possibility of water damage, it can become catastrophic.
One of the first things I ask my water heater customers to do, is to imagine the water heater leaking in the space it is in right now. Often times, they assume there’s nothing to be concerned about because it’s located in in the garage or in a pan or in its own closet. Sure, water heater placement is important, but unless certain precautions are taken, it can create a false sense of security.
False Sense of Security #1: The Water Heater is in the Garage…Why worry?
The garage is a seemingly safe, out of the way location for a water heater, and for that reason many people wait until their water heater leaks before they replace it. But even in a garage, leaks can be a problem. Before putting your water heater on “ignore”, take time to survey the room. Since garages are often used as storage, anything of value that could be ruined by water should be properly secured. Most water heaters are placed on stands when installed in a garage. The water heater stand is designed to keep the gas burner 18-inches off of the floor (there are some code exceptions). Certain local codes may require this for electric water heaters too.
In order to maintain 18-inches of clearance, some home builders extend the higher sub-floor from an adjoining room above a crawlspace, just far enough into the garage to create a platform for the water heater and furnace. In this situation a leaking water heater could easily damage the wall and floor in that adjacent room. It is an unexpected consequence to see hardwood floors or wall damage inside a home caused by the water heater in the garage, yet I’ve seen it many times.
The other method of raising a water heater is to have it sitting on an independent stand. In this case leaking water is more likely to stay in the garage, but this doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of damage. Some garages have drywall all the way down to the concrete floor and often the wall adjoins the rest of the house. In this scenario a leaking tank can still do quite a bit of damage. With enough time and/or enough water, a leaking water heater can lead to other unexpected repairs.
False Sense of Security #2: My water heater is in a pan…so all is well…right?
A pan is an excellent way to help prevent damage from a leaking water heater. However, there are some things to be aware of. Not all pans are equipped with a drain. Even with a drain, the pan is only designed to prevent a small amount of water from flooding. When a water heater leaks it can often start as a small enough trickle that a pan with a drain will keep up with the flow of water. But if this goes unnoticed, the leak can get to the point where the drain can no longer keep up. It is highly recommended that a water heater with a pan have an alarm device that will let you know when water is leaking into it. Bottom line, discovering water damage is not the ideal way to be alerted to a problem with your water heater.
In an emergency you don’t want to feel trapped or out of options so in the event of a leak, it’s important that every able person knows how to turn off the water, gas, and/or electricity to your appliance. It also helps to know a good, reputable plumbing company you can rely on in case of an emergency ahead of time; one that’s available 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.
The location of a water heater is always a concern. Many are installed inside a living space and tucked away in a closet. Often a water heater (in a pan or not) is out of mind until someone notices water in the hallway, damp drywall, or a buckling floor outside the water heater closet. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision what could happen when one of these water heaters leaks. Installing every option to control leakage is important, but the best preventative measure is regular maintenance and inspection.