Water Heater Safety Tips

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What you should know about water heater safety. How to increase safety and protect the unit, you and your home.

When you buy a new water heater, with the unit you will get the owner's manual with the instruction about water heater safety and what should you do for the proper and safe heating.

For the reliable water heating and peace of mind, the recommendation is to have a heater installed by the qualified technician or a plumber. If installing a heater by yourself read the manual and follow the directions.

The water heater safety article will focus on some potentially dangerous problems that might occur, and components that need to be checked. The following problems are often the real causes of the heater malfunction, property damage and body injuries.

Installation and location

If you are installing a gas water heater, it is very important to install it in the properly vented room, so the unit will have sufficient air for gas combustion and vent the gases out correctly. If the gas unit is not getting enough fresh air or there is a problem when moving the gases out, you will recognize the problem by observing the burner flame - it should burn light blue with some yellow tips.

Gasoline and any other flammable vapors or materials close to the heater are very dangerous. Today's gas heaters are designed with the flammable vapor ignition resistance or FVIR feature, which prevents the accidental fire outside the heater from such vapors. Check the manual and labels found on the heating unit for the detailed instructions.

Every gas heater, either power vent or atmospheric vent has to vent the products of combustion out. If the venting system is not according to the instructions and codes, this might result in an unsafe operation and carbon monoxide poisoning. This is why when running the atmospheric vented unit, it is recommended to provide sufficient airflow.

The recommendation is to inspect the flue vent once a year, look for the breaks, gaps, restrictions, obstructions and clean the dust and dirt.

Atmospheric condition inside the home can also affect the water heater safety, as they are corrosive. Corrosive elements are chemical compounds such as bleach, chlorine, hydrocarbons or chemicals used in beauty shops, swimming pools, cleaning... and when they burn, they become very corrosive. Install a water heater in the safe place.


  • Do not install a heater on the carpet.

  • Do not operate if the unit was flood damaged.

  • Maintain required clearances to combustibles.

  • Do not operate the unit if soot is present.

  • Do not run an electric water heater if the tank is not full of water.

  • Expansion vessels should be installed in the closed systems.

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Dealing with natural and propane gas

Always look and smell for gas leaks before lighting the pilot light on the gas water heater. The recommendation is to use the soapy water solution on all gas fittings and connections and if bubbles appear, the gas leaks there.

Propane gas is heavier than air so it collects close to the floor, while the natural gas is lighter. This is why, for your safety, a propane water heater should not be installed in the basement.

You cannot see any of these two gases, but they have a specific smell as the odorant is added to help gas detection. So, remember to sniff near the floor if using the propane water heater and suspect on the leak. Using the soap/water solution is the most-used way when checking the gas leak, but more than one method is always better, so using the gas detector is a good idea for your safety.

If natural gas or LP gas is present:

  • Do not light the pilot light on the water heater or any other appliance.

  • Do not use the electrical switch.

  • Do not use a phone in your home.

  • Leave the house, open the doors and call qualified person or the utility company.

If your heater is factory set to use natural gas (fuel type can be found on the unit plate), never use the propane gas to run the unit and vice versa. Conversion can be done by using the right conversion kit but should be done by the qualified person.

Hot water safety

When talking about water heater safety, special attention should be given to hot water. The temperature is factory set at 120 F which still provides temperature which is high enough for dishwashing, for example, and is not unsafe for kids and seniors. Hot water temperature above the 125 F can cause not only burns (in less than 1-2 min) but serious damages to the skin and tissue. On the other side water temperature below 120 F can enable bacteria growth inside the unit.

Every heater is equipped with the thermostat to adjust the hot water temperature and on its dial has the recommended temperature, hot and warm range.

There is another solution to increase the water heater safety and avoid the hot water and potential scalding - mixing valves. These valves are installed on the water line, and they are mixing hot and cold water so the outgoing water is always in the safe range.

Temperature and pressure relief valve

The TPR valve (T&P) is the valve that increases the water heater safety by reducing the excessively build-up temperature and pressure inside the tank. It opens when the pressure is above the maximum allowed on TPR valve so it is relieving the pressure and prevents the deformation of the heater and possible explosion.
Test the T&P valve by pulling up on the handle to release some water. If water flows out, it is functioning properly. You should never cap the discharge pipe of the TPR valve.

Other recommendations for water heater safety

  • Use insulation blanket only to insulate the water heater but be careful not to cover the air intake, drain, TPR valve, thermostat and draft hood.
  • Do not remove or cover the instructions found on the water heater (i.e. lighting the pilot light).
  • Follow the instructions for the correct pilot lighting.

This article about water heater safety is for your references only, while the main source of information should always be the owner's manual from the manufacturer.

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