If you do not follow the safety instructions for your water heater, a fire or explosion can occur which may result in property damage, personal injury, or loss of life. Water heaters are fairly easy to use and maintain once installed and don’t actually require much attention. But, if you fail to install the device properly or fail to follow safety instructions you will be in more than just hot water. Of course, you should read and follow the instructions in the owner’s manual, but if you rent or don’t have one these basic guidelines will help you out. If you are missing your hot water heater manual you should contact the manufacturer and request a new copy.
The first thing you should know about hot water heaters is that there is always an open flame. The water heater has a main burner and a pilot flame, just like a kitchen stove top. The pilot light is always lit and will ignite flammable vapors. Vapors can be released from a number of solvents and chemicals, and are invisible to the naked eye. Because the pilot light is usually close to the floor (at the bottom of the water heater) it is especially dangerous to have flammable liquids anywhere near the water heater. Vapors are heavier than oxygen and will sink to the floor causing sparks or fire.
To play it safe do not store flammable liquids in the same room as the water heater, or in adjacent rooms where drafts can carry vapors to the water heater pilot. Gasoline, solvents, and adhesives will explode and catch fire when exposed to heat or flame, causing loss of property, severe burns, or even death. Keep flammable products far, far away from the water heater in tightly closed containers, out of the reach of children and pets. Never store these liquids in unapproved containers as they may cause leaks or explosions.
Your water heater should never be installed in the same room where chemicals will be kept. But, if you have a limited amount of space you can buy a burner stand that will place the pilot light at least 18 inches from the floor. 18 inches or more is sufficient for avoiding fumes from gaseous liquids and solvents. The stand will help eliminate the risk of vapors being ignited near the floor of your water heater, ultimately keeping you and your family safer. Newer models can also fit in closets and alcoves with minimal clearance for the sides and top.
Hot water heaters should not be installed in closets that do not have side and top clearance. Before installing your water heater you should make sure it meets at least the minimum clearance requirements in order to keep safe. New water heaters should also meet the standards for energy usage according to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1990.
After your water heater is installed there are some things you should check before lighting the pilot light. First, check the water temperature. Temperatures over 125 degrees Fahrenheit can cause severe burns and scalding, or even death. The elderly and children are especially prone to receiving these burns so make sure that your temperature is around 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid scalding accidents. If your water is too hot it is not only dangerous, but wasteful. If it is too hot it means you are using too much energy to heat the water. To eliminate this problem and control the water heater temperature you can install temperature limiting valves with automatic shut off. The general rule of thumb when it comes to hot water is this: if you see steam coming out around the faucet the water is most likely above 125 degrees Fahrenheit and should be turned down to avoid burn incidents.
Before you light the pilot light you should smell all around the water heater for gas. If you smell gas DO NOT light the pilot; you risk being burned or causing an explosion. Do not touch any electrical switches or dial any phone if you smell gas because it can set off sparks, which in turn will cause a fire. Instead get out of the house as fast as you can and use a neighbors phone to call your gas supplier. If you live in a condo or apartment building notify your neighbors they should leave and contact your building supervisor or manager. If you do not smell any gas follow the instructions for lighting the pilot light as defined in the owner’s manual. If you don’t have the book the pilot lighting instructions are usually taped or glued to the front of the hot water heater, near the pilot.
Hot water heaters are only equipped for one type of gas so read your owner’s manual if you are unsure of what type of gas it uses. If you are renting or just bought a home ask the previous owner what type of gas they used, and who the supplier was. Never mix gas in your water heater, or any other type of machinery as it is dangerous, and possibly lethal. Usually there is a rating plate next to the gas valve on the hot water heater that will tell you what type of gas to use.
Although it may seem like a good idea, it is not wise to use your water heater for space heating. Yes, some water heaters expel much heat but they are not home heaters. Water heaters can be dangerous and should be used only as directed in the owner’s manual. Another thing you should NOT do to your water heater is to wrap it with insulation. If your water heater is not hot enough, wrapping it in insulation is not going to help but simply cause a fire hazard. Because most hot water heaters eventually leak you should also make sure that there is sufficient drainage around the base.