What’s the danger and what do I do?
First, gas. A gas water heater can leak gas, through the fittings, even through the control module. Gas leaks, water heater burner ignites, boom. If you smell gas, call the gas company immediately. This goes for any natural gas appliance in or out of the house.
Pro Gas leak Detector
Second, combustion. Anything combustible within 36″ of a water heater must be moved out of that range. Paper, bags, clothing, etc. If it can burn, it will burn in the right circumstances. It’s not that these items will spontaneously catch fire, but they can. The gas burps out then ignites wrong, you will have a fire.
We haven’t even addressed flammable items, such as gasoline. Do you know why water heaters sit raised on pedestals? Because gasoline fumes tend to stay low to the ground. Cars are fueled by gasoline. Lawn mowers are usually fueled by gasoline, and there’s often a gas can in the garage if there’s a mower stored there. Get the flammables out, and no matter, keep them as far from the heat source as you possible! And…
- Always keep the fire chamber cover ON the unit. Always. This contains errant flames.
- ALWAYS have a qualified contractor, such as a licensed plumber, install your water heater!
Oh, and often times I find the furnace mounted right next to the water heater. One line, two appliances. However, be sure to follow the same 36-inch rule! Sometimes people will measure the distance and put tape on the ground to mark the safe distance to keep clear from the heat source.
What about electric water heaters?
Remember the 3332 BTUs I mentioned above to heat a 40-gallon water heater full by 10 degrees? 3332 BTUs is equivalent to nearly a kilowatt hour of electricity. That is a lot of heat as well. Just always keep anything that can burn 36″ away from any heat source. This includes your stove, oven, fireplace, space heaters, wood burning stoves, furnace, etc.