New Water Heater Update
Julius Ballanco, PE
By now you must have learned about the new requirements for 30-, 40- and 50-gallon gas-fired storage water heaters. As of July 1, manufacturers must include a flammable vapor ignition resistant system on their water heaters. This requirement will be expanded to other size water heaters in the next few years.
There have been numerous questions regarding this change in requirement for gas-fired water heaters. First of all, the July 1 date doesn’t mean a thing to the contractor. This deadline only applies to the manufacturer. After July 1 they can no longer manufacture 30-, 40- or 50-gallon gas-fired water heaters without a flammable vapor ignition resistant system.
But this does not prevent you from installing older water heaters until you run out of them.
Of course, this new requirement adds an additional expense to a water heater. Many have wondered whether this new, more expensive burner design is necessary. It depends on what you believe should be required for safety.
There is an expression used in the plumbing code business: The code protects the fool, not the stupid fool. Well, the new flammable vapor ignition resistant technology crossed that line to protect the stupid fool.
Protecting The Stupid Fool: The main concern with the flammable vapor ignition resistant water heater is gasoline. If gasoline is stored or used as a cleaning agent near the water heater, there will be an explosion with the standard type of gas-fired water heater.
You may be asking, who is stupid enough to use gasoline inside the home or business, especially as a cleaning agent? Well, the answer would be the “stupid fool.” People have died or have been severely injured in these explosions. When this occurs, the tendency is to sue someone, even if the individual was a stupid fool. In response, the water heater manufacturers developed a technology that prevents an explosion when gasoline fumes and vapors are present. The new technology works extremely well.
If you are concerned about the presence of gasoline near a water heater, it can easily be said that the older water heaters are more dangerous. However, there is no requirement to go out and replace existing water heaters not having this new technology. If you install an older water heater, you may want to inform your customer that it does not have the new technology and they should not have any gasoline or other flammable vapors stored or used near the water heater.
At the same time, I believe it would be totally inappropriate to do a marketing campaign to have perfectly good water heaters replaced before it is necessary. Your customers should not be intimidated into thinking their existing water heater is dangerous. The only danger occurs when some “stupid fool” uses gasoline or other flammable vapors near the water heater. Not a common occurrence.
Each manufacturer has revised the design of its water heater to add the new flammable vapor ignition resistant technology. They will all meet the requirements in the standard, but the means or design they use for conforming to the standard will vary.
What is truly amazing is that you can leave a vat of gasoline sitting right next to the water heater or even spill gasoline under the water heater and the water heater will not cause it to explode. Not that I would recommend such stupidity. It is just that the new water heaters are that good.
A common question that arises is whether a water heater installed in a garage is still required to be located 18 inches above the garage floor. The simple answer is that there is no longer a need to elevate a water heater in a garage.
The only reason we elevate water heaters is to prevent an explosion from a leaking gas tank or open gas can. The 18-inch height is intended to be at an elevation above the level of the gasoline fumes. The flammable vapor ignition resistant technology does better than raising the water heater 18 inches. The new technology always protects the water heater from a gasoline explosion. Hence, there is no need to elevate the water heater.
Lagging BehindThe only problem with this statement is that the plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas codes have not caught up with the technology in the newer water heaters. The codes still require water heaters to be elevated. It is possible that an inspector may demand that a water heater installed in the garage still has to be elevated 18 inches.
However, all is not lost. Most plumbing inspectors are intelligent enough to evaluate a new technology and determine that the elevation of the water heater is unnecessary. Every code has a provision in the administrative section that permits an inspector to accept a new product that meets the intent of the code. A water heater with flammable vapor ignition resistance fits into this category.
You are required to petition the inspector to grant this acceptance; it is not an automatic approval that an inspector issues. Once an inspector reviews the information regarding this technology, I cannot imagine him or her not permitting a water heater from being installed on the floor in the garage.
Within the next few years, look for the codes to be changed to eliminate the 18-inch requirement for water heaters that are flammable vapor ignition resistant. In the meantime, just work with the local inspector if you plan to install a water heater in a garage.