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Safe and Efficient Location of Water Heaters

JNeidner04a.jpg (5242 bytes)

by Jim Neidner

Jim Neidner is a national award-winning
builder/remodeler and radio home host.


Q) I am seeking advice. I am building a new home in Charlotte, NC and I have concerns about where my water heaters have been placed.

Some details:

- My home is approx. 4500 sq ft
- There is no basement but there is an ample 5' crawl space
- There is a garage and unfinished attic

My home apparently requires two water heaters and both have been located in the attic (supported by beams only, not on floor boards)

They are on pans, but I am concerned about leakage and potential damage; there seems to be a lack of bracing in the event of earthquake, attic dust, heating efficiency, inaccessibility, etc.

Any advice on safe, efficient location would be welcomed for my family?

A) This is an on-going question and concern for homeowners.

Let me do my best to answer each question.

Crawl Space? Might not be enough room for the water heater plus gas units normally vent out the top which also takes up more room. However, if you added another water heater making them three units and got smaller units which did not take up as much height then the crawl space might work for you. Talk to your builder about doing that. Will cost you more money but a better place maybe to have them. You will have to protect them from cold weather. Keep in mind some city codes will not allow you to place them in a crawl space because they can not be inspected easily or replaced easily. So check with your local building code department first if you are in the city.

Garage and Utility room? Many hot water heaters are placed in the garage because homeowners do not want the worry of them bursting or rusting-out. Also the hot water heater will have to be off the floor at least 24" depending on your building codes. This is to protect you from gasoline or other flammable products spilling and the fumes causing an explosion. A utility room is not a bad place to put water heaters; the draw back being the space they take up, plus again, have to be vented outside if gas.

Another drawback regarding the garage is the same for hot water heaters being placed in the basement or crawl space (if accepted by the building departments). By the time hot water gets to your bath tub/shower or sinks you have lost lots of hot water plus wasted lots of water until the water does get hot. A garage, basement, or crawl space can be a long run to bring in hot water to needed fixtures.

Attic? This is the most common place hot water heaters seem to go. The pull-down-stairs to the attic allows access. Builders should always have a catwalk built to each hot water heater for replacement and service. The attic makes it easy for venting through the roof. Plus they don't take up space in the garage or utility room if in the attic, and you don't have to worry about flammable products spilling. Lastly, in most cases, this gives you much faster hot water distribution to your plumbing fixtures.

The drawback is water damage inside your home if the unit bursts or rusts out in the attic and the pan under the hot water heater can not handle all the water at one time. Which many do not!

What's next best if in the attic? Bigger drain pans installed under the hot water heaters with high banks and extra overflow outlets to handle lots of water in case one rusts out or bursts. Should always be well supported with beams under them and I suggest plywood sub-floor under them as well, and always well braced if in earth quake areas.

What about Tankless water heaters? They are starting to get better results in the USA market; been overseas for years. Drawback is getting them serviced when you have a problem because they are not the normal hot water heaters in the marketplace, plus the "water flow rates"--Americans like lots of hot water. Also the electric Tankless units pull a lot of power. However, they don't take up any room and have steady hot water flow for as long as you need it if working properly.

If you are not building this home in the city and meeting local building codes and inspections, then you have the right to hire a Home Inspector.

Good luck!
Jim Neidner

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