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Water Heating Equipment

Photographs of issues with water heaters found during home inspections.

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improper insulation on a hot water line

To improve the energy efficiency of water heaters, you want to insulate the hot water line. Insulating near the hot water heater has become fairly standard practice. The problem here is the pipe insulation was not put on well. Do you see the red line attached to the copper pipe. That red line is the PEX tubing being used for the hot water in the home ( red PEX for hot and blue PEX for cold). When the insulation is on like this, the insulation does not function as intended.

over insulated water heater

This is a gas water heater (you can tell by the vent in the middle of the top of the unit). Insulating a water heater helps improve the energy efficiency of the unit. This had become common practice for electric heaters, but there were concerns that the insulation near the burner compartment door was a safety issue (fires). Thinking has changed, and as long as you do not place the insulation to close to an open burner compartment door, you can be safe. However, another issue arises with insulating these units that not everyone considers: insulation effecting the vent. You want to keep insulation away from the vent for the same reason you would not want it near an open burner compartment, but there is another reason which effects the efficiency of the unit. The vent needs a free air flow to help move combustion gases out of the house, and when studied, it was found that insulation can hamper this air flow, so it is better not to have the insulation on the top of the water heater.

water heater connection

Often, the connections on the water heater can be made from galvanized steel, but the pipe bringing water to the unit has a brass or copper fitting. This leads to the metal in the two ends of the connection to react, which can cause a leak. Rust signs and build-up are indicators that a leak may be happening.

top combustion air ventcombustion air vent

Have you found a gas water heater in a closet? This can be alright, but there are a few concerns, and these issues have to do with air supply. Any equipment that has a gas burning furnace needs air to continue burning. I have seen situations where a gas water heater is in a closet with the ceiling removed to open the space to the attic. This works, but there are problems with this method. My main concern is energy efficiency. Every wall in the water heater closet becomes an exterior wall. Exterior wall? Maybe I should be a bit more technical to say that the walls of the closet become part of the thermal envelope. That means each wall of the closet should be insulated, and the door to the closet should be an exterior door.  A solution to help reduce this thermal break is to have a true closet, but then supply air for combustion. This is accomplished by the vents in the pictures above. You need two vents. One will be at the base of the water heater near the burner compartment. The next will be near where the upper vent for the flue gas is located. The door to this closet should continue to be an exterior door.

burn marks on the water heaterWithout gas, we cannot check the furnace of a gas water heater. Often this is the case in foreclosures. Searching for clues as to condition is not always obvious, but this unit has two clear indicators that there can be a problem. First, the rust signs on the appliance and safety pan shows that water leaks has been an issue. When the water was allowed to fill in the unit, no water was seen by the end of the inspection though. There are other sources for water on the heater, but there may be a small leak which takes time to be seen. Secondly, we see burn marks by the furnace opening. There can be two primary reasons for this. One, the homeowner was lighting the unit, and did this improperly. Two, the gas had a problem in the burner compartment, and the flames rolled out. With no gas in this home, the furnace cannot be checked, so the situation is reported.

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States
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