Water heaters can go out of sight, out of mind for most homeowners, once the unit gets tucked away in a closet or garage. Unfortunately, that does not eliminate the dangers of such an appliance. As the name indicates, it’s a heater and thus can get quite hot. This heat is typically not enough to cause alarm as it is contained, but it can get to that point if the unit is compromised. Add in the electricity or gas needed to power the unit, and the chance of a dangerous situation developing doubles.
Experts have offered plenty of advice on maintaining a water heater through proper upkeep, such as yearly drainage, optimal temperatures, and valve checks. Sometimes, though, the simplest way to maintain your water heater is by removing the things around it. Flammable or combustible materials should never be kept near a water heater. It’s a clear safety hazard. Any item that prevents good visibility or proper ventilation is a no-go too. And while this isn’t necessarily a safety issue, items with special meaning or value should be stored elsewhere to avoid potential water damage.
Keep flammable and combustible materials separate
Let’s start with the flammable items. Paper products, clothes, cardboard, oils, paints, gas cans — any and all of it create a fire risk if left near a water heater. This goes for units powered by electricity or gas. Tankless water heaters don’t have an exposed pilot light, but most traditional tank units do. Though it is partially blocked off, this light is still an open flame. There’s always the chance a rogue piece of paper or shirt sleeve dips too far down and catches fire. If other flammable materials are nearby, you have kindling just waiting to ignite.
Combustible items like gas are also a threat when near an open flame, intense heat source, or even a sparking electric outlet. A water heater tank stored in the garage should not have any gas cans near it. If storage space is tight, HVAC Seer says a good rule of thumb to follow is to keep flammable or combustible materials at least 18 inches away from a water heater, tankless or not.
Allow for proper ventilation and visibility
Lack of storage is the catalyst for many water heater dangers. It’s natural to want to utilize the extra space, but piling things around the unit, even if those items aren’t flammable, can cause ventilation issues. A water heater needs good ventilation to work properly. If you have stuff piled around it and on top of it, you run the risk of unnecessary damage. Stick with the 18 inches rules to be safe. Plus, you’ll be more inclined to perform regular maintenance if you’re not decluttering every time.
A unit surrounded by clutter also leads to a lack of visibility, and a water heater is one of those appliances you need to keep an eye on. If the unit has an ongoing leak, you may not see the signs of it until well into the problem. Depending on when you catch the leak, the cost of fixing a damaged water heater can range from a few to several hundred dollars.