Common Water Heater Code Violations You Should Know

Bry'Ana Arvie
Written by Bry'Ana Arvie
Updated November 8, 2021
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Ready to upgrade your water heater? Watch out for these surprising yet common code violations

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Most homeowners don’t give much thought to everything that goes into their hot water. It always works when you need it—that is until it doesn’t and needs to be replaced. And if you’re ready to enjoy hot showers or relaxing warm baths again, then replacing your water heater is pretty high on your to-do list. But water heater replacement isn’t something you can jump right into; there are multiple codes that you must adhere to.

Let’s discuss water heater replacement considerations and what common water heater code violations you can run into if you’re not careful.

Can I DIY Water Heater Replacement?

Even if you’re comfortable making DIY home upgrades, a water heater replacement is a project that’s often best left to the pros. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Plumbing codes: A water heater and its set-up must adhere to official water heater plumbing codes, so you’re not committing a code violation unintentionally.

  • Warranty: Not all manufacturers will cover your water heater if something happens to it if you replaced it yourself versus hiring a licensed plumber.

  • Permits: Not all cities require you to have a permit to replace your water heater. However, it’s highly recommended that all homeowners get a water heater permit for this project. Also, some cities might require you to get secondary—plumbing or electrical—permits. To see what type of permits you’ll need, check your local building codes.

  • Supporting skills: A lot goes into replacing a water heater, like making sure all the wiring and plumbing is correct and there are no leaks or holes that gas or pressure can escape out of. Plus, depending on your new water heater, you might have to make an opening in your wall to stay within its dimensions.

Common Water Heater Code Violations to Know

Plumber repairing a hot water heater
Minerva Studio -

Here are a few code violations to know so you can ensure your water heater is always up to code.

Non-existent Drain Pan

If your water heater is in a finished basement or anywhere where leaking can cause damages, you must install a drain pan underneath it. However, according to the International Code Council (ICC), if the drain pan wasn’t previously installed, there’s no need to add one when you’re replacing it. However, if your existing water heater had a drain pan, it’s a violation not to include it when replacing your unit.

No Sediment Trap

Another code violation is skipping out on a sediment trap. A sediment trap prevents any debris in the gas line from getting in the gas valve of your water heater and damaging it. The sediment trap should be installed downstream of the shutoff valve and as close to the inlet as practical. 

Wrong Location

Because gas and propane water heaters release carbon monoxide (CO) while in use, it’s a code violation to place them in a prohibited area of your home. Some of these prohibited areas include:

  • Bedrooms

  • Bathrooms

  • Toilet rooms

  • Storage closets

Other code regulations say water heaters have to sit on an external wall or, if that space is used for no other purpose, equipped with a solid weatherstripped door and an approved self-closing device. Combustion air should be taken directly from outdoors and comply with that code.  

Also, a water heater’s location needs to have at least 12 inches of clearance all around to make sure it’s getting sufficient airflow.

Forgo Earthquake Straps

Suppose you live in an area that experiences earthquakes. In that case, it’s a code violation not to have earthquake straps on your water heater to resist horizontal force equal to one-third of the operating weight of your unit. This means that if an earthquake hits, your water heater needs to be strapped down so that the natural disaster doesn’t damage it and, as a result, your home.

Not Properly Vented

One of the most common water heater code violations is not giving your unit enough venting space. Your unit needs proper ventilation to minimize the risk of CO-poisoning and back-drafting (exhaust gases entering your home instead of going outdoors). 

There are various ways to vent your water heater, each with different requirements. If you need help figuring out which option works best for your unit, reach out to a pro near you for water heater installation questions.

No Expansion Tank

Not every home requires an expansion tank. The code requires homeowners to install an expansion tank if their water heater is on a closed system. Closed systems mean that you have a backflow prevention device, such as a check valve, installed that prevents excess pressure from flowing back into the municipal water supply system or pressure regulating valve. If you do, expansion tanks help stop pressure fluctuations commonly caused by a closed system. 

A close system set-up without an expansion tank can place unnecessary stress on your appliances and shorten their lifespan.

Minimal Combustion Air

Fuel-based water heaters require a healthy amount of combustion air to work. If there’s not enough, your water heater won’t work. To guarantee your water heater is getting enough combustion air to function, you’ll need to determine whether you’ll get it from indoors or outdoors. Combustion air requirements are calculated using the formula provided by the ICC. 

Incorrect T&P Relief Valve Placement

The temperature and pressure relief valve help keep the pressure inside your water heater in check so that it doesn’t rise to dangerous levels (i.e., over 210 degrees Fahrenheit or 150 PSI). It’s practically essential to the safety of you, your home, and your plumbing system.

The problem isn’t why it’s needed, but more so if it’s installed correctly. Incorrect installation can lead to the T&P relief valve to not work correctly or at all, leaving your home vulnerable to exceedingly high water pressures and, worst-case scenario, a water heater explosion.

No Pressure Regulator

Some homeowners might ignore high water pressure or think it’s normal, but it’s not. It’s a code violation if the water pressure in your home constantly exceeds 80 PSI and you don’t have a pressure regulator to help lower your water pressure to safer levels. 

When to Contact a Pro

Building codes are in place to ensure that your home is structurally sound and safe for you and your family. And since a licensed pro is familiar with building codes, water heater replacement is a job that’s best left to them. Plus, your local plumber will have no problem helping you safely and accurately replace your water heater. For this project, expect to pay $810 to $1,570.  

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