The Importance of Water Heater Placement

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Reviewed by Jeff Botelho
Updated March 16, 2022
A woman’s hand checks the water temperature in her bathtub
Photo: Maridav / Adobe Stock

If your water heater is in the wrong place, it can put your home at risk in the event of a leak

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Water heaters are one of those things homeowners just take for granted until something goes wrong. You also may not give the location of your water heater much thought, but it's surprisingly important. If the unit isn't in a good spot and starts to leak, it can cause significant damage to your home, resulting in many costly repairs.

Luckily, following a few best practices can help you make sure your water heater is in the best spot possible and keep your home safe from damage.

Why Does Water Heater Placement Matter?

Water heater placement matters if you ever have a leak. A leaking water heater that is placed in an incorrect spot can damage siding, ruin flooring, wreck personal belongings, and more.

Even if its placement meets local building regulations, that doesn't necessarily mean that your water heater is placed well enough to protect your home. A water heater that sits against an outside wall and that's raised off the floor by the required distance can still flood the space with water if the leak gets bad enough. Be sure to talk things through with a pro before installation to get the best placement possible.

Local Water Heater Placement Requirements

Every state and county has its own set of building codes and regulations that govern the placement of water heaters, so before you contemplate changing the location, you need to find out what the basic requirements are in your area. A local water heater specialist can take care of this for you. 

Generally, the most basic requirements are that water heaters must sit against an external wall because there must be room for the flue. They must also be level for good water and gas flow as well as for safety. Some places also require you to seat the heater at least 18 inches off the floor.

Household Damage From a Leaking Water Heater

If correctly placed, a leaking water heater causes minimal damage to its surroundings. But if improperly placed, a leaky heater can cause all kinds of problems.

If you store things on the ground in a garage or basement, it can be at risk for water damage. Even if the water heater is in a drain pan, if the leak occurs at a faster rate than the small drain can handle, the water will end up all over your floor and can easily ruin anything you've got stored there. Leaks like this also raise the dampness levels inside the basement or garage, which encourages mold growth.

Then there's the potential for significant damage to your actual home. Often, when in a garage, the water heater platform is just an extension of a higher subfloor from an adjoining room. In this case, if the water heater leaks fast enough or long enough, it will damage the wall and floor of the adjoining room. 

This can result in an expensive repair, and you may have to factor in the cost of replacing your carpets or the cost to replace a hardwood floor. In this situation, you may also find yourself having to foot the bill for the cost of drywall repairs if the water also caused damage to your walls.

Water Heater Proximity to Most-Used Faucets

Text: Close-up of a modern water heater
Photo: Daniel Jędzura / Adobe Stock

Heating water accounts for roughly 18% of your annual energy costs, so anything you can do to reduce that figure is a good move. Conserving both water and energy is also great for the planet and reduces your home's carbon footprint.

Think about what happens when you turn on the hot water faucet: Water starts to move from the tank (or through the heater if you have a tankless system) and displaces cool water along the way. The cool water is wasted as it goes directly down the drain while you're waiting for hot water to arrive. Plus, the water loses heat as it travels along the pipes, wasting energy and making the water heater work harder. 

Therefore, the closer the water heater is to the most used faucets in your home (usually the kitchen and the family bathroom), the shorter the distance the water has to travel, the less water you waste, and the less energy the tank expends.

"Depending on how far it is from the water heater to the furthest fixture, you may be required by code to install a hot water recirculation loop," says Jeff Botelho, Angi Expert Review Board member and Massachusetts-licensed journeyman plumber. "This makes your hot water system a circuit that pumps hot water throughout the house and returns it to the water heater, which ensures a constant supply of hot water and reduces wasted water. There is a slight increase in electricity usage for the circulating pump but these are typically controlled by a timer to run during peak times which minimizes the electrical usage."

How to Prevent Water Heater Leaks

To reduce the chances of a leak or breakdown and to save the cost of replacing your water heater, have it serviced by a professional every year. While the inspection and any minor repairs may cost you a little money, repairing buckling floor, damp drywall, or replacing carpets because your water heater leaked will cost you far more.

“If you have a tankless on-demand heater you need to have it serviced annually,” says Botelho. “While this isn't as important for a tank-type heater, regular inspections help to identify problems before they become catastrophic. Replacing things like anode rods, dip tubes, elements, and thermostats can prolong the life of tank-type heaters and are relatively inexpensive tasks.”

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