What has water, fire, fuel, and toxic gas and is in your home? A hot water heater.

Home Inspector with Certified Structure Inspector IOS #1730, EA #30

Water heaters are one of those things that no one ever thinks about until it’s broken. They are tucked away in a closet or covered by junk in the garage. Water heaters need regular maintenance just like anything else. These are large tanks of pressurized hot water, connected to a flammable fuel (or high voltage electricity), and heated up by fire that produces carbon monoxide. Ensuring they are operating correctly and preventing problems is extremely important.


Draining a gallon of water out of it every month is a good idea but at least do it once a year. If you don’t want to do it when you call someone out for a checkup they can do it. Looking at the top of it for debris, Vent Debriscorrosion, loose connections, or leaks just takes a second and can reveal several problems that can cause damage or unsafe conditions. Making sure they are on a stable base and secured with proper straps may not be required but is always a smart idea. Depending on the location a pan might be needed under the water heater to divert leaks to an area that won’t cause damage to the home. Because the pan collects it you might not see a leak. Look into the pan regularly for water. Not all leaks mean a replacement is needed. Also check the TPR pipe that comes from the funny looking valve with the little lever on it for water leaking outAny water coming out of that is an immediate call to a plumber. It should be tested every month so check for the water prior to testing it. Pest and rodents like to hide out around water heaters so make sure to look under and behind them for unwanted visitors. Water heaters are usually silent so noises like creaking, popping or rattling can be a sign that some repairs or replacement is needed. Use your nose. If you smell any strange odors it could be a fuel leak, back draft or a water leak.

 leaky water heater

If you suspect a problem make sure you call a qualified professional. The
picture on the right shows a homeowners attempt to divert the leak to a bucket on the floor with an elaborate dam made of silicone and duct tape.


A water heater inspection is a regular part of a Home Inspection and also an Energy Audit, which I do both, but if you suspect an issue a call to the plumber may be needed but these things can be dangerous so if it’s an emergency a call to the Fire Department or NV Energy is not out of the question.

Comments (4)

Terrie Leighton
Ferrari-Lund Real Estate - Reno, NV
Reno Real Estate Agent ~ Selling Homes in Reno

I don't think I have ever drained my water heater!! I only think about it when there is not hot water left in the shower!! My bad... 

Mar 01, 2012 05:26 AM
Rob Ernst
Certified Structure Inspector - Reno, NV
Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor

Terrie, Your no different that 99% of the people out there but I'm pretty sure you'll look at it more often now. 

Mar 01, 2012 06:00 AM
Peg Barcelo
Fluff My House! Home Staging Inc. 250.486.6369 - Summerland, BC
The FlufftasticStager from Summerland, BC

Rob, hot water heaters can be very dangerous! Thanx for all the great info! I remember Myth Busters doing a section on hot water heaters exploding and going through 2 floors and a roof! Scary!

Mar 06, 2012 12:43 PM
Rob Ernst
Certified Structure Inspector - Reno, NV
Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor

Peg, I have seen that episode. Scarry isn't it. One square inch of boiling water in the tank can expand to 1 square foot of steam. That's why that little device on the tank is so important. 

Mar 07, 2012 12:28 AM