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Question DetailsAsked on 7/7/2015

Hot water heater in 1st floor closet and want to install some type of wood flooring on entire 1st floor. Ideas?

The low boy hot water heater is located at the back of the coat closet (tucked up under the stairs) and area shares a common wall on one side with my neighbor's condo and my 1/2 bath off kitchen on the other side. When hot water heater last broke years ago it flooded the closet, 1/2 the living room carpet; and also went in the other direction and flooded the 1/2 bath off the kitchen and into the galley kitchen area also.

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3 Answers


Several choices, from simple to more complex but also more protective:

1) move water heater to a place where leaks would not cause a major problem - like a heater crawlspace or basement.

2) Refinish the water heater enclosure with a waterproof wall and ceiling surface (from shower surround or formica-like material to tile to waterproof-painted waterproof backer board) and put in a waterproof floor with raised door sill at door and floor drain

3) Hoping any failure comes out the bottom only rather than the top or connecting pipes and is not spraying all over the place, put in a water heater pan (just a large metal or plastic pan that goes under the water heater), and install a drain from there to the sewer or safe place outside. Putting in a large enough drain to actually keep up with a flooding water heater can be a bit of an issue, because unless the drain from the water heater goes down several feet immediately, the drain pipe size may have to be fairly large - as large as 3-4 inch if the drain line is basically horizontal for some distance without an initial vertical drop to give it some hydraulic head to promote flow.

4) Cheapo route - put in catch pan under water heater with water alarm only - but works only for slower leaks, not a total water heater blowout because the pans do not hold that much water, and also assumes you will be home to turn off the water when the alarm sounds - does no good if fails when house is vacant.

5) Super quick and dirty, though not legal in all areas, and you have to be sure it does not risk damage to foundation (like piers or posts in crawlspace or unfinished basement settling or getting washed out by draining water) is to use a good waterproof paint on walls, a well-caulked waterproof kick strip along the floor including across the doorsill, waterproof painting the closet floor to stop most infiltration there, then putting a large screened outlet drain pipe in the floor leading down into crawlspace or unfinished basement or to sump pump if you have one, or outside. Will not stop all exfiltration but might limit it to point where a good drying out with a fan will solve the problem should it occur.

In each case, if a drain to the sewer pipe is used, the drain pipe will have to have a trap in it to prevent sewer gases from coming back up through it. Your annual test of the pressure relief valve will usually keep enough water in the trap to keep gases out, but in fully air conditioned spaces or very dry climates may need makeup water added to the drain/trap every 3-6 months, and will probably need some disinfectant in the trap to prevent stagnation.

Other possibility in most code areas but not all, since this is only an emergency drain and for clean water, is to run the drain to the outside - generally has to be within 6" of ground (since will be hot water) and turned down at the outlet so it is not a hazard to people, needs to be insect/vermin screened, and of course should exit where there is not a significant hazard to pets or children (dog house, sandbox, etc should not be in splash zone) and should be surface drained so a few hundred gallons of water will not cause basement/foundation flooding.

I would also put a water alarm in the drain area and add it to your annual fire alarm battery changing routine too.

Each of these solutions has its pros and sometimes cons, and can cost from a couple hundred minimum to $1000+ range depending on the one chosen, so commonly if this is done it is as part of a planned water heater replacement of an older heater, since the heater has to be moved or lifted for each of the options to be installed.

One other consideration, not to burst your bubble, is if your water heater is under the stairs there, is your neighbor's in an identical location - so if his fails, the water comes under the party wall and floods your floors anyway ? Might be a consideration for either a joint modification operation for both of them, or just keeping valuables up off the floor and counting on your insurance to pay for any damage - and go with planned water heater replacement after so many years regardless of whether it is still working OK or not.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


A pan can be put under the water heater, plus add a leak sensor and water shut off, like this;

There are many to choose from,so call a great local plumber to get an estimate, find them here on Angie's list.


Answered 4 years ago by BayAreaAC


BayAreaAC mentioned an automatic water shutoff like are used on dishwashers and washing machines - that is a somewhat controversial issue.

I specifically left that out of my solutions list because in many areas of the country, and by some interpretations in all areas covered by the Uniform Plumbing Code (so in essentially all the country) those are illegal on hot water heaters and boilers, because shutting off the water on a leaking unit can result in possible overheating and steam explosion if the over-pressure valve fails.

That is where the confusion comes in, which supposedly the code committe is considering for the next version of the code - whether an overpressure/overtemp valve (or one or the other only) provides enough protection against explosion to allow intentional water shutoffs on such systems in the event of a leak. Some say it is too risky and point to the number of such explosions already in the US and Canada, some say it is asking no difference in performance of the emergency relief valves than if there was a failure of the water supply system causing the water heater to not get fresh water, and potentially eventually go dry. I personally adhere to the no automatic shutoff school - in a water source failure the heater does not go dry except over an extensive amount of time because the tank is designed (top inlet and outlet) so it remains full of water, whereas during a leak the tank can drain totally out and go dry. The other risk with an automatic leak-detection system water shutoff to the tank is if the tank goes dry and then the automatic water shutoff system is then turned back on by a resident, dumping cold water on a potentially very hot crown sheet in the heater which is the cause of a large percentage of water heater/furnace explosions.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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