Avoiding Water Damage From Leaking Water Heaters
This week we’ll be talking about the catch pan (drip pan) that should be under all water heaters if there is any possibility of a leak causing personal property or structural damage of any kind. This will be the case in, virtually, all water heaters in our homes. If the water heater is fairly new or was replaced recently then a catch pan is required by code. But safety and common sense tells us that if the water heater is within the walls of the home or garage then a water leak is going to cause damage and it should have a pan under it. The drain line attached to the pan must run to somewhere that the water will drain away safely.
We have seen many water heaters with no catch pan. Ironically the newer water heaters often have the catch pan and drain as required by code and common sense BUT the likelihood of their leaking any time soon is minimal. The older water heaters, on the other hand, often have no catch pan and many with a catch pan do not have the proper drain line attached to it – yet they are the ones most likely to leak at some point.
Catch Pan Should Be Fairly Deep
The pan should be about 1 1/2″ deep, metal or plastic, and the drain line should be about 3/4″, often white PVC pipe. You don’t have to measure these things to make sure they are correct, just a quick glance will let you know if they are about right. That drain line should run to an area that won’t cause damage to the structure or items in the home. For example: A drain line that empties on to the garage floor might be OK if we knew for a fact that no one would ever store any personal or household items there – but that’s unlikely!*
The water heater catch pan drain line should terminate outside, when possible, 6″-24″ above the ground. It could drain into a floor drain, on to the concrete patio out back, next to the front door or even on to the driveway approach to the garage, but the point is – it needs to safely drain that water away somewhere, and that somewhere should be obvious and conspicuous so the homeowner will see there is a problem.
When a water heater has a catch pan but that pan has no drain line then it is all but useless. A leaking water heater will simply fill the pan up (it’s only an 1 1/2″ deep) and over flow allowing the very damage the pan was meant to prevent. We’ve see many drain line connections attached to the pan and then capped off for some reason – it obviously can’t drain so we get the same result, an over flowing pan.
No Catch Pan Drain Line Possible
If there is a short drain line connection to the pan but it isn’t ran to anywhere that it can safely drain off then we have the same result again, (we often see this in older garage units as pictured). Water will simply drain all over the general area where the water heater is located causing water damage to personal property and possible structure damage, excessive moisture and/or mold and mildew problems.
On rare occasions and virtually always in older homes or condos we run across water heaters in a closet in the middle of the home with or without a catch pan and NO drain line attached and no way to run one. On these occasions it is advisable to have a ‘wet switch’ installed. One part of a wet switch assembly goes in the catch pan, (pictured left) if it detects water an alarm goes off and a solenoid, attached to the cold water supply pipe, shuts the water off (pictured right). In worst case scenario the whole 30 or 40 gallons of the water heater could leak out in to the home. But the is far easier to deal with then the possibility of 100’s of gallons of water leaking in to the home before the problem was discovered and the water shut off.
Waters Heaters Are Not Complete Until They’re Safe
The bottom line is simple, if a leaking water heater can cause water damage to any living areas of the home such as walls and floors, personal property or any structural components, then it needs a pan and properly run drain line. If these things are not present then the water heater isn’t ‘performing’ 100% of its role in the home – that is safely providing hot water when needed.* http://seattletransitblog.com/2012/12/22/garages-are-not-for-cars/ * http://household-tips.thefuntimesguide.com/2007/02/garages_filled_with_stuff.php