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WATER HEATER EXPLOSIONS - COMBUSTIBLE CLEARANCES
WHERE CAN I STORE MY JUNK?
Clearance to Cumbustibles
Photo taken by Peter Drenan

Michael LeavittIn a recent blog post I mentioned that I had yet to read authoritative guidelines for clearance to combustibles as they relate to water heaters. Sure, there are the typical clearances needed from the flue to wood and flue to drywall, but I am referring to the clearance of the heater to flammable junk that owners and renters seem to want to stockpile in, around, and on the water heater.

“So where can I store my junk?” That is the real question that homeowners and tenants are asking, and the general building codes do not provide the answer. Why? Because the building codes deal with the construction of the building and NOT with the after occupancy homeowner storage habits.

NFPAI am still in mid-research, but I discovered a new report published by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). Titled “Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment” and written by John Hall, this document was published in 2011. The full NFPA report conveys house fire data from 2005-2010. I was blown away (pun intended) by the incredible number of water heater related fires, but most pleased to find the following information in Chapter 5 of the document that deals specifically with water heaters...

NFPA

NFPAYes!... Finally something definitive. On page 110 of the 140 page document, the National Fire Protection Agency Educational Messaging Advisory Committee stated that, “Anything that can easily burn must be kept at least 3 feet away from the heating equipment.”

Clearance to Cumbustibles
Photo taken by Garet Denise

That’s it, 3 feet clearance is the guideline recommended by the national agency designated to protecting the public from fires. If the 3 feet clearance guideline is good enough for them, then it is more than good for me!

DOWNLOAD FULL 140 PAGE NFPA PDF REPORT

Consider this statistic from the NFPA report, One-quarter (24%) of home water heater fires had heat source too close to combustibles as a factor contributing to ignition. Heat source too close to combustibles accounted for 30% of associated civilian deaths and 38% of associated civilian injuries. (See Table 5.B.) Heat source too close to combustibles had a much larger share of home water heater fires for gas-fueled equipment (33%) than for electric-powered equipment (6%).”

In a 5 year period from 2005-2009, there were 1670 water heater fires directly related to combustibles too close to the water heater. This caused 11 deaths, 109 injuries, and over $40 million dollars in property damage. Is this a big statistic?.... It is absolutely huge in its preventable scope. The public is largely unaware. Please help spread the word!

NFPA

NOTE: The risk is considerably lower for electric water heaters than gas fired water heaters, but they still happen with electric water heaters. The 3 feet clearance to anything stored that will burn rule should be applied to both gas and electric water heater installations. In other words, don’t store anything near your water heater.

Take a look at this fuller list of water heater related fires...

NFPA
DOWNLOAD FULL 140 PAGE NFPA PDF REPORT

 

 
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