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WATER HEATER EXPLOSIONS - DRIPS & SEDIMENT TRAPS
MICHAEL LEAVITT’S COMMENTARY

Michael LeavittDoes anybody even care if a drip leg or sediment trap is even installed? In my area of Northern Utah their installation on newer homes is rare, yet the codes and the manufacturer’s require them.  There is very little wiggle room so they need to be installed. The wiggle room is limited to an exception if the unit is integrated into the water heater (more about that later).

Sediment TrapFirst, I encourage you to be very careful about the use of terminology when dealing with drip legs and sediment traps. Many inspectors, plumbers, and others in the real estate process mistakenly interchange the terms. Understanding what a drip does verses a sediment trap is important when discussing the need for these often omitted installation details. It is also useful to be familiar with the more common terms dirt leg and drip leg when dealing with the topic.

So why are there so many terms for what looks to be the same feature? The codes use their terminology, which is different than the terminology used by most tradesmen. The manufacturer’s seem to more closely follow the trades in their installation manual wording. I am certain there are regional differences in terminology too, so it is important to know what people call them in your area, and then educate those you deal with while inspecting by using the terminology that can be used against you in the court of law. Let’s face it, identifying a sediment trap is so easy, that failure to report the required installation detail would open up any inspector to the “negligent inspector” accusation in the court of law. “If you overlooked the sediment trap, then what else do you regularly miss?,” they might assert. There is just no defense to not be reporting the presence of a sediment trap, or lack thereof.

SEDIMENT TRAP
Drip leg - Utah Style
UTAH VERSION - WRONG!!!

Yep, you are truly mocked if you do and condemned if you don’t. Owners will accuse you of being nit-picky, Agents will call you a deal killer when the omitted installation is flagged in your inspection report, and plumbers and HVAC’s will either praise you or inquire as to what is a sediment trap. The documentation lower on this page will help you educate those in your local market as to the purpose and installation details for sediment traps. I encourage inspectors everywhere to take the time to document the presence, or lack thereof, of sediment traps at gas water heaters and furnaces.

It really all boils down to just two major issues, the collection of moisture and the collection of debris.

MOISTURE - In earlier decades the natural gas delivered to the home was wet and this moisture would affect the burn of the appliance and cause rusting inside the pipes. The drip/drip leg placed at the low spots in the gas line and just before the appliance would help resolve the issue. It would also involve occasionally opening the drip to remove the collected moisture and debris. Gas companies now brag about their dry gas and the sloping of pipes and installation of drips, although still required, seem to have become a safety feature of the past. Add to that the newer CSST flexible pipe that twists and turns everywhere in the home and if moisture collection was a real concern, then there would need to be at least a dozen different collection points in a single home. But that is NOT the case.

DRIP LEG
Drip leg - Utah Style
UTAH VERSION - WRONG!!!

DEBRIS - Gas companies also brag about the clean gas they deliver to the home, so who cares about sediment traps? It is the after meter installation debris that a sediment trap is mainly trying to catch (Sure it can also happen on the utility side, but they will never admit it). Think about it for a moment, the installer uses a bit too much Teflon tape or liquid sealant and it gets inside the pipe, where does it go? A spider has nested inside a section of pipe before it was installed, where does it go? In the days when there was moisture in the gas and there was rust flaking off inside the lines, where would it go? That is the primary purpose of a sediment trap, to catch the odd debris and prevent it from entering and clogging up the gas burning appliance. Sediment traps are a good building practice, yet overlooked by many professionals and of course every do-it-yourself homeowner. Why? Probably because they don’t sell it in kit form at the home center and few municipalities enforce the requirement.

VOIDED WARRANTY: There are some inspectors who are spreading the concept that manufacturers will void their warranty is the drip leg/sediment trap is NOT installed. I suppose it is possible, but so far this is a myth, a home inspector’s urban legend, if you will. I have yet to substantiate any occurrence of this happening. If you have specific details, then please send along the information.

NOTE: In case you ever do see a sediment trap installed, look closely at the prohibited installation image lower down the page and read the IRC Commentary that explains what is wrong with the installation so that you can quickly identify an errant sediment trap installation. See California Inspector Russel Ray’s Hall of Shame photo.

DOCUMENTATION - IRC CODE

IRC 2006Here are some of the important 2006 International Residential Code cites that pertain to gas water heater and furnace drips and sediment traps (dirt legs). The first word you need to know is “Drip.” Looking at the IRC definitions...

DRIP. The container placed at a low point in a system of piping to collect condensate and from which the condensate is removable.

And then you have to understand the IRC definition of the word “Shall”. We often use this word in everyday speech to give somebody the option. It is used differently in the IRC...

SHALL. The term, when used in the code, is construed as mandatory.


SECTION G2419 (408)
DRIPS AND SLOPED PIPING

G2419.1 (408.1) Slopes.
Piping for other than dry gas conditions shall be sloped not less than 0.25 inch in 15 feet (6.4 mm in 4572 mm) to prevent traps.

G2419.2 (408.2) Drips.
Where wet gas exists, a drip shall be provided at any point in the line of pipe where condensate could collect. A drip shall also be provided at the outlet of the meter and shall be installed so as to constitute a trap wherein an accumulation of condensate will shut off the flow of gas before the condensate will run back into the meter.

G2419.3 (408.3) Location of drips.
Drips shall be provided with ready access to permit cleaning or emptying. A drip shall not be located where the condensate is subject to freezing.

G2419.4 (408.4) Sediment trap.
Where a sediment trap is not incorporated as part of the gas utilization equipment, a sediment trap shall be installed downstream of the equipment shutoff valve as close to the inlet of the equipment as practical. The sediment trap shall be either a tee fitting with a capped nipple in the bottom opening of the run of the tee or other device approved as an effective sediment trap. Illuminating appliances, ranges, clothes dryers and outdoor grills need not be so equipped.

SEDIMENT TRAP - From the IRC Commentary:

“In addition to the code requirement, most appliance manufacturers require the installation of a sediment trap (dirt leg) to protect the appliance from debris in the gas. Sediment traps are necessary to protect appliance gas controls from the dirt, soil, pipe chips, pipe joint tapes and compounds, and construction site debris that enters the piping during installation and repairs. Hazardous appliance operation could result from debris entering gas controls and burners. Despite the fact that utilities supply clean gas, debris can enter the piping prior to and during installation on the utility side of the system and on the customer side.

Sediment traps are designed to cause the gas flow to change direction 90 degrees at the sediment collection point, thus causing the solid or liquid contaminants to drop out of the gas flow. See Commentary Figure G2419.4(1).

Sediment Trap

The nipple and cap must not be placed in the branch opening of a tee fitting, because this would not create a change in direction of flow and would allow debris to pass over the collection point.

Sediment Trap

Commentary Figure G2419.4(2) illustrates an improper sediment trap that is prohibited by this section. The code does not specify a minimum length for the capped nipple. Three inches minimum is customary. The sediment trap must be downstream of the appliance shutoff valve and as close to the appliance inlet as practical. Requiring the sediment trap to be downstream of the appliance shutoff valve makes sure that the sediment trap is within 6 feet of the appliance inlet. If there is 6 feet or less of piping between a sediment trap and the appliance inlet served, the intent of the code has been met, regardless of the shutoff valve location. Manufactured sediment traps are available that have the configuration of a straight section of pipe and are equipped with cleanout openings. Although it would be wise to install sediment traps at all appliance connections, they are not mandated by code for gas lights, ranges, clothes dryers, and outdoor grills. These appliances are susceptible to harm from debris in gas, especially ranges and clothes dryers, and the appliance manufacturer may require sediment traps where the code does not. The code‘s logic is that these appliances are attended while in use therefore, the user would be aware of a problem.”

If you don’t understand that “Shall” means mandatory, then you might take away from the above information that the sediment trap is completely optional, but it is not.

DOCUMENTATION - MANUFACTURERS

And to put the nail in the coffin for the topic, all of the major water heater manufacturers require sediment traps in their residential gas-fired water heater installation instructions.

NOTE: A.O. Smith and State gas-fired water heater installation manuals state that it is needed IF and only IF there is not one not one already incorporated as part of the water heater, and I have yet to find a residential water heater with a sediment trap incorporated with the water heater. I can’t even find information as to what one would look like. Therefore, a sediment trap is needed on all new and retrofit installations. Why? It doesn’t really matter, now does it. The codes require it and the manufacturer requires it, so who are we to think it isn’t necessary?

Let’s look at a few of the manufacturer gas installation manual diagrams and directives...

BRADFORD WHITE WATER HEATERS

Bradford White

Bradford White

RHEEM WATER HEATERS

Rheem Drip Leg

Rheem Drip Leg

STATE WATER HEATERS

NOTE: State water heaters comes out of the same plant as A.O. Smith at 500 Tennessee Waltz Pkwy in Ashland City, Tennessee. Is it any wonder their installations manual verbiage are nearly identical?

State Drip Leg

State Drip Leg

A.O. SMITH

The phone call with A.O. Smith Technical Support (800-527-1953) on January 3, 2012 was most interesting because Eric (the tech supporter) was first caught off guard with the term sediment trap, but immediately knew what I was talking about when I said drip leg. I questioned him about the A.O. Smith gas water heater product line as to whether or not any of their models has a drip leg already incorporated into the water heater.

A.O. Smith

INCORPORATED
According to Dictionary.com
2. Combined in one body; made part of.

He stated that the phrase in the installation manual was referring to whether or not there was already a drip leg installed at the home. Puzzled, I told him that I did not think that is what their installation manuals were saying, but he assured me that when they state, “Install a drip leg (if not already incorporated with the water heater) as shown...” that they are referring to a situation where there is a drip leg already present at the installation location. I felt like I was in Princess Bride when I wanted to say, “I do not think what you wrote is actually what you meant.” Instead, I followed up by asking, “Does A.O. Smith have any gas-fired water heaters with a drip leg incorporated, or installed as part of the water heater?” To which he stated emphatically, “No!”... “As you wish!”... Sighhhh!

MICHAEL’S SOAPBOX - So I guess that eliminates any wiggle room as to whether or not there should be a drip leg installed. The manufacturers mandate it, the IRC “shall be installed” it. And to all those that say otherwise, including the local code enforcement officials, the plumbers, the HVAC’s, or any other handy person who wants to say the sediment trap/drip leg is NOT required, you are misguided in your research and your understanding of the importance of drip leg/sediment traps.
A.O. Smith
A.O. SMITH TECHNICAL SUPPORT DISCUSSION

I then sent the A.O. Smith Technical Support the following email,

“1/03/2012 11:03 A.M. - Can you please help me understand the portion of your gas-fired water heater installation manuals that state, ‘Install a drip leg (if not already incorporated as part of the water heater) as shown.’ You then show clearly a drip leg diagram. It is the part in the parenthesis that I don’t understand, yet the added phrase must be there for a reason. Do you have certain gas-fired models that have a drip leg already incorporated into the water heater? If so, what do they look like? What models have this feature? Are they concealed in certain gas valves? How do I know them when I see them? Or is this a misprint in your installation manuals? Any feedback would be appreciated.
Michael Leavitt
www.WaterHeaterExplosions.com
801-636-6816”

It took 2 days for an email response to come back from the A.O. Smith technical support team, but you will be very impressed (tongue firmly placed in my cheek) with their informative response. I thought I had stated the issue clearly above, but here is their response...

From: support hotwater [mailto:hotwatersupport@hotwater.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 05, 2012 9:05 AM
To: Michael@TheHomeInspector.com
Subject: RE: www.hotwater.com: New Question/Comment from the website.

Hello Michael,
Thank you for contacting hotwater.com. The drip leg, is on the gas line coming in to the water heater and not on the water heater itself. The drip leg, is the portion of the gas line which hangs down passed where the line turns going to the gas control valve. Please let us know if we can assist you further.
 
Thank you,
Technical Support Department
Brandi

I almost felt insulted at A.O. Smith’s lack of even attempting to answer the question that I asked of them, so I sent back the following response...

A.O. Tech Support - Brandi:

Yes, I am well aware of where to find the traditional drip leg. You did NOT answer the question/issue that I originally asked. So let’s try again. To make things easier for you, I have included page 9 from your installation manual and even highlighted the directive in yellow. Can you please look at the image and make your response seem as though you took longer than just a moment to consider what I am really asking instead of a canned answer, because your last response was so brief and involved so little apparent investment of time on your part that I found it to be a bit insulting? I know that you are busy, but your response is important to me.

A.O. Smith

I am asking for your official clarification and intent of the following statement found in your gas-fired water heater installation manuals. Let’s pretend that I am being sued for the lack of a drip leg and my defense is that I thought the drip leg was “already incorporated as part of the water heater) per the statement on page 9 that says...

"Install a drip leg (if not already incorporated as part of the water heater) as shown."

It is the part in parenthesis that currently makes no sense and is placing me in hot water (pun intended). The word “incorporated” is defined as “2. Combined in one body; made part of.” So your A.O. Smith installation manual would indicate that at least some of your water heaters have a drip leg incorporated into the water heater. If not, then why did the A.O. Smith technical writer add the parenthesized portion of the directive in the first place?

Does A.O. Smith have certain gas-fired water heater models that have a drip leg incorporated into the water heater? If so, what do they look like? How do I know them when I see them? Or is this a misprint/oversight in your installation manuals?

Thanks in advance!
Michael Leavitt - Master Inspector
Michael Leavitt & Co Inspections, Inc.
1145 N. Main Street
Orem, Utah 84057
801-636-6816
Michael@TheHomeInspector.com
www.TheHomeInspector.com

Bright and early Monday morning, after waiting nearly 4 days due to the weekend, a definitive response from A.O. Smith arrived in my inbox...

From: support hotwater [mailto:hotwatersupport@hotwater.com]
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2012 6:37 AM
To: Michael Leavitt
Subject: RE: www.hotwater.com: New Question/Comment from the website.

Hello Michael,
We do not have a gas water heater which has a drip leg installed on the heater. The portion in the installation manual is referring to the installation on the water heater and not the water heater itself. The figure on page you attached also points to where is the dip leg is located on the gas line. I have passed the information on, to see if this portion of the instruction manual need to be re-worded. Hope this information helps. please let us know if we can assist you further.
 
Thank you,
Technical Support Department
Brandi

Thank you Brandi. That clears up a lot of confusion.
Make it a great day!

Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah

From: support hotwater [mailto:hotwatersupport@hotwater.com]
Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 7:11 AM
To: Michael Leavitt
Subject: RE: THANK YOU... RE: www.hotwater.com: New Question/Comment from the website.

Hello Michael,
You are more than welcome, please let us know if we can assist you further.
 
Thank you,
Technical Support Department
Brandi

 

IN SUMMARY - So there is the answer we were seeking. A drip leg is never incorporated into the water heater, but is an auxiliary feature installed into the gas line. They are easily identified and always required on gas-fired water heaters, furnaces, and boilers. There is no excuse for NOT reporting their presence or lack thereof.
 

 

 
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Orem, Utah 84057
801-636-6816

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