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WATER HEATER EXPLOSIONS - TPR TESTING

Michael LeavittTPR valveThe question is always asked, “How do you test a Temperature Pressure Relief valve?” As a rule, home inspectors do not test the TPR valve. Why? Because they usually leak afterwards. This means that they need to be replaced. And since we are invited into a home by a seller, having been hired by a buyer, we do not have the ability to test the valve and then tell the seller they need to have a plumber inspect/repair/replace the TPR valve. They feel that it was working just fine before the home inspector arrived, and the home inspector should have to repair what he broke. It is impossible to change that perception, so home inspectors just don’t test the device and leave it to the buyer to figure it out for themselves. (READ HOME INSPECTOR’S DILEMNA)

NOTE: Texas is the only state I know of that mandates home inspectors to test the TPR valve as part of their inspection protocol, unless testing could cause damage to the structure.

There’s the rub...

A good home inspection report will directs buyers to information that details how to inspect and test their own TPR valve. I have resolved that by creating this website. Below is good TPR testing information...

WATTS - TESTING DIRECTIONS

When you want to know the facts, it is best to go right to the manufacturer. The following is from Watts, the largest manufacturer of TPR valves.

ANNUAL OPERATION OF T&P RELIEF VALVES:

WARNING: Following installation, the valve lever MUST be operated AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR by the water heater owner to ensure that waterways are clear. Certain naturally occurring mineral deposits may adhere to the valve, blocking waterways, rendering it inoperative. When the lever is operated, hot water will discharge if the waterways are clear. PRECAUTIONS MUST BE TAKEN TO AVOID PERSONAL INJURY FROM CONTACT WITH HOT WATER AND TO AVOID PROPERTY DAMAGE. Before operating lever, check to see that a discharge line is connected to this valve, directing the flow of hot water from the valve to a proper place of disposal. If no water flows when the lever is operated, replacement of the valve is required. TURN THE WATER HEATER “OFF” (see your water heater instruction manual) AND CALL A PLUMBER IMMEDIATELY.

SOURCE

Watts

So what do we learn?

  1. The TPR lever should be raised at least once a year.
  2. Mineral deposits cause malfunction.
  3. Hot water will discharge when the lever is raised.
  4. Precautions should be taken to protect yourself from the hot water discharge.
  5. If no water flows from the valve, then turn the water heater off and replace the TPR immediately.
  6. And what is NOT stated, if it leaks after lifting the lever, then replace the TPR valve.

REALITY: Most homeowners never test their TPR valve and they are unaware that they are supposed to raise the supplied testing lever.

WATTS RE-INSPECTION RECOMMENDATION

Watts goes further and shares the following guidance regarding a 3-year cycle testing/inspection protocol.

REINSPECTION OF T&P RELIEF VALVES:

WARNING: Temperature and Pressure Relief Valves should be inspected AT LEAST ONCE EVERY THREE YEARS, and replaced, if necessary, by a licensed plumbing contractor or qualified service technician, to ensure that the product has not been affected by corrosive water conditions and to ensure that the valve and discharge line have not been altered or tampered with illegally. Certain naturally occurring conditions may corrode the valve or its components over time, rendering the valve inoperative. Such conditions can only be detected if the valve and its components are physically removed and inspected. Do not attempt to conduct an inspection on your own. Contact your plumbing contractor for a reinspection to assure continuing safety. FAILURE TO REINSPECT THIS VALVE AS DIRECTED COULD RESULT IN UNSAFE TEMPERATURE OR PRESSURE BUILD-UP WHICH CAN RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH AND/OR SEVERE PROPERTY DAMAGE.

SOURCE

So what did we learn?

  1. Homeowner must hire a licensed plumber to inspect their TPR valve at least once every 3 years?
  2. We must not tamper with the TPR valve.
  3. We must not block the discharge line.
  4. Natural occurring events can render the valve inoperative.
  5. The TPR valve can only be fully evaluated by complete removal of the valve.
  6. Watts states that full inspection is beyond the ability of homeowners...
  7. Call a plumber!!!
  8. Failure to perform the 3 year inspection can result in injury, death, and/or serious property damage.

REALITY: I have never known a homeowner that scheduled a licensed plumber to come in and test/inspect the TPR valve every three years. I am sure there are people like this out there, but I have yet to meet them. I am certain that the majority of ones that do are those that have been a part of a major catastrophe resulting from a prior water heater failure or water heater flooding, or they are married to a plumber.

THE TPR “TWIRL TEST” PROCESS

THE TPR “TWIRL TEST” PROCESS - A 10-step safe TPR valve testing protocol.

TPR LEAK WARNING

Warning disclaimer from the WATTS website regarding a water heater that just starts to leak from the TPR discharge pipe for no apparent reason...

“If discharge occurs, CALL A PLUMBER IMMEDIATELY. Discharge may indicate that an unsafe temperature or pressure condition exists which requires immediate attention by a qualified service technician or licensed plumbing contractor.”

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