Electric HW heater poses unexpected electric shock hazard.

Originally Posted By: ieisenstein
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Here is a WATCH OUT FOR regarding water heaters:

I did an inspection on a beach house, with an electric water heater.
The serial number on the water heater indicated October 1985, yet the water heater looked nearly new, so I decided to look it up and get a confirmation of the age (If it's 20 years old, you want to say "past its useful life", but if it's really newer, you don't want to say that).

So in looking up the model number, I stumble onto someone's posting of a problem with that particular model... The guy says in the posting that his wife had gotten an electric shock when connecting a hose to the hose outlet. He got an electrician who traced it back to the hot water heater. The anode inside the heater (same heater I had in this house) had corroded and was putting electric charge into the water, and 100 volts was measured at the faucets in the house to "ground".

Now this would ordinarily make no sense because plumbing is supposed to be grounded, so how could you get an electric shock from it, but if you have a water well (instead of city water), very often the pipe coming from the well is plastic, so the plumbing might actually NOT be grounded. That was the case in the house where the guy had the electric shock problem.

The beach house I inspected has city water, but there was a rubber hose section that bridged between the service pipe sticking out of the garage floor, and the house plumbing. The house had a flat rate water bill so there was no water meter either.

So in my H-I report to the buyer, I made a precautionary recommendation that the electric circuit breakers that power this hot water heater should be changed for GFCI protected circuit breakers which would protect against that problem.

This time I noticed the section of rubber hose, but I might miss it next time, so I will put that recommendation in as a standard rec any time I see an electrically powered hot water heater.

BTW... The water heater was 20 years old, but is not past it's useful life because the house is shut down over the fall and winter every year, and the water heater is drained for 9 months of each year, so in reality, this HW heater only has 5 years of use on it.

Ira Eisenstein
Strictly Business Home Inspections
908-202-2208 / 732-438-6564