Electric Water Heater in Garage

We read recently that the code just changed as of April 1 stating that electric water heaters do not have to be 18" off the ground in a garage. Does anyone know if this is true (or was this an April Fool’s joke)? We inspected one today that was only 8" off the ground and we don’t want to call it out if it is now considered okay.
Thanks in advance for your help.
Jessica Glickman

Generally speaking, no - an electric water heater is not required to be elevated in the garage. However, your local jurisdiction may disagree.

The water heater listing will usually give the most accurate requirements.

Water heaters aren’t elevated in the garage in this area.(never have been). It is up to the AHJ to determine the interpretation of the code.

Down south of you, the local jurisdictions do disagree.

I was out in Alpine a couple of weeks ago when the local AHJ was at the being-constructed house next door. He came over and sought me out and asked me about electric water heaters in the garage and whether or not I thought that they needed to be elevated. I said that I thought they did. He said, and I quote directly, “Good. We need to get the word out to these builders that electricity is an ignition source just like gas.” My house and the house next door both had 75-gallon electric water heaters sitting on the garage floor; I suspect the other eight houses did, too.

Thanks. We took your advice and checked locally. It is 18inches here even for electric.
Jessica Glickman

The California Code requires them to be raised. . .

. . .but my area (Santa Clarita) does not. The general consensus seems to be that the manufacturers listing is the determining authority.

Many AHJ’s in LA City and in unincorporated LA County don’t see eye-to-eye on this issue, but it seems pretty clear to me, based on this part of the code - *“Devices generating a glow, spark or flame capable of igniting flammable vapors.” *

The manufacturer will generally list their product accordingly. If there is any ambiguity, local codes/requirements should prevail.

Check out Flammable Vapor Ignition Resistant (FVIR) water heaters info. (pdf)

or this …

“The Water Heater Joint Research and Development Consortium (WHJRDC) developed new water heater technology that solved the problem of flammable vapor ignition associated with gas water heaters. The (relatively) new water heaters meet the ANSI Z21.1.1-2001 standard that states the water heater “shall not ignite flammable vapors outside the water heater created by the spilling of…gasoline onto the floor”. A study by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) identified almost 2000 fires as a result of water heaters resulting in 17 deaths and 316 injuries through 1994. About 75% of these fires were related to improper storage or handling/spillage of gasoline.
With compliance to FVIR standards, these water heaters no longer have to be elevated in garages and similar locations unless required by the manufacturer or local code authorities. Most codes have already been updated to reflect the FVIR technology starting in 2002 with the 2002 National Fuel Gas Code and the 2003 International Fuel Gas Code.”

Interesting to note…almost on the same topic…is the lack of code restriction for electrical outlets that are less than 18" from the garage floor.

I’m thinking it’s because one would be “in attendance” while plugging (sparks) something into a receptacle and be able to smell the offending fumes whereas the water heater sparks on its own…just a thought.

I’ve never found a garage with outlets that were less than 18" above the garage floor, so maybe the electricians everywhere that I have worked know something. Usually they are about two feet high, sometimes three feet high, and even higher if there are workbenches in the garage.

Back in 2001 when I was with CREIA and ASHI, there were ongoing discussions there, and at inspectionnews.com, about dryers and why they are not required to be raised 18" above the garage floor. The common explanation–right or wrong–was that “attended” appliances don’t have to adhere to the requirement. Obviously (hopefully) the water heater is not an “attended” appliance; at least, I don’t stand out there at the water heater once a day adjusting anything like I do at the washer and dryer.