Water Heater

Has anyone here ever seen a water heater in a crawlspace? This is where it was located in an older home yesterday. Just wondering if this was ever the norm for installation.

I have seen them occasionally. The biggest concern is the unit mounted on the soil – it must be on a concrete slab or similar protector.

Most that I have seen were electric, but on those using fossil fuel, flues must be properly vented to the outside and proper combustion air must be introduced into the crawl.

It was directly on the soil & it was an electric one.

It was actually the 2nd water heater in the place & was supplying water to an addition on the back of the home. I figured it was the original WH & they had replumbed when they added the extra rooms.

There was a newer unit inside the laundry room.


I agree with Jae, here is some info about crawl spaces.

Any fuel-fired furnaces, water heaters,or other appliance in a closed crawl space should be of a “direct vent” or “two pipe” design, meaning that all air for combustion is piped directly from outside to the appliance and all combustion exhaust gases are piped directly from the appliance to outside.

The file I wanted to post exceeds our allowed limit.Good read anyway.
I hope this helps!

That’s a no-no…direct contact can cause rapid deterioration – and nobody checks on it often.

The next thing – is the supply wire to the heater well supported or protected with a metalic covering?

And definitely recommend the buyer check with the local AHJ for permits.

A couple weeks ago I posted about a client who checked and it was amazing what she found…do not let your client buy someone else’s liability!!!

There is no general requirement that supply wiring to equipment installed in underfloor spaces have an overall (or partial) metallic outer covering. There is a requirement that permanently fixed in place electrical equipment installed in such spaces have some form of electrical disconnect within sight of the equipment. This is the most frequent electric related nonconformity, in my observation, for underloor electric water heaters.

Must be a local thing – support in EMT or Bx is required around here.

The problem with the disconnect in the crawlspace is that no one goes under there or remembers that is where they put it.

We’re talking about a local disconnect (local, as in proximal to), for servicing the equipment safely. Not overcurrent protection (fuse or breaker), although that disconnect may have a fuse or breaker. This local disconnect is expressly required by the NEC, and has been so for many decades. The only way around it is a permanent lockoff device on the overcurrent device that feeds the water heater.

I see electric water heaters in crawl spaces all the time. Again, the unit should be installed above the soil (on top of a vapor barrier isn’t sufficient).

Another common issue: the TPR valve will vent directly into the crawl space. Here’s what I say about that: “The discharge pipe from the pressure relief valve discharges into the crawl space, where any leaks would not be noticed. It should be plumbed to the exterior and terminate no more than twenty-four inches above grade and no closer than six inches to it, or it should discharge to a concrete floor in a conspicuous area where no damage would result.”


What MARC is refering to is Sec. 422.31(B) of the NEC, in that if that water heater ( ie: fixed appliance ) is not within sight of the service panel's OCPD for that water heater..........It would need to have a switch or breaker locally ( at the unit ) in order to serve as the disconnection means for that fixed appliance.

Where this is not possible the switch or breaker must be able to be locked in the off position. We see this alot however I prefer to see it at the actual appliance. The great thing about the NEC in this issue is it makes it very clear your options.

The safety aspect of this requirement is simple, if the unit is in need of service it needs to be able to turned off to allow for this service. Chances are if their is no way of locking this out and their is no disconnection means at the appliance…someone could turn the breaker back on while a service person is working on the unit…not something I want to see happen and I am sure you dont either.

The argument for protection of the conductors could come into play lets say if ROMEX is used to the water heater…as some will say it is subject to physical damage, and that ROMEX must run to the contour of the building and so on but I dont think that is the question here unless I missed something.

As for the safety aspect to the HI…I agree 100% with MARC’s statement.

I wanted to add…I dont see anything in the IRC that would prohibit the installation of an electrical water heater in a crawlspace as long as the space has access and clerance for inspection and operation.

Now…if they tried to place one in a crawl that you simply can’t get into or is too small then It would not be allowed by the standards of the IRC.

Now this is totally different if we are talking about a GAS fueled water heater…but alas we are not in this example.

The Inspection Bureau Incorporated, the certified local electrical inspection service, doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the NEC sometimes. The NEC is not law, but a guideline for inspectors, and some inspectors have their own agenda.

I fully agree with the safety aspect…but I’ve had some serious discussion years ago with the inspectors concerning the NEC, its application, and its relevance. I never seemed to win those things, however…

Yesterday’s inspection. High humidity conditions in crawl spaces are rough on water heaters.

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Ah…very true Jae…very true…I guess we can only look at the safety aspect of the disconnection within sight or locked out…I know I would not feel safe replacing a water heater in a crawl by simply turning off the breaker up stairs in the house…

Kinda like the story I tell about my friend who got killed when we was working on a panel 480V, 1200 A I believe…in a commerical job and was told the panel was not live…started in as a habit and well…I wont go into it but I miss him.

Happened before my very eyes…and was helpless to do anything as I had just come into the room from another part of the building.

That is sad. And it points up the problems when the NEC is followed.

All we can do, as home inspectors, is to point out the conditions and educated the clients…they take it from there.

If you’re in Ohio, your state has adopted the IRC on a statewide basis. http://www.iccsafe.org/government/adoption.html

This NEC reqirement for a disconnect for water heaters is repeated, almost word for word, in the IRC.

I understand that home inspectors don’t get into the code too much, but just thought I’d throw in that link to the ICC site anyhow. You can click on your state and see what codes are in force on a statewide basis for your state, and see what local counties or local jurisdictions within your state have also adopted additional codes.

The state of Ohio has adopted the IRC, but each AHJ can elect to “alter” it to suit themselves.

You’d be surprised the things I find that the AHJ allows that are contrary to the IRC.

Unfortunately, the inspection agency is not the AHJ. The inspection agencies often take it upon themselves to not enforce certain requirements, and that is a shame. The inspection agency is an agent of the AHJ, and the inspector in an employee of that agent. Neither the inspector or the third party inspection agency are the AHJ. Either the town council or the state legislature is the actual legal AHJ. This becomes an important fact if a person ever needs to take a certain issue to the wall.