Are Newer Water Heaters Safer Than Old Units?

If you have a tank-type water heater that is more than 10 to 15 years old, you should definitely start thinking about replacing it. Not only will your old unit likely fail in the near future, but replacing it with a new unit will also reduce your energy costs. New water heaters are also safer than units produced even a decade or two ago. Let’s look at some of the different safety features that make this the case.

How New Gas Water Heaters Reduce the Risk of Fire

Electric water heaters have always been slightly safer and less likely to cause a fire since they don’t produce flames like gas units. Even though new gas water heaters are much safer than older units, there is still a small fire risk. Nonetheless, most people still opt for gas units as they will almost always cost less.

Gas water heaters have been responsible for numerous fires that resulted from people storing gasoline or other flammable materials in too close proximity to their water heater. If gas or other flammable liquids are spilled, the flames from the water heater’s burner would sometimes ignite either the liquid or the flammable fumes. This is why it used to always be necessary to mount the water heater at least 18 inches off the ground if the unit is installed in the garage.

Since 2005, every residential gas water heater manufactured or sold in North America is required to be a Flammable Vapor Ignition Resistant (FVIR) unit. These FVIR water heaters are required to have several important safety features that are designed to the risk of the unit igniting any flammable vapors and starting a fire.

One change that was made to make all gas water heaters FVIR was to completely seal off the burner compartment to prevent flames from potentially escaping or “rolling out” of the unit. This is important in ensuring that the unit cannot ignite any nearby items. All new water heaters are also required to have a flame rollout safety switch. This switch will automatically shut down the burner instantly if flames ever do start to roll out of the combustion chamber. The switch uses a sensor that detects the flames and will activate and shut down the unit if the flames pass a set boundary.

Another change was to use a safer method for drawing in combustion air. All modern gas water heaters also have what is known as a flame-arrestor plate or screen. This plate is usually made of stainless steel or ceramic, and it is how combustion air is drawn into the unit. While combustion air can flow through it, the plate prevents the flames in the combustion chamber from passing through it. This ensures that the unit won’t cause a fire should any nearby flammable vapors ignite inside the chamber.

How New Water Heaters Control Temperature and Pressure

All new water heaters are also required to have a high-temperature limit switch that is designed to reduce the potential risk of the unit’s tank explosion due to high pressure. As water is heated, its pressure always increases. The higher the temperature is, the higher the pressure is.

If the water were ever to get too hot, it could cause the pressure to rise so high that the tank would rupture or even explode. The high-temperature limit switch ensures that the temperature and thus the pressure can never rise high enough for this to occur. If the temperature ever rises above a set limit, the switch will activate and instantly shut the water heater down to prevent the temperature and pressure from continuing to rise.

All water heaters have been required to have a temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve for well over 100 years. If the pressure inside the tank ever rises too high, it causes the T&P valve to open so that some water drains out of the tank to lower the pressure. The only problem is that the T&P valve can potentially break or get stuck closed, and this could lead to the tank exploding if the unit has any issues that cause the pressure to rise too high.

The addition of the high-temperature limit switch is a secondary safety feature that ensures the temperature and pressure can never get too high even if the T & P valve isn’t working. The limit switch also helps to prevent the risk of potential scalding that could occur if the water temperature was allowed to rise too high.

Why Most New Water Heaters Don’t Have a Pilot Light

Another difference between new and old gas water heaters is that the majority of new units no longer use a pilot light to ignite the gas burners. Instead, they typically use some form of electronic igniter. This change was primarily made to improve energy efficiency as keeping a pilot light constantly lit wastes quite a bit of energy. Electronic igniters are also much more convenient since you’ll never again need to worry about the pilot light going out.

The fact that a pilot light produces a constant flame means that there is always a small risk that this flame could lead to a fire. The use of an electronic igniter eliminates this risk and is yet another way that new water heaters are safer.

Why Tankless Water Heaters Are Always the Safest Option

In spite of all of the different safety features found on new tank-type water heaters, there is still always a risk that the tank could rupture or leak. This is why more and more people are choosing to switch to tankless water heaters instead. A tankless water heater almost instantly heats water on demand, and the fact that these units don’t store hot water mostly eliminates the risk of leaks and water damage.

The only real way that a tankless water heater could ever leak is if the pipes that feed into and out of it themselves develop a leak, and this is a possibility with any type of water heater or any other plumbing fixture or appliance. Nonetheless, you still won’t need to worry about the tank rupturing and flooding your home like you do with a traditional water heater.

As with traditional units, electric tankless water heaters are a bit safer than gas units since they don’t produce carbon monoxide. There is always a slight risk of carbon monoxide leaking out of a gas unit, but it shouldn’t ever happen as long as it is properly vented and you have it inspected yearly. That being said, it is still important to have a carbon monoxide detector near any gas water heater or any other gas-burning appliance.

Expert Water Heater Services

At AJ Danboise Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical, we install and service all types of water heaters as well as water filtration systems, sump pumps, and garbage disposals. We also specialize in drain cleaning as well as a full range of electrical and HVAC services. We’ve proudly served the area since 1925. To learn more about your options for a new water heater or if you need any plumbing, electrical, or HVAC service in the Farmington Hills, MI, area, give us a call today.

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