To start your inspection of a new water heater installation in a Chicago condominium you have to determine what type of a water heater you actually have.
The following water heater installation guidelines will most likely apply in any jurisdiction (please double check). The only difference or rather an addition would be water heater strapping and flexible gas connectors that are required in seismic areas.
Below are 4 most common types of water heater installation in Chicago new condos:
- Tank type /natural draft water heater with a metal vent pipe (galvanized steel – make sure there is no aluminum vent pipe used)
- Tank type / induced draft / power vent water heater with a PVC vent pipe installed
- Electric type water heater
- Tankless type gas water heaters – depending on manufacturer and design it might be plastic or metal vent pipe
Water supply line for your Chicago condo water heater installation – it must have a shutoff valve so in case your water heater or any hot water line starts leaking, you can turn it OFF. The WH water shutoff valve is required on the INLET (cold) pipe only.
Main water shutoff (to turn off water for the entire apartment) is usually installed close to the water heater valve. If you can’t see the shutoff valve ask for it because it might become handy in some situations.
Those will be most likely made out of copper (no flexible connectors permitted in Chicago). Because water inlet and outlet of the water heater are galvanized steel, there must be some kind of a separator installed between copper and galvanized. In most cases brass or dielectric union connector (pipe union connector with a plastic insert). Without it, the pipes will eventually corrode and start leaking.
- Check union connections for leaks on the water heater installation
- Water heater temperature settings – this is of course totally your choice, but most experts recommend staying below 125°F (48,88°C) – even that temperature could cause second or third degree burns if the child continuously exposes skin to water at that temperature.
1. Natural draft type water heater installation, tank type water heater with a metal vent pipe inspection
Check if the water heater installation metal vent pipe is the same diameter as the draft hood collar diameter (at the connection). Some draft hoods are designed for 3″ and 4″, but if it is only 3″ diameter, and 4″ pipe installed – vent pipe requires reducing coupling. If the draft hood has a 4″ diameter connection – do not reduce it to 3″ because it will compromise proper venting – Carbon Monoxide poisoning hazard.
- Every single wall vent pipe connection must be secured with 3 sheet metal screws / no tape of any kind. It’s not because the tape doesn’t seal the connection, it’s because you can’t see through the tape. This sometimes prevents early discovery of a corroding pipe, holes, leaking condensation – they are all signs of a draft problem, which should be spotted as soon as possible and corrected by a professional.
If your water heater installation has a single wall vent pipe, it must change to a double before wall or ceiling penetration.
- Minimum 6” clearance to combustible materials is required for a single wall pipe, which must never be installed inside the wall, ceiling, unheated or inaccessible areas.
“T” shaped connector installation poses safety hazard, because furnace induced draft motor could push exhaust gases back into the water heater vent pipe and contaminate your condo.
2. Tank type / power vent equipped water heater installation and a PVC vent pipe inspection
All power vent equipped water heaters PVC vent pipes connections must be glued / air tight (with PVC pipe cement / not silicon), secured at power vent with metal clamp on rubber connector (unless differently specified by the manufacturer)
- PVC vent pipe size (2″, 3″ or 4″) – you have to check that in water heater manual, it will depend on the water heater size (how many gallons), BTU input, and vent distance from the water heater connection to the exterior wall termination
- There are louder and quiet water heater power vents but all should be tolerable – if the noise is annoying, there’s usually something wrong with it
Tank type water heater installation – safety drip pan
- Water heater installation drip pan must be plumbed to the floor drain or other approved location (indirect connections only / it cannot be tied to a sewer line, plumbing vent pipe, etc.) using at least the same diameter pipe as the TPR valve discharge end diameter size (3/4″ in most cases) – check if drain pipe connection to the pan is tight and sealed to prevent leakage.
- Any water heater installation inside a cabinet, under the counter must include a drip pan
Water heater installation – TPR valve (Temperature Pressure Relief valve)
- There must be a safety discharge pipe attached to the TPR valve, same size as the valve discharge end (usually ¾”)
- TPR valve discharge pipe must never be downsized or run uphill
- No traps, kinks or any restrictions (such as shutoff valves) are permitted along the TPR valve discharge line
- There must be no threads at the safety pipe discharge end – people are tempted to cap it when it starts leaking. Because leakage is always a sign of a problem – faulty valve or excessive pressure inside the installed water heater tank – it must be fixed immediately. Capping that safety pipe might result in tank explosion.
- Water heater installation safety valve (TPR valve) pipe must be made out of copper, galvanized steel or CPVC (no PVC pipe permitted – temperature rating too low) – there’s usually marking along the pipe wall
- TPR valve discharge pipe must terminate within 6” from the floor surface or continue into the floor drain or other approved location / only indirect connections are permitted
- No white Teflon tape is permitted on water heater gas pipe connections – small pieces of tape can get shredded during assembly, break off, and flow downstream to block a gas valve. There is a special yellow Teflon tape and compounds / paste available for gas pipe joints.
- No flexible gas appliance connectors are permitted on Chicago (and Illinois) water heater installations. Peoples Gas allows CSST (Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing) as a final connector for permanently installed appliances, such as water heater or furnace but those are still rare in Illinois.
- Water heater installation gas supply line must have an emergency shutoff valve and so called drip leg installed to collect moisture from gas lines before it contaminates water heater gas valve (where you adjust temperature)
Extremely important and already covered in a different part of this Chicago condo inspection manual – Combustion Air.
3. Electric water heater installation inspection (tank type) / Chicago condo inspection
Water heater drip pan, TPR valve and discharge pipe requirements are the same as above.
- Electrical conduit should be secured to the water heater with a connector and all wiring concealed inside the water heater connection box / other side of the conduit is usually attached to an electric junction box. There should be no loose conduit, exposed wiring, loose connection box / junction box covers.
- Check electrical panel for a breaker marked “WH” or “water heater” – it will look like (but it should not be) two single breakers with handles connected together (for 220volts).
- Check for a proper grounding of an electric water heater installation – there should a ground terminal with a screw (usually green color) on top, next to, or inside the wiring box cover. If you can’t see it, turn off the electrical circuit breaker marked “water heater” or the main breaker (safer method) prior to removing the box cover.
- There should be a green wire or other color wire marked with a green tape attached to it. I would suggest a licensed electrician to trace the other end of the wire (to ensure proper connection) or to install one if missing.