Do You Need to Strap Your Water Heater?

Posted on: February 3rd, 2017 by newportbeach-plumber No Comments

There are some homeowners who are not quite sold on the idea of securing their water heaters.  Why strap water heater, they say.  It is not like someone is going to walk in and take it away, right?  However, the strapping of water heaters is based on the premise of safety.

After all, you wouldn’t want the water heater to fall over and rupture water and gas connections.  But, are there other reasons why strap the water heater?

The History

In 1982 the Uniform Plumbing Code mandated the use of seismic safety straps for use with water heaters.  This is to try and prevent fires, explosion, and water damage in case an earthquake topples the water heating unit.

During the 1990s that requirements for strapping were upgraded so that strapping shall be done at points found on the upper third and lower third of the water heating unit.  The requirement was to use 2 straps without explicitly saying the manner of strapping and the materials that the straps should be made from.

The state legislature under the California Health and Safety Code offered the following standards in 1989:

  • All water heaters sold in the state must be braced;
  • Manufacturers are responsible for providing seismic strap installation instructions; and
  • Generic installation instructions will be prepared by the Office of the State Architect to include illustrations for minimum standards for strapping.

Strapping Recommendations

Strapping the tank is easy, the question is whether it is strapped correctly.  The modification of the strapping procedures covering water heaters is based on the experiences from the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes.  Because of these, there are 2 recommendations put forth:

  1. The top and the bottom portion of the water heater tank must be secured; and
  2. Heavy-gauge metal strapping should be used because it is stronger compared to the brittle plumber’s tape.

Adequate Strapping Standards

The original guidelines set by the code was to ensure that water heaters are anchored or strapped so that it would not be displaced by the horizontal movement resulting from an earthquake.  The standard of installation was never discussed nor the methods of attachment and the hardware type that must be used.  This left a lot to the discretion of the installer.

In 1992 adequate strapping standard were defined to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness.  The guidelines mentioned that:

  • All water heaters, regardless whether gas or electric must be strapped;
  • One strap should be placed at the upper third of the fixture and the other at the lower third;
  • A half-inch diameter metal conduit or at least 24 gauge plumber’s tape must be used for the straps;
  • The straps should go all the way around the water heater’s body;
  • The straps must be secured to the adjacent wall as well as from opposing directions; and
  • Lag bolts that are quarter inch in diameter and 3 inches long must be used to secure the straps to the wall.

Costly Mistake

If you fail to follow the recommended strapping guidelines or ignore it completely, it would be a costly mistake on your part.  Why?  For one, replacement of an earthquake damaged water heater can well be over $500.  The repair of the damage from flood and fire will cost you thousands more.

Make sure that you verify with the local Building Department the requirements in your area.  You should also be aware where the main gas and water valves are located so you can turn it off immediately once a plumbing problem occurs.

If you live in California, the law dictates that the water heater must be braced during the time of sale or when it is installed.  The brace must be securely attached to the wall using studs.

The bracing kits are widely available in most home improvement centers, but you need to make sure that a professional plumber does the strapping.

So why strap water heater? Because aside from safety, it is the law.

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