Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: When we bought our house, the home inspector found no problems with the water heater. On moving day, the gas man had a different story. Instead of lighting the pilot, he capped off the gas and said it is illegal to have a gas water heater in a bathroom. He advised moving it to another location or replacing it with an electric water heater. The seller says he installed the water heater himself and that the previous water heater was in the same location. Is the seller required to move or replace the water heater since he is the one who installed it, or is this our problem?  Lauren

Dear Lauren: Your home inspector should have reported this problem. It is common knowledge among experienced inspectors that gas-fueled water heaters are prohibited in bathrooms. You should notify your inspector of the situation and request a reinspection. The seller, on the other hand, may be liable for installing a water heater without a permit, but most homeowners are unaware that permits are required for water heater replacement.

The purpose of a permit for water heater installations is to insure compliance with pertinent plumbing and safety codes, including the prohibition against placement in a bathroom. If the seller did not obtain a permit, he is in no position to defend the quality of the installation. This does not mean that he is contractually obligated, as a seller, to correct the problem, but you have a reasonable basis for demanding that he do so.

Water heaters are prohibited in bathrooms for two reasons: 1) Faulty exhaust venting can contaminate the air, causing asphyxiation; 2) Inadequate combustion air supply can reduce the oxygen level in the room. Either of these would be very dangerous for someone relaxing in a tub of hot water.

The code requirement is clear. Its intent is to save lives. The gas man was right. The water heater should be moved or replaced with an electric one.