June, 2002
You Tell Us
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Inspecting gas water heaters - a difference of opinion


To the editor:

In his article on gas water heaters (ASHI Reporter, April 2002), Matt Bradfeldt made a very risky suggestion that exceeds the ASHI SoP. In my opinion, the gas line shut off (3)(5) should NEVER be turned, due to the risks, among others, of leakage and breakage.

In addition, draining a tank (4) may take off some sludge, but I believe that it is not the sludge that causes noisy “bumping,” but rather a layer of strongly adhered minerals that forms on the tank bottom due to deposition as a result of reduced solubility of bicarbonates as water temperature is increased, driving off the dissolved carbon dioxide.

Sacrificial anodes (6), which are rarely if ever replaced, do not have “adverse reactions to water,” nor do tanks, as oxygen, not water corrodes iron. Water facilitates this reaction because it contains ions that increase its conductivity. In rusting, oxygen removes electrons from iron metal, creating positive iron ions (which would dissolve); when there is a magnesium or zinc anode, the iron electrons are replaced by electrons from the anode metal, restoring the soluble, charged iron ion to an insoluble neutral iron atom. The anode in turn dissolves (adding positively charged ions to the water) rather than the iron, thus the moniker “sacrificial.”  

Matt notes that a fallen baffle (7) is the primary reason for carbon monoxide production, leaving the impression that one could visually detect the cause, but anything that disturbs the burner-flame geometry  (dislodged burner, rust, etc.) can result in incomplete combustion.

In “Inspecting,” I agree that combustible gas detectors are outstanding instruments but the use of “combustionable” gas leak detectors is questionable.

Jeffrey C. May
ASHI Member and author, “My House is Killing Me! The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma”

The Technical Committee responds

To the editor:

Because all articles submitted by Members are reviewed by the Technical Committee, I felt it was important to respond to Jeff May’s criticisms of “Tips for inspecting water heaters,” by Matt Bradfeldt. This also provides me with an opportunity to explain how articles end up in the Reporter.

When an article is submitted for publication, it is first reviewed by the editor. She compares it with other recently printed items or to selections awaiting publication, determines the timeliness of the topic, and makes a decision as to when a subject might best be received. For example, if several articles about mold are submitted, it might work better if they were spread out over a period of months, rather than published one after another. At the same time, other articles work well as a companion or follow up to an article on the same topic.

Next, articles are e-mailed to the technical committee for general comments and notes on technical accuracy. Extremely long articles require several edits, and an equal number of technical reviews. Occasionally members of the committee disagree with the author on specific points, and additional research and discussion time is required before the final article is ready to go.

During the editing process some specific areas in the work can loose emphasis and other areas can gain importance simply by changing a word or two. Some-times it is done intentionally; other times unintentionally.
Those of us who reviewed Matt’s article feel confident that the piece provides important information to the Membership; therefore, we want to respond to the criticisms made by Jeff May. But please note, we do appreciate his comments.
Mr. May believes that turning a gas valve should NEVER be done during a water heater inspection. There are many who would agree, but there are some inspectors who believe that not checking this important part of the fuel distribution system would be a disservice to their client. As a Master Gas Fitter, I have no problem with the amount of tension Matt proposes to apply to a gas valve to determine if it’s stuck, and though the Standards of Practice state we are not required to operate shut off valves, they do not prohibit it. The Standards of Practice provide us with a uniform baseline standard to work with. Experience, client demands, and inspector interaction determine how far beyond the standards each inspector is willing to go.
As for the sludge issue, many manufacturers including Rheem and American Water Heater recommend some form of draining off the tank, and state that sludge is a cause of the popping or bumping sounds often heard.

Mr. May’s detailed explanation of how the Sacrificial Anode device works is appreciated. We believe this section in the article made its point. The rod is installed to prolong the life of the tank. A depleted rod increases the chance of a tank leak.
Because of our wide readership area, Mr. May’s statement “rarely if ever replaced” may be painting with too broad a brush. One of the things I’ve learned since joining ASHI is that what is a common practice or occurrence in one area, may not be in another. Inspec-tion and replacement of the sacrificial anode is recommended by manufacturers. Rheem suggests annual anode inspections. American says every three years and both provide guidelines as to when it should be replaced. I’ve been a Master Plumber for 20 years, and I have replaced a few anode rods.

I believe the “adverse reaction” statement made in Matt’s article refers to the occurrence of strong odors omitted from the water of some water heaters installed on well systems. When this happens, the manufacturer will recommend and sometimes provide the buyer with a replacement rod of a different composition. This portion of Matt’s report may have lost something in the editing, if so we apologize.

When carbon monoxide is discovered, it is often due to the baffle falling into the flames. As for “the primary reason,” this statement was not made. Certainly other flame concerns can be the culprit as well, but please note that when the baffle falls down into the flames, you can see the baffle.

Finally, regarding the use of test instruments, the editor takes responsibility for misspelled words. In general the use of test instruments is always a matter of choice. Probably the only tool inspectors will agree that must be used during a home inspection is a flashlight.

Kenny Hart
Technical Committee Chair

Clear up committee confusion

One thing I took away from the New Orleans Membership Committee meeting was the frustration of those who have problems finding the right place to get a problem addressed. Either a pamphlet or the Reporter should contain a list of the standing committees with the committee’s responsibilities. Even those of us who’ve been around 10 or more years aren’t always clear where oversight on an issue resides.

John Flanagan
John P. Flanagan & Company
Hamden, Conn.

ASHI’s Standing Committees

Bylaws Committee
Purpose: To prepare amendments to Society Bylaws when requested

CEPP/CCAC Committees
Purpose: To review and resolve complaints filed against Candidates and Members

Chapter Relations Committee
Purpose: To foster a beneficial relationship between ASHI National and ASHI chapters

Conference Planning Committee

Purpose: To plan and produce the Society’s annual conference

Education Committee
Purpose: To design, develop and disseminate education materials for the home inspection profession

Elections Committee
Purpose: To oversee the Society’s elections

Executive Director Evaluation Committee
Purpose: To assist the Board in monitoring and evaluating the Society’s Executive Director

Facilities Committee
Purpose: To monitor the condition and maintenance of ASHI’s headquarters building

Finance Committee
Purpose: To guide financial planning and policies for the Society

Leadership Committee
Purpose: To assist the ASHI Board in monitoring committee activities in relation to accomplishing ASHI’s workplan

Legislative Committee
Purpose: To ensure that all legislative efforts benefit ASHI and the home inspection profession

Membership Committee
Purpose: To recruit and retain the Society’s membership

Nominating Committees
Purpose: To select nominees for annual ASHI Officer and Director elections

Public Relations Committee
Purpose: To promote ASHI and the home inspection profession to the general public, related industry organizations and home inspectors

Standards Committee
Purpose: To develop and maintain recommended home inspection standards

Technical Committee
Purpose: To serve as ASHI’s watchdog for accuracy and relevance in all technical matters

For more information about committee responsibilities, refer to the Policies and Procedures manual available on ashi.org, or contact Angie Stark at HQ (angies@ashi.com).