Homefix: Dwight Barnett answers home-improvement questions. This week's topic is on installing a water heater in a modular home.
Q: My son recently purchased a modular home and was told there were no problems with it. Within two weeks, the water heater stopped working and it needs to be replaced. He’s now heating water on the stove to take a bath. Do modular homes use those newer heaters that don’t have tanks? My son works hard just to make ends meet and doesn’t have the money to hire a plumber. Can you help so I can tell him what to do?
A: Modular homes and mobile homes — often referred to as manufactured housing — utilize every square inch of space for living and storage. To take advantage of the space, the water heaters are usually located in a wall cavity of a closet or behind the furnace.
There should be a recognizable wall panel held in place with screws that can be removed to reveal the water heater. A word of caution when replacing a water heater in a manufactured home: Manufactured homes have their own set of rules and regulations and do not fall under a state’s building codes.
In a site-built home, a gas-fired water heater cannot be located in a bedroom or a bathroom or in a closet accessed through a bedroom or bathroom. The reasons are for health and safety. Any appliance that burns natural gas, propane or oil uses a lot of oxygen taken from the room’s air just to burn the fuel and vent it out the chimney.
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When the gas appliance is located in a confined space, it is possible that the appliance will deplete the oxygen levels in the room to a point where asphyxiation can occur. When the air you breathe contains low levels of oxygen or when carbon monoxide is in the air, the human body’s blood supply cannot deliver the required amount of oxygen to the brain, and injury or death can occur.
Water heaters for manufactured housing are specifically designed to fit in small, confined spaces, even in bedrooms and bathrooms. These heaters cannot be replaced with a standard water heater found at home and hardware stores. The flues are specifically designed to vent directly to the outside, while at the same time they deliver fresh combustion air to the water heater.
There may also be a pipe or hose under the water heater that extends to the foundation crawl space, which then delivers additional fresh combustible air to the confined space. Proper installation of the water heater is essential to the health and safety of your son. Hire a professional plumber.