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I received a "gift house" from my father-in-law a few years ago. A lot of the problems have been repaired over the past few years, but I have a major one that keeps kicking my butt.

The previous owner (not inlaw) enclosed the garage and did a sloppy job of enclosing a gas water heater in a closet inside of the washer/dryer room. It has literally killed me for the past few years as it has zapped my electricity bills and allowed rodents access to the internals of the house. The house is on peer and beam minus the enclosed garage which is obviously slab. The inside of the hot water heater closet has holes, gaps and large drywall cut outs everywhere which opens up to the crawl space below the platform the water heater sits on. You can also see the roof planks if you look at the closet ceiling. The water heater also does not sit inside a proper drain pan. In addition to all of this, the size of the closet causes the washer/dryer (side by side) to overtake the door entry way to the laundry room.

I do not have the funds to upgrade to a tankless unit at this time. But, I am wondering if I can drain and remove the heater and then tear down the closet. Properly fix the walls and ceiling behind the HWH and fix the heater platform (with drain etc) and make sure I properly vent out the gas exhaust and basically get rid of the closet all together.

A few other pieces of info. The washer/dryer are electric. The water heater is 3 years old. I live in Dallas. There are two standard interior doors; one leading to the kitchen, the other leading to the master bath. The washer/dryer room is about 6x12 and does not have an a/c vent in that room. However, the kitchen and master bath both have ducting.

Is it safe to get rid of the closet? Can I demolish it and repair the walls behind the unit and simply sit the HWH back on its platform opened to the laundry room? Does anyone know if this would cause any code issues? I do plan on having a CO2 detector next to it if I do so.

Here are some pictures to hopefully give you an idea of what I am working with. Please ignore the mess.

water heater platform without drain

ceiling of water heater closet

hot water heater closet inside washer dryer room

Thanks in advance for your advice!

  • How much clearance is there between the vent pipe and the incoming/outgoing water pipes on top of the heater? That exhaust can get hot, so watch that clearance when you move it around to fix the broken connection. – JPhi1618 Apr 5 '18 at 13:08
  • Perhaps counter-intuitively, do not place a CO detector near a gas appliance. If they are too close you will get false positive alerts. Generally, CO detectors should be placed outside of each sleeping area (bedroom or group of bedrooms), and one on each level – mmathis Apr 5 '18 at 13:45
  • @JPhi1518 Unfortunately the hot water side pipe was welded in place after connecting it to the hot water outlet. I plan to cut the pipe off and use a metal braided hose between the pipe and the heater during the removal process. My main reason for doing this to the hot water pipe is due to the fact that it presses up against the exhaust and actually does not provide enough room for the exhaust vent to sit properly on top of the hot water heater venting area. – ThaKidd KG5ORD Apr 6 '18 at 2:23
  • @mmathis Yes I currently have CO2 detectors in the kitchen (away from the gas oven), hallway to the bedrooms and also the master bedroom. Good call on catching that. I didn't explain that part of my post well. – ThaKidd KG5ORD Apr 6 '18 at 2:24
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The closet is protecting the water heater from damage. I don't think you should demolish it at the present time. I doubt leakage of unconditioned air into this heater closet is having any significant effect on your electricity bills.

It is my understanding that there is a code requirement in Dallas that tank water heaters have a pan under them, and there must be a drain from the pan to the crawl space, to the outside, or to a garage where it would drain out. But if you don't have a pan, I don't think you are required to remove the tank and install one.

For the life of the current tank water heater, forget about about a tankless water heater for this house. The cost would not make sense for this dwelling.

The first thing to do would be to get carbon monoxide (CO) detectors installed in the living space of the house (bedrooms and hall or living room). Next insure that the combustion gas flue meets code.

Then attack the rodent problem with snap traps (no poison) in the heater closet and in the attic if it is accessible. If you have children or pets, you must put the traps where they cannot get caught. If rats are in the attic or garage, they will find a way into the living space of the house. If you want to put traps in the garage, put them at a height where pets cannot get to them or put the traps in a box with an opening that denies entry to dogs, cats and children.

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    Correct about the drain pan when a leak would damage a finished area. They typically were not required and not installed in a garage, so OP's installation is typical. – JPhi1618 Apr 5 '18 at 13:10
  • Thanks for the info. I do think I will drain and remove the heater so I can repair the holes in the drywall/spray foam stuff as there is not enough room in the closet to fix things. I will also figure out a way to insulate the closet better but still allow air flowto come up from the crawlspace to ensure the gas heater can stay lit. I may install a vent inside of the closet in one of the currently exposed walls. When reinstalling, I will make sure to add a drain pan and drain. Maybe also replace the door to the closet to ensure I can insulate it with weather stripping. – ThaKidd KG5ORD Apr 6 '18 at 2:17
  • Would there be any issue draining the pan into the crawlspace? If I were to do this, I would make sure it does not drain out near the foundation frame. More in the middle I guess. If this is not a good idea, I do have the tools to cut a whole in the exterior brick for the drain to run through. – ThaKidd KG5ORD Apr 6 '18 at 2:19
  • In normal operation the water heater will not send any water to drain. There are two scenarios where the water heater will send water to drain:(1) rupture of the tank, water caught in pan, drain from pan goes to where? (2) opening of the pressure-temperature relief valve, water goes through pipe to where? These events may never happen in the lifetime of the heater. You need to find out what code enforcement says about where you are allowed to conduct the water from these two events. I THINK you would be allowed to send to crawl space, but maybe not. Maybe into garage is allowed. – Jim Stewart Apr 6 '18 at 11:47
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    There are definite code requirements on venting a closet with a gas water heater. You are not allowed to do whatever YOU want to do! If you starve the heater of air you will produce carbon monoxide (CO) and that can lead to the death of everyone in the house. Code on this is taken very seriously by authorities and violation could lead to CRIMINAL liability. – Jim Stewart Apr 6 '18 at 11:55

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