If a flammable substance is used too close to a gas appliance, the fumes may ignite from the pilot light

Gas Burner Lit / A Gas Water Heater May Cause A Flashback Fire
Image: NCCC
Updated: February 20, 2017

Is your gas water heater safe?

There's a very good chance that it's perfectly fine. But there is a hidden danger in all non-electric water heaters that most consumers don't know about until their houses go up in smoke.

A gas water heater--or any gas appliance with a pilot light--can produce a flashback fire.

If gasoline or other flammable substances are used too close to the water heater, flammable fumes can ignite upon reaching the pilot light. The end result is a potentially violent flashback and a subsequent raging fire.

This scenario is particularly prevalent in garages, which are becoming the new standard location for water heaters in an attempt to save space. Most consumers store products in garages that produce flammable fumes.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports about 800 flashback fires yearly with an average of fives deaths and 130 injuries.

New gas water heaters are required to have a flame arrestor, which will trap and burn vapors inside the heaters while protecting against flashbacks. But it is NOT necessary to purchase a new water heater to stay safe. You can protect yourself by storing and using flammables away from the heater.

If you do decide to purchase a new water heater, make sure it has a flame arrestor. It would also be a great opportunity to invest in an energy efficient model with the Energy Star logo.

You might also consider investing in a tankless gas water heater, which will heat water instantly on demand. Most of them even qualify for hefty federal tax credits.