Your Gas Water Heater May Be At Risk Of A Violent And Deadly Flashback Fire

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

Your Gas Water Heater May Be At Risk Of A Violent And Deadly Flashback Fire
Image: NCCC
August 22, 2018

Is your gas water heater safe? It's probably perfectly fine, but there's a hidden danger in all gas water heaters that most people don't know about until their houses go up in smoke. What is that hidden danger? A gas water heater, or even any gas appliance with a pilot light, can produce a sudden flashback fire.

what causes flashback fires with gas appliances?

Gas appliances are safe if you heed certain safety precautions. Most flashback fires occur with gas water heaters kept in garages. Many of us do all sorts of different things in the garage, from storing paint and mixing solvents to pouring gasoline. If these items are stored or used improperly in enclosed environments, highly flammable fumes can build up and ignite once they reach the pilot light. Depending upon the concentration of the fumes, the flashback can be minor or very severe.

How common are flashback fires?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports about 800 flashback fires yearly with an average of five deaths and 130 injuries. This number of fires is relatively low compared to the number of other fires that occur, but these flashbacks can be very violent and deadly if the flammable gas concentrations are high. These fires can be prevented with some very simple safety precautions.

Safety Precautions for gas water heaters and other appliances

These types of fires are easily preventable. Don't store or use flammable liquids near any appliance with a pilot light. If you have a gas appliance in the garage and you need to use flammable liquids, open the door for ventilation.

newer gas water heaters are safer

Newer gas water heaters are required to have a flame arrestor, which will trap and burn any flammable vapors inside the heater while protecting against flashbacks. If you do decide to purchase a new water heater, make sure it has a flame arrestor. But don't just assume that because you have a newer water heater that yours has a flame arrestor. You need to check for one and ensure it's working.

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 water heater, which will heat water instantly on demand. Some of them even qualify for tax credits.