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posted: 9/5/2014 12:01 AM

Tenant worried about water heater safety

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Q. We rent a one-story house with a basement and are worried about the safety of the water heater. We asked the landlord about this, so he had it checked out by a plumber. The plumber said the water heater is in an unsafe place, but he didn't give us any details. Actually, it's located high above the basement stairs, and you need to stand on an 8-foot ladder just to see the bottom of it. The plumber said it looked like the owners installed it themselves. Should we be worried about this?

A. What you describe sounds like a foolish and impractical installation. In all likelihood, there are some code violations, which is usually the case when water heaters are not professionally installed. This would need to be determined by a qualified professional, such as a home inspector or a licensed plumber. Unfortunately, the plumber who looked at the fixture was not more specific about what he regarded as "unsafe." For example, is the platform under the water heater strong enough to support that much weight? Are the gas or electrical connections installed in compliance with safety requirements? If it is a gas unit, is the flue pipe securely attached, and does it have sufficient clearance from combustible materials? Are the heating elements or the burner compartment accessible for service and inspection? Are the water supply connections visible for inspection, and is the water shut-off valve accessible? Is the water heater equipped with a temperature-pressure relief valve, and is the valve piped to the exterior, as required?

These are some of the questions that should be answered to determine whether the water heater is safely installed or is in need of repair work. You should contact the plumber for answers to these questions.

Q. My husband and I are thinking about buying a fixer-upper that has mold and dry rot. The owners want to sell it "as-is" because the mold was not disclosed to them when they bought the property, and now they are in a lawsuit with their home inspector. We have a contractor's repair estimate of nearly $60,000. Are we getting in way over our heads, and should we just look for a different home? I am really in love with this house. I think we could make it a nice home, but I was wondering what you think about these issues.

A. You should strongly reconsider buying a house that needs $60,000 of repair work, unless (1) the price is adjusted to offset the $60,000 and (2) the $60,000 repair costs are set in stone and not likely to exceed that level once the repair work begins. In cases involving moisture-related damage such as dry rot and mold, repair costs nearly always exceed estimates because additional problems are usually found once the walls, floors and ceilings are opened up.

Don't let your emotional attachment to this home be your decision-maker. When people walk away from this kind of purchase, they usually find something they like much better, sooner or later. My considered advice is "buyer beware."

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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