Your Hot Water Geyser can EXPLODE!

Your hot water geyser can explode!

hot water geyser
Approximately 40% of the installations of water heaters or hot water geysers do not comply with the SANS 10254 specification.
The intention of this article is to inform you, in the interests of your and your family’s safety, what you should and should not see if you happen to stick your head into the ceiling space to check out your hot water geyser. If your geyser installation is significantly different from what is described here, get a reputable plumber to repair it. Check out the videos at the bottom of this article!

In this article, the typical basic requirements of a sound, modern high-pressure, horizontal installation are described. The following description relates to a modern high-pressure (400/600 Kpa) system typically made by HEATTECH.

Horizontally mounted 150 or 200-litre units are by far the most common in modern domestic installations. Less common are old low-pressure systems (100kpa) open pipe or “Latco” type systems. Be aware that the parts are NOT interchangeable between the two distinct systems – High pressure and low pressure! It is possible to remove an old low-pressure system and replace it with a modern high-pressure system, however – you buy a new high-pressure geyser and install it according to the current specification. Vertical geysers are also common.

Safety tips for hot water geyser installation


hot water geyser

Here is what you should see – in no particular order:

Geyser drip tray

The most obvious thing that you should notice right away. The hot water geyser sits in a tray made of plastic (often red) or tin plate. I prefer the plastic ones. They don’t leak. Since June 2001, the drip tray is not optional – it’s got to be there and there has to be a drain pipe for it! The drain is a 50mm PVC waste pipe that drains the tray by piping the water out of the house. I have seen many drip trays installed without drains! If your installation pre-dates June 2001 you may want to get a plumber to look at it. There is a fair chance that there is no drip tray.

Vacuum Breakers

The next most noticeable feature would be the vacuum breakers. These are mounted at the end of a 30cm length of pipe. The two vacuum breakers stand vertically about 30cm above the hot water geyser. These important breakers prevent water from syphoning out the geyser when the cold supply is stopped.

The other function is to prevent a vacuum from forming in the tank and collapsing it. It can be argued that this is the primary function, but I don’t see it as such. Remember those vacuum breakers are a reasonably new requirement – there are still thousands of old HP systems out there without vacuum breakers and I am yet to see one collapse. Just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it’s not happening! It is also more likely to happen in a multi-story building because the syphon can draw a more powerful vacuum. High-pressure systems must have vacuum breakers!

Shut Off Valve

A shut-off valve (tap) on the cold waterside. The cold water side is the side that directly connects to the drain cock and enters the geyser at the bottom. After the shut-off valve, you would normally find a Pressure Control Valve (PCV). There are a number of different types made of brass or plastic. You should notice an overflow pipe connected to the PCV that leads to the outside of the building. This is where the PCV releases pressure and this is the pipe that often drips. It may be mounted on the outside at the entrance of the water supply into the home. Sometimes it’s in a little plastic box outside.

Geyser safety valve

A safety valve, known as the Temperature and Pressure Release valve (TPR Valve) mounted on the hot water geyser towards the top, often on the opposite side to the drain cock. Never mess with or repair this vital component. This valve should have a metal (copper or steel) pipe connected to it and the pipe must lead directly out of the building. This vent pipe is an important safety feature of the whole system. It must be copper or steel. The pressure rating on this valve must match the pressure rating on the geyser. The TPR valve is the least optional component – it has to be there!

Geyser support

The roof trusses must support the weight of the geyser and tray. A minimum of two supports under the ‘feet’ of the geyser in the tray. If it looks shaky have a plumber check it out. Nothing like a full (hot) geyser on the kitchen table to get everyone talking!

Geyser electrical isolator

A requirement is that an electrical isolator switch is installed within  1 metre of the hot water geyser. However, this was not a requirement on old geysers, but it’s worth fitting one. Furthermore, the geyser has to be earthed! I have seen many geysers with the earth wire unconnected. Earthing of all the copper pipes must also be earthed and bonded to the geyser earth. This is not a trivial precaution! Get a qualified electrician to check your installation if the bonding is missing or looks incorrect. Electrocution in the shower is always unpleasant!

Element cover

There should be a cover protecting the thermostat and element.

Hot water geyser piping

The hot water geyser may be fed (cold water) with Polycop (plastic) pipe – up to the shut-off valve, but the pipe into and out of the geyser must be copper or galvanized steel. The PCV and TPR vent pipes also have to be steel or copper, especially the TPR vent. Furthermore, the hot water side should be copper, steel or suitably rated (70°C) plastic or composite pipe. Note that you must have at least 1 metre of copper/steel pipe out of the geyser – you may not connect plastic (composite) pipe directly to the geyser.

As above, the PCV and TPR must be made of copper or steel, particularly the vent out of the TPR valve. In the event of the TPR (safety) valve releasing, the water coming out is likely to be very hot! Furthermore, a Polycop pipe will melt! It will either spill water into your ceiling space or into your geyser tray! The regulations require a metal TPR valve. I have seen a number of installations where the installer has simply run a short length of 22mm copper into the water heater drip tray with the idea being that the TPR can vent directly into the drip tray. This is a very bad idea because the hot (100°C+) water/steam melts the drip tray and the PVC drain pipe.

Typical hot water geyser installation

Note that water enters (cold) and leaves (hot) from above the geyser top as shown in the diagram below. The PCV (pressure control valve) is typically before the geyser.  The cold water piping forms a loop before the cold water flows down into the hot water geyser. This is quite important because it forms an anti-syphon loop that prevents the geyser from draining back through the inlet in the event of a water supply failure. If you get hot water coming out of your cold taps when the water supply fails then this is not working correctly. Get a plumber to come and have a look at the water heater.

Geyser pipe insulation

Lag the pipes into and out of the geyser. This is important if you have ‘Think Pink’ or ‘Isotherm’ ceiling insulation. The reasons are twofold: You lose heat through the unclad hot water pipes and all the pipes are more prone to freezing (and bursting).

In addition, there must obviously be no signs of water! Any water lying in the water heater drip tray is a sign of trouble.

Vertical hot water geysers

The description above describes a modern horizontal high-pressure (400-600 Kpa) system which is the most common type in South Africa. Nevertheless, much of the description still applies although vertical geysers are different. However, low-pressure water heater systems (100kpa), although fairly uncommon, are significantly different.

hot water geyser

The same general rules apply as above, but the outlet and TPR valves must be at the very top of the geyser.  Furthermore, the element and thermostat must always be at the very bottom of the water heater. Allow enough room underneath to allow the changing of the thermostat and element. There is a greater temperature differential in a vertical geyser, the thermostat is a couple of degrees cooler than the outlet water. Turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees more for this reason.

from an article by Blockbuster Plumbing in Home-Dzine



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