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Check Your Local Code First

/Check Your Local Code First
Check Your Local Code First 2018-08-13T12:02:21+00:00

It’s not always easy to go green with your home improvement project, sometimes your local building codes get in the way.


A friend of mine, who installs tankless water heaters, related this little adventure in installing a tankless water heater to save energy and be green to me. Here is his story.

Home Improvement Project VS. City Building Departments and Tankless Water Heaters

I have to say that most city building departments are unfamiliar with tankless water heater installations requirements. Here is a recent example; I won’t name the city of course.

For a building permit to replace your tank type water heater you are required to submit a sketch of all existing gas appliances in your home with the length of the gas lines from the meter. Needless to say that the gas lines are not visible, running through walls and whatnot, and it is difficult to determine their length.

The city building official stated “you can estimate it but try to be exact”. We were also required to list the BTUs for all of the gas appliances in the home.

Now the kitchen floor is tile, the stove is really heavy and I don’t want to break any tiles that are 15 or so years old. If you broke one you wouldn’t find a replacement anywhere. So we “guessed the exact” BTUs on it.  This was a home improvement project, not a home demolition project.

This city has a 4 page pamphlet showing what is required for installing a tankless water heater. After “guessing the exact” gas line runs in the walls and having a sketch ready we went to the city and applied for a permit.

The city charged a permit fee of $230.00. After looking at our sketch the city official stated: “you need to run a 1 inch gas line to the new tankless water heater”. The tankless water heater was to be installed only 12 feet away from the gas meter. It didn’t matter that both the gas meter and the tankless water heater had 3/4 inch fittings, we could not use the existing 3/4″ line, it had to be 1″.

We paid the $230 and obtained our building permit for installing the tankless hot water heater. He also told us that there are 2 inspections required, one for the new gas line and after that has been approved, the tankless water heater can be installed and then another inspection is needed.

You have to call the inspection request in the day before you want the inspection, and you have a choice of morning or afternoon; morning is 8:00 am to 12:00 pm, and afternoon is 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm., and the installer has to be there with the installation manuals with him.

The Home Improvement Project Gets More Expensive

By that time we had spent several hours of our time scouting the exact gas line runs, figuring out the BTUs from all the gas appliances in the home, and preparing a sketch for the city building officials.

We were also required to install a seismic gas shut off valve at the gas meter, a good idea if the utility company doesn’t have one already in the street. Some cities require this valve, some not.  More needless costs for this home improvement project.

We installed a new gas line and pressurized it for leak detection, and then we waited 2.5 hours for the inspector to arrive.

The city building department also required the installation of an “excess flow gas valve” when installing a tankless water heater, which we had to order, and it hadn’t arrived on time. The function of that valve is to restrict the gas flow if the line (galvanized steel) ruptures as to limit the outflow of gas.

The valves come in different BTUs, the tankless one is rated at 300,000 BTUs and the tankless heater can only do 200,000 BTUs. Not only that, but the 3/4″ gas line can do only around 230,000 BTUs with that run length. Just valve is just another waste of money.

So before you decide on that new home improvement idea or project, find out if you need a building permit, and if it does investigate what’s required.  Some building departments can turn a green home improvement project brown in a hurry.