A foolish home owner is crouched near his gas-fired water heater pouring gasoline into a lawn mower. As he pours, some gasoline spills onto the ground and flows beneath the water heater.
None-the-wiser, the home owner walks off. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
Sure enough, later, when the home owner turns on the hot water tap, he triggers the water heater to flame on, which ignites the gasoline and it bursts into flames.
Remarkably, the flame remains beneath the water heater. There is no explosion.
The water heater is equipped with Flammable Vapor Ignition Resistant or FVIR technology.
Effective July 1, 2003 conventional tank-type natural gas powered water heaters have been constructed with voluntary standards that incorporate flame arrestor technology designed to prevent flashback fires. The water heaters trap and burn dangerous gas vapors inside the heater and they prevent ignition of the vapors in the room.
Developed by members of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the technology carries American National Standard Institute (ANSI) performance, construction, and safety standards developed by Canadian Standards Association (CSA) International, according to Sarah McCreary with ANSI.
ANSI is a private, non-profit organization that administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standards system for a vast range of products.
CSA is a private, not-for-profit organization that provides product testing and certification services to make sure CSA certified products in the United States, Canada and elsewhere comply with applicable standards for safety and performance.
The new gas water heater standard applies to all 30-, 40-, and 50-gallon atmospherically-fired, natural draft-vented, natural gas-powered water heaters. Later, more types of water heaters will meet new flame arrestor standards. Power vented 30-, 40- and 50-gallon models must adhere to the standards by July 1, 2004 and the remaining water heater models (typically those with larger volumes and those used for manufactured homes) must comply by July 1, 2005.
Officials are quick to caution: The technology and new standards are not a replacement for proper handling of flammable liquids in the home. Pouring a flammable liquid near an open flame remains foolhardy and potentially deadly.
Millions of gas water heaters, manufactured before the new standard took effect, remain in homes across the country.
Gasoline and other flammable liquids should never be stored or used indoors (that includes basements and garages) where vapors can ignite. Gasoline should be stored in tightly-closed, properly-labeled, non-glass safety containers away from ignition sources and from the reach of kids.
Gas-powered water heater related ignition of flammable vapors causes nearly 800 residential fires, an average of five deaths and 130 injuries each year, according to the CPSC. Such fires typically occur when consumers use flammable liquids, usually gasoline, for cleaning purposes, or when a flammable liquid leaks or is spilled near the water heater. When the vapors come in contact with the appliance's burner or pilot light, the vapors ignite, causing a severe flashback fire or explosion.
"The new water heaters will save lives and property and reduce the number of terrible burn injuries that are caused by these fires," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "The redesigned gas water heaters ... are already on the market."