Water heater drain pans, when are they required?


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WH drain pan


Water heaters are used in all kinds of buildings, from homes to industrial buildings. They need to be maintained and installed properly in order to avoid extensive water damage. Since they are not guaranteed against failure the International Building Codes (IBC) and Uniform Building Codes (UBC) establish safety requirements for all buildings.


Before 1991 the need for drain pans was not established clearly in any building codes. The 1991 Uniform Plumbing Code, a section under the UBC, defines the need for a drain pan in furred spaces. What does that mean? Well there was no consensus definition of what a furred space was, creating numerous problems. The 1997 Uniform Mechanical Code changed the wording so the code clarified where a drain pan is required by adding the wording ‘where leakage….will cause damage.’ In 2000 the International Residential Code clearly defines where a drain pan should be installed and how it should be drained. These three sources show that since the early nineties the need for a drain pan is established but where installation is required has evolved based on damage potential.


2000 IRC – §2801.5 Required pan, pg 393 – “Where water heaters or hot water storage tanks are installed in locations where leakage of the tanks or connections will cause damage, the tank or water heater shall be installed in a galvanized steel pan having a minimum thickness of 24 gage (0.016 inch) (0.4 mm) or other pans approved for such use.”


Damage from fugitive water can include mold/mildew, flooring damage, structural integrity problems, and electrical system failures. The potential for expensive property repairs is high, whereas a sufficient drain pan can cost as little as nine dollars.