4 Ways to Hide Your Water Heater (& 3 Outdoor Options)

The life expectancy of a water heater is between 8 to 12 years, depending on the manufacturer’s suggested service life. So it would be best if you had a specific place to store it. Also, some water heaters aren’t really that pleasing to the eyes, hence ruining the aesthetics of your house.

If you don’t store it properly, that is roughly a decade, give or take, of an eyesore in your space. That brings us to 4 ways to hide your water heater:

There are 4 primary ways to hide a water heater in your home. This include:

  • install a decorative screen or room divider
  • hide it behind a curtain
  • install your water heater in a closet
  • build a cabinet enclosure

Your choice depends on how large or small the water heater is. Water heaters can range from approximately 20 to 120 gallons, with most households having a 50-gallon water heater.

Below we look at the ways you can discreetly hide your water heater in your home.

How to Enclose a Water Heater?

When enclosing your water heater, you have to consider whether you want a complete enclosure or an option that offers partial or moderate coverage.

Partial Enclosures for a Water Heater

1. Screen or Room Divider

A simple screen can work wonders in barring the heater from public view. Make the screen simply because decorative screens can attract attention.

Unlike curtains that people associate with privacy, fancy screens attract attention, and people want to inspect them because they look like part of the furniture. 

To make a screen or room divider work, place it in a room with little human traffic like the laundry room or basement.

Room dividers and screens are easy to fix and affordable. And they are a more sturdy alternative to curtains.

These options work more like covers because they do not entirely enclose the water heater. Water heater covers fall into two categories. They are either curtains or screens.

2. Curtains

A curtain remains the simplest and easiest way to put your water heater out of sight. The curtain acts as a divider, and it can slide to the side.

The curtain can be decorative or plain, depending on your decor. Some people even go for a simple piece of clean cloth.

For the curtain to work, it needs to run from top to bottom, but it cannot be flush against the heater. 

This is an excellent option if you want to have something decorative but not permanent. It is an option if you live in a rented apartment because you can remove it whenever you move. 

Curtains also tend to denote private areas, so others may be hesitant to look behind the curtain. 

Complete Enclosures for a Water Heater

3. Closets

Customized closets to hold the water heater offer a complete enclosure of the unit. Make a personalized closet according to the dimensions of the unit.

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Of course, you have to contend that the closet may look out of place if you place it in a high-traffic section of the house. The closet can look deliberate and artificial. 

Remember, the whole point of hiding the water heater is to be discreet and in line with the overall decor of your space.

You can overcome the obviousness of a closet by choosing a nook out of the way and using the same wallpaper to match the rest of the decor.

For example, you can place it in the laundry room, basement, or even the kitchen.

The advantage of using a closet is that it is durable, and you can lock it so that the heater does not pose a hazard to anyone in the house.

4. Cabinet

Cabinets are smaller and more discreet than closets. That makes them a bit more versatile in where you can place them without looking like an eyesore.

You can place a cabinet in the basement or the kitchen, and it can be recessed or free standing. You can purchase a wooden cabinet, although more people prefer to use an all-metal unit.

They are durable, and they offer better use of space. You can even create a water heater cabinet to put in a closet for enhanced security and protection.

Other Options to Make Your Water Heater Less Noticeable

  • Place The Heater Outdoors in an Enclosure

You can place the heater outdoors. However, this is going to cost you to put up the structure to house the heater. You have to pay for the plumbing and piping system from the outdoor heater enclosure to the house. 

Use the outdoor structure as a decorative element on your patio or deck or the backyard. The good news is that having the outdoor structure frees up plenty of space in your house, leaving your space looking less cluttered.

However, you must make sure that the water heater is an exterior model. That means it is designed to be installed outside.

Building codes require all the water heaters to be installed indoors. If you install the heater outdoors, you must build a shelter to protect it from the elements.

  • Have The Heater Built Into The Walls

You can have the heater built into the wall to keep it out of view. The heater can be mounted onto the wall or inserted into the walls. 

This is a familiar concept in commercial buildings or hotels. When the water heater is in the wall, the plumbing and wiring channel the water directly to the faucets, but you may hear a rumbling noise in the walls.

The main problem with this scenario is that any damage to the heater can compromise the wall without you knowing. But if you carve out adequate space for the heater in the wall, you do not have to worry about compromising the wall’s structural integrity.

Also, most wall heaters are inserted to be easy to reach and repair in case of a problem.

  • Consider a Tankless Water Heater

A tankless water heater uses electric or gas burners to heat the water directly when the faucet turns on. 

That is unlike the tank heater, which features the heating elements inside the tank. So the cold water enters the tank through a tube where it is heated in the tank. Once the water is hot, it rises out of the tank through the threat out tube and runs throughout the house. 

With a tankless water heater, you get hot water at all times without having to wait for it to go into the tank for heating. A tankless water heater works well for a small space.

What to Consider When Hiding Your Water Heater

1. Aesthetics

It is always critical to put aesthetics at the forefront of your mind when concealing a water heater. You want to ensure that the enclosure is not apparent, poorly done, or untidy. 

For example, if you decide to insert the heater in the wall, make sure the walls covering the area are neat and well done. Ensure that the contractor doesn’t leave fault lines and other marks on the walls.

In hotels and commercial buildings, you will notice the walls are flawless, even if the heater is within the wall. You can consider using intricate wood artisanship on the closet or cabinet.

2. Safety

The materials that you use in constructing the enclosure should be safe. For example, the curtain should not touch the water heater because it can cause a water hazard.

It would be best if you have a clearance of 12 inches between the heater and the enclosure. The clearance needs to be on all sides around the heater. 

In most cases, you will find the water heater in the basement of the house. Unless the basement is in constant use, it will work as a safe space because there is typically very little traffic to the area.

Steel enclosures are a favorite for water heaters because they come with adequate insulation. Also, they can handle 300 psi (water pressure). Many also come with bonded glass to keep the rust away from the water in the tank.

Most importantly, rust doesn’t easily combust like many other materials, including wood, cloth, and plastic.

3. Durability

The material you choose should give you a decent number of service years. That is why most homeowners prefer steel enclosures like cabinets and closets.

Curtains can be flimsy and won’t last long. Screens are not as delicate but compared to a cabinet or closet. They may not have a long lifespan.

4. Cost

The good news is that hiding a water heater doesn’t have to cost you too much. If you opt for a curtain or screen, you will spend much less than if you decide to go with an enclosure.

For curtains, the fabric and rails to hang the curtain on are what you should consider the most. You can buy cheap panels to make a screen. Better still, make it yourself as a DIY project, and it will cost you even less.

A closet or cabinet also doesn’t have to be high-end. But you have to get a contractor who is well versed in the codes of building and installing water heater closets to make one for you according to the correct specifications.

Is it Safe to Enclose a Hot Water Heater?

It is safe to enclose a water heater as long as you adhere to the following:

  • Do not use Insulation Blankets

The main reason for this restriction is because the insulation can catch fire from the heat from the heater. That often happens when the blanket covers the top of the heater and the heating elements panels. The panel includes the pressure relief valve, anodes, vents, and temperature control valve.

And because many people do not wrap the blanket properly, it is recommended not to use it. 

Plus, an insulation blanket is not necessary for a new water heater. Also, you should not use the blanket if the water heater is near a place where the heat can cause an explosion. That is why the state codes require the unit to be installed in the center of a water piping system.

  • Follow Installation Specifications

Manufacturers of water heaters usually have a recommended clearance allowance for their heater when placed in an enclosure. Many recommend as little as one-inch clearance.

However, building code requirements states that you need to leave a 12-inch allowance for proper airflow on all sides of the heater. That is because the one-inch allocation by the manufacturer is not sufficient to allow enough room to install piping like the pressure release tube and others.

Air ducts that facilitate combustion in the tank, like the pressure release tube, must have a diameter of at least three inches.

If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you must install bracing straps, also known as seismic straps. These straps hold the heater in place when an earthquake strikes. They are only two straps.

The shifting ground during an earthquake can cause water or gas leaks and dislodge electrical wiring, making the heater a hazard in the home.

The straps secure the top and bottom thirds of the heater so that the unit stays put. But they must be at least four inches from the heater’s controls. 

  • Facilitate Easy Retrieval of the Water Heater

The heater should be easily retrievable. That means you can access the enclosure and the water heater removed without demolishing the closet, cabinet, or walls.

That is why all water heater closets and cabinets must have doors that must be closed. These doors must open and shut quickly, and if left unattended, they should self-latch.

The unit must not feature any parts that hold the doors open.

Also, ensure the enclosure allows you to easily reach the controls and connections of the unit in case of repair.

Inaccessibility can cause a relatively simple task of water heater maintenance to be a major headache.

How Far Should a Wall be From a Water Heater?

The 12-inch clearance allowance applies to both the walls of the enclosure and the house’s walls. For example, if you use a screen, the water heater should be 12 inches away from the screen and the nearest wall.

5 Types of Water Heaters

You will find 5 styles of water heaters on the market. They are:

1. Tankless Water Heaters

These units are known as on-demand. And just like they sound, they have no tank. 

Tankless water heaters heat the water as it flows through them without retaining any of the water. The only water that is heated is what flows through the heat exchanger coil. 

A tankless heater can run on gas or electricity. It is crucial to make sure that you get the correct size for your home and needs.

Getting a small tankless heater when you need something larger will result in lukewarm or even cold water. And getting a massive heater means that you spend more on electricity or gas to heat more water than you need.

A tankless water heater can last between 10 to 20 years, with most having an average lifespan of 15 years. It is a very energy-efficient option because it only heats the water you need instead of holding and heating large amounts of water all day.

2. Storage Tank Water Heater

This water heater is the opposite of the tankless option mentioned above. It features a tank with water that gets heated before it flows into the faucets for your consumption. 

The capacity of the tank will determine how much water is available to you. The storage tank water heater is the most common and popular of all the heaters on this list. Once the water is heated, it remains warm in the insulated tank. 

The tank has two critical valves: The temperature valve to moderate the temperature once the water gets to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. And the pressure valve to lower the pressure when it bulbs up to 150 psi. 

One of the disadvantages of this water heater is that if the water in the tank runs out, you have to wait until the tank fills up and heats another batch. Also, it can be challenging to hide the tank or keep it discreet.

It also has a more demanding maintenance process because you have to clean the inside of the tanks twice a year to remove sediment and avoid corrosion.

A storage tank water heater has a lifespan of up to 12 years.

3. Solar Water Heater

The solar water heater gets its heat from the sun. So, you need to have solar panels to use this type of heater. It is an efficient option because it relies on renewable energy, and it is ideal if you live in a sunny climate. 

The solar energy from the panels is transferred to a heat conductive element to heat the water in the tank.

However, it is unreliable on cloudy days. You may need to use electricity or natural gas to heat your water on cloudy days.

The tank needs regular cleaning to remove scales and minimize corrosion. Unfortunately, solar-powered water heaters can be pretty pricey. Plus, the solar panels need frequent maintenance to run efficiently and provide consistent solar energy for the heater.

4. Hybrid Water Heater

A hybrid water heater utilizes heat in both the ground and the air to heat the water. It uses an electric pump to move the heat from the ground and the air to the tank to heat the water. That is the opposite of conventional storage tank heaters that directly generate heat in the tank using electricity.

The pump is placed on top to help channel the heat. This type of heater can use up to 60% less electricity compared to a conventional heater.

However, it needs lots of room to install and enough clearance for the air and heat to circulate safely.

This heater also features a tank that needs regular cleaning. But, hybrid units do not work well in cold climates or basements because they have to pull heat from the ground and air. Cold places do not have enough heat for the pump to pull.

Also, a hybrid heater is expensive.

5. Condensing Water Heater

This option uses natural gas as an energy source. The heater has a tank and heating elements, just like a conventional storage tank heater.

The water is heated when hot fumes from your home’s natural gas system are funneled to heat a coil at the bottom of the tank. 

Apart from cleaning the tank itself, you will also need to clean the gas import valves transporting the fumes.

Unfortunately, this option is available only in large sizes of over 55 gallons. Besides, you need natural gas for this water heater.

Closing Thoughts

Out of the above types of water heaters, the only one that gives you discretion without hiding the unit is the tankless water heater. 

All the others feature tanks, so they need to be hidden from view.

Hiding the heater can be a gift if you do it with the suitable material, in the right place, and with the help of an expert.

However, the process often becomes a curse because many people do not follow building code specifications or use cheap materials. Some people decide to make it a DIY project only to ruin the job and remain with an eyesore of a cabinet or closet in the most obvious places.

It is always best to get a professional to do proper enclosures for your water heaters. But if it is a curtain or a screen, you can do that yourself.

Sources:

Some Useful Tips For Hiding Water Heater In Your Home

How to Enclose a Water Heater

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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