Dear Angie: My water heater is leaking. The plumber I hired said it would cost $150 for a water heater code violation. Do you know what he is talking about? — G.C., Columbia, S.C.
Answer: I reached out to the City of Columbia's code enforcement division and spoke to a few local plumbers who are highly rated on Angie's List. Based on the unanimous assessment of your situation, I'm confident there are no residential codes related specifically to water heaters leaking in Columbia.
If a water heater is leaking in your residence and it's not affecting other properties around you, it's highly unlikely that city inspectors would make a priority of asking to see your water heater or taking action against you if they did.
But that doesn't mean you should ignore your leak.
There are a couple of scenarios in which a leaky water heater could draw a fine from property maintenance inspectors. For example, if you lived in an apartment and a water heater leak caused damage to the apartment below; or, if you owned a rental property, the water heater was leaking and you didn't correct it, the renters could complain to the city property maintenance inspectors. If you didn't correct the problem, property maintenance officials could issue you a fine. Whether it's a finable offense or not, though, a plumber is not the person to impose — or collect on — such a fine.
That said, any water heater must be installed in compliance with the International Plumbing Code. It's possible that what your plumber was trying to convey is that it will cost $150 to repair the water heater in a manner that makes it compliant with that code.
Although your problem isn't likely to draw a fine, it is important that you have the leak repaired. Not only will a leaky water heater cause an increase in your water bills, it could lead to severe water damage to your home, plus make the water heater unsafe to operate.
I recommend you contact at least two more reputable and licensed plumbers in your area for an estimate on the repairs.
If you do think the plumber was trying to collect this "fine," contact city licensing officials with that plumber's information. If the plumber put any of that information in writing, that could help officials determine whether the plumber was misrepresenting his services and whether there should be ramifications as a result.
Lastly, any time a contractor tells you that you have a code violation, seek the opinion of at least two more reputable professionals in your area to help make sure what you're being told is legitimate. When in doubt, contact your local code enforcement agency.