Home hot water heater temperatures are too high, warns a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Despite the adoption of voluntary standards by manufacturers to preset hot water heater temperature settings below the recommended safety standard of 120-F, temperatures remain dangerously high for a significant proportion of homes, presenting a scald hazard for young children and the elderly. The report is published in the March 2013 issue of Journal Of Burn Care Research.
In the U.S., tap water burns cause an estimated 1,500 hospital admissions and 100 deaths per year and the economic burden stemming from these burns is tremendous. According to the researchers, human exposure to hot water at 140-F can lead to a serious burn within 3 seconds, and at 120-F a serious burn can occur in about 10 minutes. Young children and older adults have thinner skin which burns more quickly putting them at increased risk.
"Hot water temperatures above the Consumer Product Safety Commission's recommended 120-F were observed in 41 percent of homes we surveyed, including 27 percent of homes with temperatures at or above 130-F. We also found renters were less likely to have safe hot water temperature than homeowners," said Wendy Shields, MPH, lead author of the study and an assistant scientist with the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management. "Delivering hot water at a consistent temperature is difficult. As a hot water tank is depleted, replenished and reheated, water temperature will not be constant throughout the tank. In addition, water heater thermostats are not designed to provide precise estimates of water temperatures, making it difficult for residents to assess the exact temperature."