Still Too Hot: Examination of Water Temperature and Water Heater Characteristics 24 Years After Manufacturers Adopt Voluntary Temperature Setting

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Although water heater manufacturers adopted a voluntary standard in the 1980s to preset thermostats on new water heaters to 120°F, tap water scald burns cause an estimated 1500 hospital admissions and 100 deaths per year in the United States. This study reports on water temperatures in 976 urban homes and identifies water heater and household characteristics associated with having safe temperatures. The temperature of the hot water, type and size of water heater, date of manufacture, and the setting of the temperature gauge were recorded. Demographic data, including number of people living in the home and home ownership, were also recorded. Hot water temperature was unsafe in 41% of homes. Homeowners were more likely to have safer hot water temperature (<120°F) than renters (63 vs 54%; P < .01). For 11% of gas water heaters, the water temperature was >130°F, although the gauge was set at less than 75% of its maximum setting. In a multivariate logistic regression, electric water heaters were more likely to have safe hot water temperatures than gas water heaters (odds ratio R=4.99; P < .01). Water heaters with more gallons per person in the household were more likely to be at or below the recommended 120°F. Our results suggest that hot water temperatures remain dangerously high for a substantial proportion of urban homes despite the adoption of voluntary standards to preset temperature settings by manufacturers. This research highlights the need for improved prevention strategies, such as installing thermostatic mixing valves, to ensure a safer temperature.

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