Dear Barry,

In a recent column, you recommended that a homeowner install a thermal insulating blanket on his water heater to conserve energy. I strongly disagree for the following reasons:

1. Manufacturers void their warranties if the labels on their water heaters are obscured.

2. Modern water heaters are internally insulated, and no significant energy savings is derived from an added blanket. In fact, the cost to have a plumber install a thermal blanket is about $250. Tests show that the added blanket saves an average of $8.35 per month.

In my garage office, I sit next to my water heater. The thermostat is set one mark above the manufacturer’s recommended setting and the casing is never hot or even warm. My stereo system on the left puts out more heat than is lost through the water heater casing on the right. I’ve bought a lot of recorded music with the $250 I saved. – Russell

Dear Russell,

On the matter of water heater labels, I agree with you. Those who install thermal blankets should provide cutouts to enable access to safety information and operational specifications printed on the fixture casing. In this way, plumbers and others can obtain essential data, and the manufacturer’s warranty will remain in effect.

Unblanketed water heaters, such as the one in your office, lose heat slowly but continuously, even when provided with internal insulation. This gradual dissipation of energy may not produce discernible warmth on the outer casing, but try this test: Install a thermal blanket on your water heater, wait several hours, and then place your hand between the blanket and the water heater. The considerable warmth you’ll feel is the energy that would have been gone with the wind.

As to the cost of a thermal blanket, any plumber who would charge $250 to install a $15 wrap would charge an unsuspecting customer $600 for a new water heater. Instead, you could apply the blanket yourself and provide cutouts in less than half an hour. Given the $8.35 monthly savings you specified, your initial investment would be recouped in less than two months. After that, you could buy an audio CD every two months with the continued savings.

Dear Barry,

If I remove the ceramic logs from my fireplace and burn wood logs instead, is it safe to use the pre-installed gas log lighter? – Dorothy

Dear Dorothy,

The answer to your question depends upon the type of fireplace. Some gas log fireplaces are actually wood burning fireplaces with gas logs installed. Other fireplaces are manufactured strictly as gas-burning fixtures.

When restoring a conventional wood-burning fireplace to wood log use, it is often necessary to replace the burner hardware. Some gas-log burners, and particularly the flex connectors, are not rated for direct exposure to fire. In those cases, all or portions of the gas hardware would need replacement.

With fireplaces specifically designed to function as gas-burning fixtures, wood burning would constitute a major fire hazard.

To ensure that all such conversions are safe and legal, all related changes should be reviewed and approved by a qualified fireplace contractor or a certified chimney sweep.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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