Does a water heater in a closet in the house have to be on a 18" stand ?

Not around me. Check with your Municipality and see if they require or just desire any such height or specific stand to be safe from combustibles (if gas). Around me, water heater's are just put on bricks, cinders blocks or even just a couple inch thick pad. However, 1 thing your should definitely have is a Water Heater Leak Pan that's connected to your plumbing, to avoid any flooding as the water heater ages...this too may be a requirement for your area.
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