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Home Sweet Home

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Water Heater Wonders

Today I'm taking a break from the house narrative to muse upon the wondrous workings of the water heater. There it sits, quietly plugging away, keeping you and your family warm and comfortable, with nary a thank you. You never really think about it much, until you have to, and then it gets your full attention in a hurry.
In my case, I have been aware that the water heater has been approaching the end of it's life span for quite some time now. The handwritten date on the outside says "installed in 1994". Typically water heaters start heading south for the winter when they are about ten years old, so you might say I've been expecting a problem.
When it came, it was sort of an anticlimax. I was envisioning gallons and gallons of gushing hot water pouring out of the bottom. (well, that's how it happened for my father in 1977). Instead the water got super hot and burned my hands a couple of times. I just thought that was kind of strange, but let it go by with only a comment or two. Then the water just went cold. Of course we were in the very beginning of a three day holiday weekend, wouldn't you know. I didn't have any money for a plumber (especially on a holiday weekend) and I had five loads of laundry to wash and a load of dishes in the dishwasher. I panicked. Then I called my step dad and he reassured me that it didn't have to be the whole water heater, it could just be the thermostat. My tears dried up instantly. "It could?" I asked with just a little tremor in my voice and suddenly a lot of hope.
I hung up and went upstairs and typed in "Electric water heater failure symptoms".
I clicked on the first one and up popped a whole bunch of electrical diagrams and instructions on how to read something called Ohms. Ohh.
Hit the go back button. If there is one thing I know it's that I don't know anything about electricity. I will happily leave that to the pros.
Clicked the next site.
Then the angels began to sing as light began to emanate from the computer...
well, maybe not, but I did find out how to fix the problem. The only hitch? It would probably be temporary.
The problem was that the thermostat was not working (could be due to many things, even rusted on the inside and broken off) and the water was getting too hot, causing the reset button to trip.
I ran downstairs and grabbed my trusty screwdriver and proceeded to unscrew the only panel I could see on the entire thing. Problem, I didn't see anything but insulation, and I didn't want to mess with that. So I put the panel back on and went back for another read.
Ahhh. I was supposed to move the insulation out of the way and supposedly the innards would be revealed.
I ran down and unscrewed the whole thing again, this time dropping the metal panel on my toe like a little guillotine. I didn't have time to stop though, 'cause I was on to something. Removed the insulation and there it was. The magic button. I tentatively reached in and pressed it. Nothing happened, at least that I could see or hear. Only time would tell. I waited a few minutes and went over to the sink, and then the angels really did begin to sing and golden light...okay, well, we did get hot water.
Of course as soon as it gets too hot it will again shut off. But it's okay, cause I'm calling the plumber in the morning.

Some interesting things I learned:

Did you know??: That you are supposed to use a garden hose to drain five gallons of water out of the water heater every six months to remove the sediment build up on the bottom of the water heater and increase the longevity of your appliance? (That ticking noise you hear when water starts heating up is the sediment in the bottom.)
That the water heater is the second biggest user of energy in your home right behind your air conditioner? (Hmm, that would explain my 652 dollar electric bill last month.)
That if a bird or anything else blocks the flue of your gas water heater that it can blow up?
That it is (supposedly) easy to change out the heating element by yourself? (Said with skepticism.)
Of course as with any appliance, before doing anything to it, you should cut off the power at the fuse box. That was nothing new to me, but I was in too much of a hurry to read that part. Of course I wasn't doing anything but pushing the button, but that leads me to the most important thing. If you don't know what you're doing, call a professional. Amen to that. I've got him on my speed dial.

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