12 June 2009

Failure...Not particularly catastrophic

My water heater died yesterday, in a pool of its own rust-stained water. Two days before, the hot water for my shower had been behaving erratically, like it does when I try to take a shower while the water is running on the garden, but there was no water running. I didn't think much of it at the time. Then last night, I discovered that there was no hot water in the house. At all. I went downstairs to check the water heater. There was a small quantity of water under it, but no other suggestions of a problem.

This morning, the heat coming on woke me up. I'd forgotten to turn it down from the cool-spell yesterday before going to bed. I got up to turn it off, and, since I was up anyway, went to check on the water heater...and this time there was a rather large quantity of water surrounding, and I could hear more water running into it to fail to be heated. The two largest streams of water came from either corner of a panel on the front. I managed to get buckets under the panel, and then tried to find a shut-off valve for the thing. I didn't find it until after breakfast, after scanning the connections diagram from the manual that had been taped to the tank. Then I knew which pipe to hunt down, and it was there, almost buried at the back. It didn't get rid of the water already on the floor, but at least no more would be collecting.

The plumber I called got someone out to look at the thing within a half-hour of my calling. He pronounced the thing dead, told me that if I wanted to switch from electric to natural gas it would more than double the price (as I had no hook-ups or flue), and indicated that the person with the new tank would be coming before noon, probably within the hour. In fact, he got there at about 1:30 pm, or about 4.5 hours after the first visitor. I found this very frustrating. Now, if I'd been told something like "There are three people ahead of you; it probably won't be until noon or so," I would be fine with it. But "within the hour" and "before noon" were both entirely misleading. I could have gone out and gotten some lunch or groceries had I had even a semi-accurate time estimate.

Okay, done ranting. The plumber was a decent enough guy. Somewhat amusingly, I didn't even notice he had a Japanese face until he mentioned his aunt visiting from Japan. When I looked for it, I saw it in his features, but he had a perfectly normal midwestern accent. I had noticed the black hair and not-quite-white skin, but there are so many hispanics in this area that they barely registered.

So, I now have a new water heater and a slightly cleaner (and damper) basement. Since I had to pull it out anyway, I finally got the cats' cheaper climbing tree repaired. It needed the bolts tightened and the rope for the scratching posts rewound and/or replaced. Princess seemed to like having it outside, though: it put her at the perfect height to watch the housefinches flying around the birdfeeder. Oh, when the first guy was there, Jilly was in the basement. She does not like strangers. She climbed into the ceiling and growled the whole time he was there. When the second plumber came, all the cats scrambled outside somewhere until he was gone.

Actually, there had been hints of a problem before this week, but I'd misinterpreted them. There was a little bit of water in the storeroom around both the furnace and the hot water heater. I had figured that the discharge hose from the furnace just had a hole in it and needed to be replaced (for those who don't know, modern furnaces give off water as a byproduct of the heating process). I never got around to it. If I had, I might have found a perfectly intact hose...and turned my suspicions to the water heater a month or so sooner. Ah well. 20-20 hindsight and all that.

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