Sunday, October 17, 2004

Hot Water Heater

March 2004

The hot water heaters that were installed when the house was built were getting old. We were beginning to experience not enough hot water for showers after Lauren took her shower and then Linda and then me. So the idea was to stay ahead of an actual problem and change out the hot water heaters to avoid a problem later. There are two hot water heaters -- one in the garage for the kitchen, washer/dryer and garage and one in the hallway for the bathrooms.

There are a couple of steps to this:

1. Find a new hot water heater.
2. Switch out the old one with the new one.
3. Haul off the old ones.

There aren't that many different hot water heaters. I found six or so to consider. I'm looking for two 50-gallon gas hot water heaters. I can check locally at stores and on-line.

I checked locally at Lowes, Home Depot, Sears. Online at State, Rheem, and Maytag. Looking at warranty (8 to 12 year), BTUs (40K), Energy Factor (.58 to .64), recovery (40.4 to 44.9 gals/hour). The best of the bunch seemed to me to be the GE unit from Home Depot. It was slightly more expensive than the Whirlpool unit at Lowe's, but had a higher Energy Factor (.62).

The next problem was step 2 -- how to actually do the switch. Looking at the way the old units were installed, it became clear to me that I couldn't do this myself. I can so some plumbing, but I don't sweat pipes; I just don't have any experience or training in doing so. So I would need to get a plumber. That changed the whole problem of getting the hot water heaters.

Most plumbers wanted to do the whole thing -- provide the hot water heaters and do the work. Buying the hot water heaters from Home Depot would be about 400 each, or 800 total. Plumbers wanted much more for the hot water heaters and then the installation too. Sears wanted $1700 for the two. Custom Plumbing quoted $1275 (each) for the hot water heaters. And almost all of them were for the State brand of gas water heater, but not the better version (Premier) but for the Standard.

Eventually, I went with Fox Service Company. They would do just the installation.

So, on 18 March 2004, I rented a truck from Home Depot ($20.90) and bought two 50-gallon GE Hot Water Heaters ($904.13) and brought them home. On the 19th, Fox came out and installed them ($765.00). There was one "minor" problem -- we apparently had two 40-gallon heaters before, so it was a bit of a tight fit, but they got it done just fine.

Or it seemed that it was fine. There was one minor problem that didn't show up for another 7 months. In October, I opened the heating closet and found that the hot water heater was sitting in a pool of water. There is a pan under the hot water heater, so that if it leaks, the leak is contained. The pan then needs to drain, and Fox had connected the drain for the water heater to the drain for the air conditioner, so it didn't overflow.

Of course the unit was still under warranty, so I spent the next couple of days on the phone trying to get this hot water tank replaced. This was not easy. I notice the problem at 12:30 AM Friday 8 October and called at 7:30 AM to report it. I was told that "Someone will respond within one business day", but by 5:30 no one had responded. For days, I got the run-around. Since it was the weekend, everything was time and a half. By Monday, I was told "We are really backed up on our warranty work; maybe Thursday. Maybe."

With lots of calls, I was able to get Sully to come out on Tuesday 12 October. I had previously gone to Home Depot, rented a truck and got a replacement (40-gallon) hot water heater. In two hours, the work was done. ($170.00). Then I had to rent another truck and take the leaking hot water heater back to Home Depot to get credit for the replacement unit I bought.

In retrospect, it would have been much easier if either (a) I learned how to install the hot water heater myself, so that I could do the whole job, or (b) I had the plumber do the whole job. Even with a warranty for the unit, we were without hot water for 3 or 4 days, and it took a lot of coordination to get it done.

And it probably wasn't necessary. While there was water all around the hot water tank, in the pan, and the rust suggested the hot water heater had been sitting in water for a long time, there was the suggestion that the water came not from the hot water heater, but from the A/C system. Remember how Fox had tied the hot water heater pan drain into the A/C drain? The suggestion was made that the water from the A/C system was going down its drain and then into the hot water heater pan. To prevent that, the last plumber cut the connection and sealed it, so the hot water heater has no drain. I got some battery operated alarms that are supposed to warn of water in the pan.

Update (28 Dec 2018):  While we were resting after dinner, there came a shrill noise to the kitchen.  We tracked it down to the hall way, and then to the hot water heater.  It was the battery operated alarm that I had put in the pan.  And there was water in the pan!

There is a pressure/temperature relief valve at the top of the hot water heater (on the side), and it was leaking around that.  I've known that these things will/can fail, and this one apparently was on the verge of doing so.  I called a plumber, Wilson Plumbers, and they sent two guys out to fix it.  They had two replacement valves, but one was too short and the other too long (it prevented the door from closing), so they had to go get the right size, but they did, and installed it.  The whole thing took about 2 hours.  (They said our water pressure, which they measured at 100 pounds, is too high, but also that the springs in these valves just give out eventually.)

A couple of days after the plumbers had been out, I opened the door to the hot water heater, and there was water -- inches! -- in the pan.  The drain/flush valve, at the bottom of the tank was dripping, quickly!  So I turned off the water to
the hot water heater, drained the tank, and removed the top of the drain valve.  Looks like it needs a new washer.  I found 00 Flat washers at Home Depot (1/2" outside diameter) as being almost the right size -- a tad too big, but they can be squished to fit.  Then a new screw -- #6-32 brass, about 1/2 long at most.  Put that all back together, and fill it up again.  Seems to be working with no drips.