Monday, September 17, 2007

Home Owner Blues

You may have noticed I haven't been online much today. That's because I've spent most of the day in the basement utility room working on the water heater. Ah, the joys of being a homeowner.

Like most Alaskans in the MatSu, indeed most Alaskans period, we have well water. It's pretty good water as such things go, but it's heavy in calcium and iron. I put an over-sized, whole house reverse-osmosis filter in a couple of years ago, right after we installed the new bathrooms and dish washer, but somehow I never quite got around to flushing out the water heater. So, the last couple of months the water heater has begun to make odd noises, almost as if there is a small angry man trapped inside who wants out, now! Which, you know, would figure. If I was trapped inside a water heater, I'd want out too. It's dark in there.

So anyway, noise inside a gas water heater usually means sediment build-up, and you need to flush it out. Excessive sediment reduces water volume and heating efficiency. Get enough sediment, long enough, and you're in Lowes buying a new heater. As we used to say when a mission had gone completely to hell, not exactly an optimal solution.

Today I finally had enough of the noise. I killed the gas, secured the fresh water feed, hooked up a hose to the heater drain and ran it out the basement door into the woods behind the kennel. Then I opened the pressure relief valve to allow air into the tank and cracked the drain valve on the heater and went back outside expecting to see a large steam cloud in the 37 degree morning we're having today.

Hmmm, no cloud, no steam, no water coming from the hose.

Not good. The lack of water and steam meant that my procrastination had allowed sediment to build up in the bottom of the tank, where it no doubt hardened into a solid mass blocking the drain valve. Fortunately for me, twenty plus years in the Navy had prepared me for this exact situation - I knew exactly what curses were most appropriate, and I was able to swear for a full five minutes without repeating myself. Unfortunately, even Navy cursing wasn't enough to unblock the drain valve.

Remove the hose, unscrew the valve spline cap, pull the guts out of the valve, poke around with a thin blade screw driver and Foosh! a face full of hot water, calcium debris and brown irony goop. Not one drop of which ended up in the bucket I had placed underneath the drain valve. This time, while cursing, I did repeat myself. Several times. I got the hose back on and reinserted the valve innards. Got everything tightened down. I suppose it is unnecessary to say that at this point I was dripping wet from head to toe? Went outside and and watched the steam clouds rise with no small degree of satisfaction.

Until the flow of water tapered off much to soon. That's right, the valve was clogged again. Repeat steps above, about, oh ten more times. Don't forget the cursing. Fill tank, repeat. Fill tank, repeat. Change the water filter for good measure. Refill the tank. Then lay in the wet mess and relight the pilot light.

The heater is now up and running, no noise. As soon as I have hot water I'm off to take a shower. Wish me luck.


  1. I also have a water heater that is burbling the blues. If my wife hadn't been so hell-bent -on-leather I would have replaced it with a tankless this summer. I hope to be able to get enough overtime to replace it by Xmas. I just know one of these days it's going to pop. I didn't even try to drain it this year (the past two years have been trials).

  2. Yeah, nothing cheap about a new water heater. I've got a 40gal unit, and I really need a 60gal or a tankless. We have a Jacuzzi in the master bath and this one just barely fills it. But at $1000+ for the size I need, it's going to be a while.


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