December 26, 2018
Today's Water Heater Fun
I did what any novice in the HVAC field would do, I started by reading my owners manual that came with the water heater for the 5th time this morning. I wanted to make sure of every step. I didn't want to end up like fried chicken, if you know what I mean. I followed that up by getting on the manufacturer's website to find additional troubleshooting tips, a part number, and maybe the cost of a heating element. I found a lot more information than I was looking for.
I was in for a rude awakening, as I saw a section to check for a warranty by serial number. To my shocking surprise my water heater and parts were under warranty until next October, 2019. I immediately wondered how many times in the past 20 years my 'friend' had screwed me by charging me 3x the cost for a replacement of the element or the unit itself, knowing it was under warranty? Or is that the responsibility of the owner to find that out. Either way ... I wondered what was going on and always have with that company.
By the time I had called the manufacturer in Tennessee, and three local HVAC businesses I had found all the information I needed. Like always, my plan was changing with each phone call. The nice lady at the manufacturers let me know I could find it cheaper to buy the element at the local hardware store, then send them my receipt for a warranty reimbursement. Otherwise I'd have to wait at least two days for hers to arrive and pay $24 for 2nd Day Delivery.
That's a long time without hot water, unless I am camping. As long as I am at home and not camping ... I want every convenience possible, even hot water every night.
I found out after calling two local establishments, one being my 'friend's place' ... their service charge as soon as their truck wheels touched the first stone of my gravel driveway was $125 and counting. The 3rd local business I called was still closed for the holidays. They are known in the area as the best HVAC biz but also the most expensive.
Don't get me wrong, I have a few dollars on hand that are accessible with a slide of a debit card or at an ATM machine. I just hate wasting money. Nothing pisses me off more than hearing $125 before they even get to the top of the hill. It further pisses me off when "he" says that does not include the time it takes to drain your 40gal tank or any problems we might run into. What ????? How damn hard can it be to turn the valve for the water supply off right on top of the heater, hook a hose to the drain valve, run it outside and let the water come out???
"What problems might he be talking about, that would add to that $125 service call??? "
By the time I hung up the phone I said "screw 'em" ... I'll do it myself. After all you are talking to someone that is not a RV mechanic but a few years ago I changed the two oil lines that ran underneath, from the oil filter in the middle of a 26' Class C, up to the side of the radiator in colder, wetter weather than today. Like my dad use to tell me when I was really young ... "you have a brain, use it!!!"
It can't be that hard to drain a water heater and replace two heating elements ... as long as that power is shut off.
I jumped in my clean car and headed for the local hardware store for a couple of heating elements. By the time I walked out of the hardware store, I had a free bag of popcorn (always available), and the total bill was $22.57 for two heating elements. I just have a hard time justifying those $125 service calls from two local companies just to replace two piss ant $10 elements !!!!
I have only been knocked literally on my ass one time due to high electrical voltage, so I was going to make sure I had the power off before I touched anything on that water heater ... even a small screw. As you see the fuse box looks a little dusty but it's outside in the corner of the carport and has been sitting there since 1975.
Around the year 2000 I had a brand new Palm Pilot ... remember those? A handheld computer of sorts. I figured out on my own which fuse went to what. You can barely see the engraved numbers on the outside border of each circuit breaker. I wrote all of them down and entered them that Palm Pilot.
I backed up that data at the time with a little memory card, I was set for a 'lifetime', or so I thought. A lot has changed since that model of Palm Pilot in 2000 .... that information was not seen anywhere 18 years later .... let alone today.
Those five 30's on the right side belong to my five baseboard heaters in four rooms. Ask me how I know that ... LOL. On one of those faded white labels I see the word range, the top one I cannot make out and the bottom white label it looks like two words "water heater" ?????? Is that just some wishful thinking on my part? It depends on what angle you look at it. So to play it safe, I flipped every 30 on the left side to "off".
Heidi started backing away from her supervisory position when it came to anything electric. She is a smart basset hound. Basset hounds are one of a few breeds that can backup or back out of a hole. She was showing her best form backing up.
Stella decided it was the perfect time to TRY to sneak away into the "land of burs" .... while I was talking to myself at the fuse box. If nothing else, she could escape in the field, possibly the neighbor's backyard for the first time in months.
My first problem was lack of water. I was expecting a water flow like flooding the streets coming out of the hose. I mean 40 gallons of water to drain, the drain valve "open" and the nearest hot water facet turned on all the way to help it drain faster. (As Per The Owners Manual)
At the rate I was seeing water coming out of that hose, I would have to stop this water heater project to mow the yard next April. I'm confused at this part of the process. (I can hear the experts in the crowd laughing)
I checked the hose. No kinks, fairly straight, laying 'downhill' from the water heater's drain valve .... ????
As I unscrewed the top heating element, just a tiny bit .... I hear a release of pressure and it sure sounded like water moving. I sprint outside, while blocking Stella's escape with a chair in front of the open door .... I see more water but not nearly like there should be. Where's the water?????
Stella tried her best to help me and the flow of water, by planting 80 pounds of bloodhound weight directly on top of the hose as she leaned to scratch.
Yet .... I did get to see what the old heating element looked like. Of course since I have no idea what I am doing, I then have no idea what a normal 5 year old heating element should look like .... any ideas ... is this a normal look or needs replaced? In my opinion it needs replaced.
When you are retired you have plenty of time to figure out things like this. Besides saving me a minimum of $125, I am also learning the grander aspects of electricity and plumbing ... just what I wanted to know. :)
Like anything that deals with tools and maintenance, NOTHING COMES EASY WITH ME !!!! You see the tool on the right that I pulled out of my 'plumbing drawer'? Well it is about 1/4" too small to unscrew the heating element ... BACK TO the hardware store for the correct wrench, just a few rows higher than the displayed heating elements I had bought 30 minutes ago.
My next problem is an hour and thirty-three minutes into this fun project ... is not the lack of water flow that a draining tank should have ... when I poked my small camping LED flashlight into the hole left by the upper heating element I took out while cleaning the threads for the new element located near the top of the machine .... WHAT DO YOU THINK I SAW ?????
WATER WATER WATER WATER WATER WATER WATER WATER !!!!!!!
Water ... just about an inch below the upper opening of the water heater, where the element was located ... It will take all night, maybe days, weeks or months to drain completely!!!!!
Two hours later I hear a sound of some kind, like water might be draining. It's inside the unit and I had just barely unscrewed the bottom heating element. That had to have released some sort of pressure. I was THRILLED I did not have 35 gallons of water hitting me in the face ... since I was on my hands and knees, checking to see if I saw any kind of water coming out with the old heating element still screwed in.
While the unit took it's time draining ... I decided to unload the photos from the iPhone and start this blog post. Before you get out of shape on this and start telling me I'm an idiot (maybe I am), I was planning on draining my water heater anyway this year BEFORE the heating elements went bad .... BEFORE I had no hot water.
That brings up the other thing I was always wondering about when it came to my 'old friend' advice of .... drum roll ..... that I did not have to drain the water heater every year, in fact that it was bad for it. Still I have friends telling me their water heater lasted for 15-20 years and I've been HAVING TO have this 'friend' replace my water heater every 5 years when I wake up to a flood on my kitchen floor!!!!
So what gives? Drain annually or don't drain it anytime?
Two hours and forty-four minutes into the process ... the mystery continues. Little water flow, the 'draining' sound inside the water heater is still there AND THE WATER HEATER IS LIGHT ENOUGH THAT I CAN ROCK IT BACK AND FORTH, A LITTLE BIT OFF THE FLOOR !!!!
That begs the question .... WHERE IS THE WATER DRAINING TO ??????
With that, I saw no other recourse but to take Stella out for her afternoon walk since it is beautiful sweatshirt weather outside today. Plus it can give me some time to think and some time for the water to drain out without me standing over the drain valve saying "Faster Faster Faster."
Back from the walk ... I have a new plan. Get online and look for images of water coming out of the hose. I found nothing like that. I DID find a lot of articles on how to drain a water heater, in fact a few of them I had bookmarked last month but failed to review them this morning. What could be a better source than the OWNERS MANUAL ???
Well well well .... what do we have here ????
Of course late into this 'ball of fun', I find with my online search AFTER Stella's afternoon walk ... different instructions than what my owner's manual says. Imagine that!!!!
Following Bob Vila's instructions .... I opened the pressure relief value ... that noise went away after a short hissing sound when it released pressure inside the tank. That hissing sound also told me the pressure relief valve worked. Of course the Owners Manual labeled this valve as the TEMPERATURE RELIEF VALVE .... what?????
Another thing I was thinking about the lack of water flow .... a plugged or blocked drain valve by too much sediment. I just found a way to check that.
Three hours into this pain in the ass project I find out my problem. I didn't really get 'serious' about this job until after Stella's walk and I had time to think instead of wasting time letting the water heater "drain on it's own" ... take whatever time you need plan. The sediment at the bottom of the tank is blocking the flow of water.
How did I find that out for sure .... Bob's instructions and my curiosity.
I leaned a two gallon pail under the bottom heating element/thermostat block and unscrewed that element a little more .... water like I expected from the start came flowing out of that small area into my pail. I was able to screw the old element back in soon enough so the pail would not overflow. In the bottom of that two gallons of clear cold water were nice white rock type of granules.
Who knows how much water is in that tank four hours after I have started. Bob Vila's website says to drain the tank all the way, but I don't have a pan large enough to fit that low under the drain valve, when I take out that drain valve and move that sediment away from the opening.
If you look at his picture, what is big enough to fit under that lowest drain valve where the hose is connected and collect 12-35 gallons of water??
The plot thickens ... back to the action.
I decided to stick that two gallon pail under the lower element area .. I knew I could screw the old element back in fast enough to stop the pail from overflowing. By the way the water level looked inside the element hole, there could not have been that many gallons of water left in the tank.
I emptied two more pails of water and was able to pull out the lower heating element. I could see where it had got too hot and by all the sediment crud on the tubes, I knew I had made the right decision to replace both of them. I believe this is cause of my loss of hot water.
I'm calling this project a success. I closed the relief valve, the drain valve, unhooked the hose and left every hot water faucet in the house on to push the air out of the pipes while filling up the water heater tank with new water. NO LEAKS were coming out around the upper and lower thermostat and elements ... I'm told that's important (joke) ...
The hot water faucets spit and sputtered air out that was loud enough to have Heidi and Stella running for cover in the bedroom. It doesn't take much in their quiet world to make them scared .... they are use to me screaming at referees, umpires or officials during games on tv ... as if they can hear me.
I let the water run for an hour or so, then turned the power back on so I'll have some hot water tonight.
Sure I spent some time on this, but it took three hours to get really serious about completing the job. I definitely took longer than any HVAC professional would have taken but it wasn't time out of my schedule. All I have is time being retired where I can fill that time slot with anything I want to do. Today it just happened to be this.
That decision saved me $125 or more even after I subtract out the $27.03 it cost me for two heating elements and the tool to take the old ones out and screw the new ones in.
Sounds to me like I have added another home maintenance project to my resume.
All is good tonight in 'the tropics' of Southern Indiana.