Saturday, November 15, 2008


We are developing a habit of buying ten year old houses.

First, let's rewind about seven years to when we owned our first house in San Diego. One day, we drove up the street to our house to find a waterfall cascading down the driveway. Our water heater was in the garage, and it had rusted a hole in the bottom and dumped its contents into the garage. Luckily, it was just the garage. Luckily there wasn't much on the floor in the garage, so the cleanup was fairly reasonable. Of course, it happened on a weekend, and Sears couldn't come to replace it until Monday, so we took showers at our next door neighbor's house that Sunday morning.

Fast forward about three years to our second house in Virginia. One of the things we love about living in Virginia is having a basement. We had enough money left over from selling our house in San Diego that we were able to hire a contractor to finish our basement in Virginia and put in a home theater, another full bathroom, etc.

Early one Saturday morning of a three-day weekend, my wife heard a noise sort of like a "whooooosh!" from the vicinity of the basement. Upon further inspection, we found our water heater decided it didn't like holding all that hot water anymore. It gave up the ghost.

I tell ya. There's nothing like spending the first day of your holiday weekend combating a flooding casualty in your house. I shut off the water supply isolation valve to the water heater, but that didn't stop the flooding in the basement. I figured it was because the isolation valve on the inlet of the water heater was leaking, so I shut off water to the entire HOUSE and opened some faucets low in the house to drain the system to stop the flooding in the basement.

Whew. The flooding is stopped. Now for the cleanup.

My wife and I spent the first half of the day just cleaning up the mess, sucking up water with the wet-dry shop vac, sopping up water with every towel we owned, and trying to figure out what was wrong with the sump pump.
Aside: Isn't it ironic how the only time we ever pay attention to our sump pump is when we REALLY NEED IT to be PUMPING and it's NOT? If we were in the Navy, we'd have some sort of PMS (Preventative Maintenance System) card that told us to check the pump to make sure it worked every 3 or 6 months.
We finally got to a point where the cleanup was mostly complete and the fans were running in the basement to dry out the carpet. We were then able to pause for a moment, take a deeeeep breath, and take stock of our situation.

Whew... cleanup mostly done. Now for system repair and restoration.

So there we were... Saturday of a three day weekend, not only with no HOT water but with NO water PERIOD. I called Sears, but they couldn't do anything until Tuesday. Then I called a dozen or more plumbers in the phone book, but most didn't answer.

The only plumber I could get on the phone that Saturday morning wanted me to sign a contract for ten years of indentured servitude and hand over my first born son in return for his services to come replace my water heater before Tuesday.

Ahhh, no thanks.

We spent that holiday weekend taking showers at our next-door neighbor's house and eating out every meal. We took some buckets of water home to use for flushing the toilets.

I learned something new that weekend. My good friend Vince came over and taught me how to "sweat" copper pipe and install a new valve.

On the first trip to Home Depot, I bought a new isolation valve, flux, the flux brush, and solder, and Vince brought over his propane torch. Once we got the new isolation valve installed and allowed the joint to cool for a couple of hours, we said a prayer, crossed our fingers, and held our breath as we turned the water back on in the house to see if the repair was a success.

It was.

Well... sort of.

Actually... not really.

The new valve Vince had installed was holding just fine, but we reinitiated the flooding casualty as water started pouring out the hole in the bottom of the water heater again. It turns out, the source of the flooding was NOT the isolation valve on the INLET side of the water heater.

I learned something else new through that experience.

Ya know that valve in your shower that has one handle to both turn the water on and control the temperature? Yyyyeah, they're not so good at ISOLATION. In fact, they're DESIGNED to allow water to leak by from the cold side to the hot side as an anti-scalding safety feature. The unintended consequence is that this allows cold water from the water main to go up to the showers in the house, leak by to the hot side, come down the hot pipes into the OUTLET of the water heater, and leak out the rusted hole in the bottom of our busted water heater.
Aside: I think there's some unwritten universal law that no home repair project can be accomplished in ONE trip to Home Depot.
Since there was no isolation valve on the outlet of the water heater, I had to make yet another trip to Home Depot and buy ANOTHER isolation valve and Vince let me borrow his pipe saw. I cut out a section of the pipe on the outlet side of the water heater and installed a new isolation valve.

I dug up this old picture off my Palm Pilot. On the right is the isolation valve that Vince showed me how to install. On the left is my own handy work from installing the isolation valve on the outlet of the water heater.
Once I got the outlet isolation valve installed, we said a another prayer, crossed our fingers and held our breath again, and turned the water back on in the house to see if the isolation held.

Thankfully, it did.

Whew... cold water restored to the house. Now we can at least use the toilets.

We made it through the weekend continuing to use our neighbor's shower and eating out so we didn't have to wash any dishes. On Tuesday, we got Sears to come install a new water heater for somewhere in the ballpark of $600.


So why am I telling you all this?

We have just purchased yet another ten-year old house with the original water heater in the (nicely finished) basement.

During the home inspection prior to closing, the professional home inspector told us he was worried about the water heater. It's old and it's making noises indicative of scale buildup inside, and he recommended replacing it.

We tried asking the sellers to replace it, but they said no. It works. It doesn't leak. It's fine.

Our realtor told us, it'll be fiiiiiine. If it does "break," then your home warranty will cover it.

So here's the question: Should we...

A) WAIT until the water heater BLOWS and floods the basement like our previous two houses on the premise that the home warranty will pay for it? (I'm sure they'll come up with SOME excuse why it isn't covered.)

B) SAVE the time and effort of cleaning up the mess in the basement and just go ahead and pay out of pocket to replace the water heater NOW?

C) Implement some risk-mitigation strategy and install a kiddie-pool under or around the water heater and do daily operational checks on the sump pump?

What say you peanut gallery?


Nereus said...

I say it is much easier to "Triper" that water heater given the fact that it is more than likely near the end of it's service life.
You will gain
a more efficent water heater,(if there is scale/buildup plus the newer one's are more efficent than older)
Have it installed with convient time line,(have the them install the same isolation's as your other pic so you have a way to stop water just in case)
No de watering the basement, cold showers/no showers, and have clean dishes and flushing toilets on holiday weekends

Navy Blue Cougar said...

I agree completely with nereus on this. Better to get the old one out before it causes problems...what if it gives out while you are on a weekend jaunt out of town? I wouldn't trust the warranty and I would keep in mind the real estate agent has an interest in getting the house sold. Better safe than sorry.

Ruth Burkett said...

Screw the home warranty! Your experience tells you they won't pay anyway. Replace it now. And while you're at it, make sure isolation valveS are in place AND check whole house shut off valve. Those things have a tendency to not work when you most need them to save you from a flood, especially if you have hard water.

As to saving $$$, suppose the thing blows while you are out of town on vacation? Two weeks of running water? Think of the $$$ you'll save on THAT water bill!

And have you done the periodic check on the sump pump? Mine (2 of them) run every time it rains hard, and in MO, that's about once a week except in heat of summer when it's only once every 2 weeks, so I'm sure they work. I'm even thinking a spare in the closet wouldn't be such a bad idea...Okay, I'm off to Lowe's (no Home Depot here in town) for a water alarm and extra pump...

Anonymous said...

Replace that bad boy now. It'll be cheaper than repairing damages, and less of a headache then if you wait for the casualty.

Eoin said...


Two words: Tankless Waterheater

C said...

Ditto, and good luck!

JoLee said...

check and see what credits you get back on the Tankless WH - they're almost worth it in OR.(they give us $900 back on them)
Shop for the best price on the size heater you want (min 80gal)and replace it on your timeline & at a cost point you like!

J120 Bowman said...

Replace the thing! Having just had a "slow leak" vs. a "flooding" casualty myself in the last couple of months, I was having flashbacks reading your post.

However, it's time to man up and quit paying someone to do what you are more than capable of doing yourself! Flex hose, pipe goop and compression fittings are your friends! You don't need to hydro the thing when you are done. It just doesn't have to leak! Buy ball valves vs. those "sure to leak from the valve stem" gate valves that most homes have. I bought a basic 40 gallon natural gas fired version and had it installed in 5 hours. That included the three trips to Lowes, cutting out old leaking valves and replacing them and getting the carcas to the curb.

By the way, my old heater was picked up from the curb within two hours by a Sanford and Son type truck. If want some more cha-ching, find a metal recycler and sell the carcas for scrap.

Also, don't waste your money on a version that is "waranteed" for more than 7 years. The cost of a "12 year" model is significantly more than a 7 year moel. Based on your frequency of moves, there is no pay back. Also, I found it curiosly humorous that the literature at Lowes basically said all of these heaters will eventually leak and fail! No shit!

The whole job cost me $300. Installation would hve doubled that easily!

Don't feel comfortable doing it yourself? Afraid the Misses will nag you forever if you fuck it up? Find an A-ganger, swallow your pride and buy the beer! $310 total!

-Former DCA and "accomplished" Indoor Plumbing Replacement Specialist!

Nereus said...

As an added note to my original post,
I Strongly Agree with j120 bowman,
You have the engineering and technical aptitude to "Do It yourself"
You will get it done when you want, cheaper than a plumber, and plus
Satisfaction of Doing it.

Find an A ganger or other crusty ole fart around the neighborhood/area to help, buy beer, make a friend and have an almost forgotten MAN Saturday doing it.

Nereus said...

Addendum to last post,

The reason you find the Crusty ole fart or A ganger, Besides the friendship,
They stole the best tools from the boat and you can borrow them!!!