Monday, May 13, 2013

Hot Water Heater

Saturday night, I noticed that the hot water was lukewarm.  I figured the pilot went out on the hot water heater, so I went downstairs and re-lit it.  Since we had no hot water, I figured Robert's bath will have to wait till Sunday morning. 

Sunday morning comes, and after breakfast I notice there water isn't even warm.  I went to the garage to relight to pilot then ran back upstairs.  I thought we'd have hot water in a couple hours.  I heard a noise that sounded like a door slamming and wondered - was that the water heater?  I went back downstairs and the pilot was out.  I re-lit it, then waited to see what happens.  In less than 3 minutes, pfffffllllloooOOOOM!  A flame about 12 inches long, 4 or 5 inches wide shoots out from the bottom of the water heater!  And of course, the pilot went out.  Not thinking clearly, I press the ignition button, and ppppffflllloom! Another flame shoots out.  "OK," I thought, "I'm done with this."  I shut the gas and water off to the tank and went back upstairs.  No hot water till this is fixed!

Monday morning comes, and I start calling around to either get this repaired or replaced.  Over the phone, most people ask for the make, model, and build date.  Of course, I had none of this.  Isn't a hot water heater just a hot water heater?!  Apparently, it's not.  Baron from Excalibur Water Heaters was one of the guys who told me he couldn't really advise me of any course of action without that information, so I did my research, and in the home inspection report, where the inspector is supposed to list the hot water heaters' brand, age, and condition, he included a picture.  A picture... that didn't show the age of the hot water heaters or the condition, but it did show the brand.  Great report.  It seems like every time I have an issue with something that this inspector was paid to inspect, the report falls short. 

Anywho, I did get the brand of the heater, so I continued in my quest.  One guy told me he couldn't really do anything for me until I figured this out.  I realized that was a good thing after many, many more calls.  Things I was told ranged from, "It'll cost you [me] a base fee of $200 to get me [the plumber] out there, then $200 an hour if I can fix it.  But, if I need to go get parts, the return visit is another $200 base fee."  Uh, no.  I'm not paying you anything just to come look at something that you don't know you can fix!  Another said something similar: $125 to come out and look at the problem, then give an estimate as to how much it will cost to do the job, if it can be done.  Again, pass. 

In all, I called about 9 different plumbers.  Of those 9, 6 came out to look at it free of charge.  Of those 6, 4 said I should get a new water heater.  Of the other two, one said he could probably fix this, with the parts being covered under warranty since it was installed in 2010, but he doesn't know for sure that he can fix it.  I asked if he'd ever seen something like this before, and evasively, he basically said no.  He responded that he'd been doing repairs on hot water heaters for over 20 years, and over 20 years, he's seen a lot of things.  He never specifically said yes, he's seen a hot water heater shoot flames like a dragon before, so I asked again, "In 20 years, have you seen a hot water heater shoot flames?"  Again, he dodged the question and replied, "It could be caused by any number of things.  I'd suggest replacing different parts one by one, until it stops."  Yeah, if you can't give me a yes or no answer about your experience, I'm not paying you a cent. 

Next, I called A.O. Smith, since I found out the parts were covered under warranty.  The operator gave me 3 companies who service their warranty repairs.  I called all three.  One said he was really busy, and not in San Francisco, so he couldn't make it out till the end of the week.  Pass.  The next one said they couldn't make it until tomorrow, so I scheduled an appointment.  The third one said it sounded like the hot water heater was improperly installed, and it may not be covered by the warranty - F'ING GREAT.  He said he could come by to take a look at it later in the day. 

I left work early, and was surprised to find my 1 pm appointment already there.  The guy looked at the water heater, then said he recommended replacing it.  Literally, he looked at the water heater wrapped in insulation, bent down and looked at the bottom where I said flames shot from, then said I should replace it.  He didn't even touch it!  He said he could replace it right away.  Yeah, sure, of course he'd want me to replace it!  He'd get paid for the sale of the new heater, and the labor to replace it, but I felt like he didn't even look at the old heater! 

Another plumber came, he turned on the gas, lit the pilot, then waited.  I advised him to step away, he obliged.  PPPFFFLLLLOOOOM!  "Holy shit! I've never seen that!"  Hhhhmmm, there goes your credibility.  "Honestly, I wouldn't know where to start.  Good luck!"  Well at least he didn't charge me, but I realized I should've charged him for the show. 

Another plumber came, this time it was one who serviced AO Smiths.  He lit the pilot, stepped back, PPFFLLLOOOM!  No grand exclamation, no cursing, just a real somber look.  I asked him, "What's the verdict?"  He tells me, "I've seen this before.  What probably happened when they installed it was they dropped the tank.  My guess is there's a dent in the bottom, and gas is building up.  When there's enough gas in there, it ignites.  To fix it, I'd have to completely drain the heater and push out the dent, then put it back together.  You're better off getting a new water heater.  It'll be cheaper, and you'll know it won't have any issues."  I asked if he sells them, and he said he just services them.  He did recommend a brand other than Rheem, but said Rheems are good, too. 

I scheduled an appointment with Baron from Excalibur Water Heaters for 11:30 - Noon the next day.  Around 11 AM, I got a call from his son saying they finished a job in my area and were heading to my house.  I told him to call me when they got there, if they got there before me.  About 5 minutes later, he called and said he was standing by the garage door.  I gave him the code and told him it was the 40 gallon heater on the left hand side.  He said there was plenty of working room, and they'd probably be done in about 20 minutes.  When I arrived 10 minutes later, the old water heater was draining in the middle of the garage, and the new water heater was connected.  It took them about 20 more minutes to clean up and double check everything.  Overall, it was a very fast, clean install.  I'm very happy with the timeliness and cleanliness of their work.  And, we finally had hot water again!

1 comment:

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