I’m in Hot Water

Old hot water heater 04-30-2016No, I’m not in trouble with Wife Lila. Well, I MIGHT be, but that’s not the topic of this post.

For the past five, maybe even ten years, Mother’s water heater in the basement has been making strange banging and clanging noises. Guests have been alarmed, thinking someone is breaking into the house or maybe a gaggle of deranged raccoons is running amuck in the basement tangling with a posse of possums.

Goggle said the noise was caused by pieces of sediment stirring around in the tank.

I’ve noticed recently that the water that used to be scalding when I washed the dishes was only slightly hot, and that my showers had to be cut short if I didn’t want to have ice cubes coming out of the shower head. My theory was that there was so much sediment in the tank that there was no longer room for water.

When I took a close look at the heater, I saw a scrawled note in my handwriting that said, “6/19/87.” I’m pretty sure that pushing 30 years old indicates that we got our money’s worth.

Installation challenges

I know better than to touch plumbing. If I go to change a simple washer, I can expect to see the city start digging up the street in front of the house. I opted to have a guy who knew what he was doing hook it up.

The pro arrived with the heater, tools and a bunch of pieces / parts. He had a challenge breaking apart fittings that had lived together happily for three decades. At one point, I reached up to the tools hanging on the workbench. “Want a hammer?” A few minutes later, I asked, “Want a BIGGER hammer?”

Around 7:30, he asked, “How late is Ace Hardware open?”

“A negative 30 minutes,” I said. “What do you need.”

“One of these,” he said, holding up a goofus firmly attached to the end of a spaghetti of pipe.

“I’ll go get one.”

Well, there was a serious Noah’s Ark thunderboomer sitting right on top of the house. My Low Fuel light came on somewhere the far side of Thebes yesterday, and now the needle was sitting on E. This was NOT a good night to run out of gas, so I filled up in a driving rain and slopped through deep puddles of water to Menard’s plumbing section where, uncharacteristically, there was an employee restocking the shelves. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

“This is between me and a hot shower”

New water heater 03-30-2016Holding up the widget, I said, “This is what is standing between me and a hot shower.”

She cast her gaze on the woofuspus, and said, “It’s a half incher.

“I don’t like to discuss size, so I’ll let you be the judge. I would have guessed at least two inches, but I’m a guy.”

She turned to the shelf and started to reach into a bin.

An empty bin.

Next, out in the rain to Lowes. Uncharacteristically, there was a guy in the plumbing section restocking shelves. I held my whangus up in the air, he looked at it sadly, shaking his head, then walked down the aisle directly to a replacement 1/2-inch whifflebobble.

I waded through puddles again, handed my guy the whosis, and he finished assembling the plumbing puzzle and put fire in the hole.

The next morning, there was no water on the floor, I couldn’t smell gas, and I wasn’t dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. You can’t beat that with a stick.

Shouldn’t this be more efficient?

New water heater 03-30-2016I was confused by the yellow Energyguide stickers on the old and new heaters. The 1987 sticker said the estimated yearly energy cost was going to be $238. The new one, supposedly more energy efficient, was going to cost $263. What gives?

The old adage, “The big print giveth, and the small print taketh away” held the answer.

In 1987, the estimated rate was based on a natural gas average price of 62.7 cents per therm (whatever that is). The 2016 estimate is based on an average national price of $1.09 per therm.

Whatever it costs, a warm shower is worth it.


K. Robinson’s Canteen

K Robinson canteenI shared with you yesterday’s repair adventures and Brother Mark’s owies. For the record, he claims that I miscounted: his thumb and the hammer had FOUR, not three unfortunate encounters. Score: hammer 4, thumb 0.

Sunday’s challenge was to fix the upstairs and the basement toilets that had been running at random times. The ghost flusher was causing Mother’s water bill to go sky-high and probably contributed to the low water levels in the Mississippi River below Cape.

If you’re reading this to hear how the plumbing project came out, you can quit right now. Let’s just say that it took one trip to Ace Hardware, one trip to Wife Lila’s Brother John and one trip to Lowes for supplies and to use their restroom. I’m not ready to elaborate tonight.

Uneasy on the throne

One of the tasks involved me looking above the false ceiling in the basement bathroom to the floor below the upstairs bathroom. Having graced that upstairs throne many, many times in the past, I’m surprised that I didn’t start out sitting in the upstairs bathroom and end up looking up at the ceiling in the basement. But, that’s a story for another time.

I’ll document some of the artifacts we uncovered later, but I want to tell K. Robinson of Troop 8 that we found his canteen. I’m assuming that it belongs to reader Keith Robinson who was a member of Trinity Lutheran’s Troop 8 with my brothers.

Keith, you may reclaim your canteen by stopping by Mother’s house at your convenience.


Brother Mark Gets an Owie

Mark Steinhoff repairing roof at Dutchtown 02-09-2013

Brother Mark came down from St. Louis to help me with some domestic repair jobs. Mother has two toilets that have taken to running at odd intervals and driving up her water bill. I’ve thrown new flappers at them the last couple of visits, but that doesn’t seem to have fixed the problem.

Let’s get one thing established: I am not a friend of plumbing. Like I’ve said before, I can go to change a simple washer and before long somebody is digging up the street in front of my house. Electricity obeys simple rules: It works or it don’t work. Plumbing is insidious. It’s a plotter. It appears to be perfectly happy for years, then picks 2 a.m. the day after you leave for a two-week trip to go berserk. I always peek in the window before I open the front door to see how high the water level is if I’ve been gone more than a couple of hours.

Anyway, Mark claims not to afraid of pipes, so I ceded the task to him. He says we need to replace the Douglas valves. He says that with such certainty that I feel comfortable until he adds, “It’ll go smoothly if the screws aren’t rusted (they are) and we don’t crack the ceramic (OK, thanks for telling me the kind of disaster we’re going to confront in advance). Oh, yeah, there’s one other issue. There’s no shut-off valve on the basement toilet, so I hope you can hold it until I can put one in.”

He’s going to be touching pipes that were installed 57 years ago. See any opportunities for problems?

Plumbing had to wait

Mark Steinhoff repairing roof at Dutchtown 02-09-2013But, plumbing had to wait. We had something else to tackle because it’s supposed to rain Sunday. The last storm ripped some tin from the roofs of our buildings in Dutchtown. There’s not much in them that can be hurt (the floods of ’73, ’93 and 2011 have pretty much taken care of that), but we didn’t want the wooden beams to rot.

We’ve got a short extension ladder down there, but I suggested to Mark that it would be faster and safer to rent a taller ladder that would get us (I use “us” in the royal sense) to the rooftop. I played the Medicare Card, telling Mark that once you have one of those in your wallet, you’re not allowed to prance around on rooftops. To my surprise, he agreed. That worried me. That must mean he was planning to drop heavy objects on my head.

I called a rental joint at 2 minutes past 5 only to hear the phone ring and ring and ring. Then I surmised that Wife Lila’s Brother John would have a ladder we might borrow. You might remember John from when he came to Florida to help us with some repairs.

He not only had a ladder, he was willing to loan me his manly pickup truck. I’m pretty sure he weighed the amusement value of watching the two of us try to figure out how to carry a 24-foot ladder in a Honda Odyssey against how much he liked his ladder and didn’t want to find it bent and broken on the side of the road. I thought I was going to need a stepladder to get INTO this beast. Wife Lila would have been appalled to see me cruising down the road with a pair of Truck Nutz dangling from the back of the truck if she hadn’t been the one to buy them for him as a gag gift. I don’t think she thought he would not only put them ON the truck, but he paints them to go with the season. They’re still red from last summer, but that’s OK because Missouri has had a warm winter, he justified.

We made it to Dutchtown and Mark tackled the main shed first. He said only a couple of panels of tin needed to be replaced or patched over. It turned out to be pretty much a one BLEEP! job when he discovered that a thumb that is caught between the nail and the hammer causes a large blood blister. He insisted on sharing his wound with me.

“This probably isn’t good”

Mark Steinhoff repairing roof at Dutchtown 02-09-2013We checked out a smaller row of sheds that we knew had some damage last summer. This turned out to be a two BLEEP!!! job. When he came down off the roof, he showed me his left glove thumb which was red at the end. “This probably isn’t good,” he said.

I assured him the red was simply the manufacturer’s way of color coding the glove so it was easy to tell which one was for the left hand.

When he went on the roof to make one final touchup, he wanted me to document his owie. I would have shown him more sympathy if I had known for sure that he hadn’t secreted a packet of ketchup in his coat pocket.

I can’t wait until we (meaning him) tackles the plumbing tomorrow. My job is defined as standing by with 9-1-1 entered into my phone and my finger poised over the SEND button. If you are the lowlands of Cape Girardeau or live along the Mississippi River between Cape and New Orleans, you might want to pay close attention to your alert radio. If John can do THIS – and he’s a trained professional – you can only imagine what Mark is going to do.

Mark would like you to click on the photos to make them larger so you can appreciate his sacrifice. Just remember: packets of ketchup.


How to Check for Plumbing Leaks

Regular readers of this blog have been treated to a series of non-Cape stories about the adventures of owning an older home in Florida.

Two days ago, you heard about our Termite Travails.

Years ago, I worked on a special edition of The Palm Beach Post called “Crests of Hope, Troughs of Despair,” which chronicled the Cuban Boatlift and the plight of Haitian refugees. Yesterday’s post was a lot like that, starting with “fits like socks on a flamingo,” and ending up with “SHUT THE WATER OFF!!!!”

This morning, while Wife Lila was getting ready to go to church, her brother, John Perry, was installing the connections for the washer hookup. He wanted to have someone standing by the hookup to look for leaks while he was out at the street turning on the main. Since that’s a pretty good distance, I volunteered to stand in the living room to relay the word from Lila that all was good.

The last thing John said as he headed to the front door was, “I left the faucet on outside, so if you hear water running, don’t worry.”

A relay person wasn’t needed

As soon as John opened the main valve, I’m pretty sure you folks in Cape heard Lila screaming. It seems that John had left the faucets open to let steam escape when he sweated the fittings. He forgot to close them for the test. The water came out full force right at Lila.

I’ll be ready to pull the plug

The next nearest experience like this was when Lila and I shared an old house in Gastonia, N.C., with Chuck Beckley,  a photographer I brought from Athens, OH. We needed to hook up the ice maker on our refrigerator, but I couldn’t find the main shutoff valve.

Chuck, you drill a quarter-inch hole in the cold water supply pipe, then we’ll stick the ice maker tap into the hole. A little water won’t hurt anything because we’re in an unfinished basement. I’ll keep my hand on the electrical cord back here at the receptacle in case the drill shorts out from the water.” See, a good supervisor always thinks about the safety of his workers.

You’d be surprised at how far water under 40 to 60-psi will shoot through a quarter-inch hole. You’d be even MORE surprised at how much water can come gushing out of two faucets aimed at eye-level.

All is forgiven

Just to show that there were no hard feelings, Lila quickly ran over to John to give him a big hug. The fact that she was soaking wet with cold water very quickly became apparent to John. She was sharing more than the love.

How do you shoot pictures like this?

Some of you may wonder how it’s possible to quickly capture photos like these.

It’s all part of the going to special photojournalism classes at schools like Ohio University where you learn how to quickly make the right choices and decisions. I recall one test question that asked, “You see a man jump off a bridge. You have a camera in one hand and a rope in the other. What do you do?”

The answer: it all depends on whether you have a wide angle or a telephoto lens on the camera. You may have to change lenses before you can shoot.

Actually, I WAS confronted with a jumper on a bridge once. You can read about my experience on the Blue Heron Bridge here.