Manufactured home humor
You may not think so when you are in the middle of a repair disaster but in retrospect disasters are often extremely educational and very funny.
The repair manuals, even mine, tend to assume you know what the problem is and give good clear instructions on how to fix the problem. In reality, getting to the point where you sure you know what the problem is, is the most difficult part of the problem.
This is where professionals earn their money, because the good ones have the experience and insight to quickly get to and fix the exact problem. That is not so easy for an amateur ( as well as many in the business who just think they know what they are doing).
Here is a “Seminar” I took.
The Electric water heater repair: (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Expensive Local Parts Store).
The call came from a landlord who said his tenants didn’t have any hot water. He had heard the electric company would provide a new electric water heater free of charge so he proposed to go by the electric coop, get a new water heater and I could install it. However, when he asked for his new water heater he got the lecture about “the water is really hard here, no one ever drains their water heaters like they are supposed to, lime builds up inside and kills the heating elements etc. Go replace the heating elements and if that doesn’t fix the problem come back and we will talk about the new water heater.”
We bought two new elements and on the way to the house he tells me that over the last four months his water bill for this place is 3-4 times larger than other houses in the same area. He had complained to the tenants and said they must have a water leak; which they denied. They were really upset because their electric bill was 3-4 times what it should be and for some reason it had taken then several months to find out about it.
I got to the home, hooked a hose to the water heater drain line and started to drain the tank. Opening faucets in the house didn’t let air in to break the vacuum and speed the draining like I wanted so I unfastened the flex line where it attached to the hot water outlet on the heater. At that point I discovered that although this is only a two year old installation, the installer used a regular 3/4″ galvanized steel nipple to make the connection, not one of the plastic lined ones. As a result of the heat and hard water the whole top edge of the nipple is corroded and falling apart. This is not going to be easy to reconnect without a leak!!!
I make sure the power to the heater is off and open up the covers over the elements. I have the right size socket (1 1/2″) and the old element comes right out. It is covered with a layer of lime, but not burned or melted. I get ready to install the new element and discover there is more than one kind of screw in element. The ones I bought have an extra gasket and length that will not fit this water heater. So it’s off to town for two more elements.
The new elements install easily, I reconnect the water line and turn the water back on. I was right; the water line is NOT going to be easy to re-seal. However, the leak is slow enough I figure I may as well check to be sure the new elements are working properly. I make sure the tank is full and no more air will vent from hot water outlets in the house. Turning on the power to an empty electric hot water heater will kill the electrodes REAL fast. I flip the breaker and test the wires on the elements with my current tester. THERE ISN’T ANY POWER TO THE ELECTRODES. Maybe those electrodes I just replaced were still good?
I make sure all the wires are tightly fastened, I flip the breaker on and off a few times myself; still no power. I don’t like to do this, but I take the cover off the electrical panel and test the power where the wires come off the breaker. I get 220 just like I am supposed to. This makes no sense. I go back outside and wiggle the flex conduit where the wire from the main box enter the top of the water heater and connects to the water heater wiring. SNAP, CRACKLE, POP a flash of light and the smell of smoke!!
I open up the cover on the box and find fried wire, melted insulation, and wire nuts with nothing left but the little metal threads that line their insides. As I stand there looking at this mess I notice a drip of water on the line from the pressure relief valve. I think to myself “great, the same idiot who was to cheap to use a good nipple can’t even make a tight connection on the overflow line.” I look at the top of the heater and realize this drip has been running into the space where the house and heater wires are connected and this water is what finally corroded the connections to the point where the water heater got no power and sparked when I moved it.
Then it finally penetrated “the pressure relief line should be dry!!”. Finally all the pieces fell into place. A failed pressure relief valve has been leaking hot water for some time. The hot water is carried under the house via the pressure relief drain line and in the dry New Mexico climate is never noticed. The water and electric bills are to high, but no one can see any problem. Because of the faulty connection in the drain line and the fact that it just happened to pass right over the wiring junction box the heater shorts out from a drip in a line that should be dry and forces a service call that highlights the leak problem.
This still leaves the leak problem where the flex line will not seal to the corroded nipple. In addition, since I am now sensitized to leaks it is clear that the cold water supply side has leaked in the past (encrusted with lime) but seems to be dry now. I race to town (the house is 4 miles outside of a small rural town) and get there fifteen minutes before the small hardware store closes. (Hey, something has to go right!) Now I discover I have to make one of those nasty choices that are invisible to the customer but can have significant consequences. I can buy a new nipple like the one with the rapid corrosion for $1.09. I can buy a fancy plastic lined anti-noise nipple for $9.89. If I wanted to drive 30 miles one way to a larger home improvement center I could find a simple plastic lined nipple for $3-4. You can email me if you want to know what I did and why.