The 2022 Water Heater … Adventure

Last night, as I write this, my wife said, “I think our water heater needs to be relit.”  Well, that was not surprising, because we installed this water heater in 2009, about 13 years ago, and over the last few months, it seemed I was having to relight it more and more often.

I’m not quite sure WHY I had to relight it, other than it seemed the pilot light went out (yes, it’s a gas water heater), and when that happens, the consarn thing just doesn’t work.

It’s a relatively simple procedure to relight the pilot light, but it’s a bother and a hassle, and as I pile on the years, it is getting less and less fun to lower myself to the floor and get back up again.

But I’ve been doing regular exercises, so the getting down and getting up thing isn’t as groan-making as it could be.  Actually, as it WAS, before I started doing my exercises. But that’s a story for another time.

So I got down on the floor in the front bathroom, where our water heater is in a closet just big enough to contain it, and I went through the relight routine.

This routine involves turning the pilot light switch to off, waiting ten minutes, turning the switch to the PILOT position, pushing it in about 1/4″ until it bottoms out, then pressing a clicky button that fires a piezoelectric spark at the pilot nozzle. I’m supposed to press this switch once a second for up to 90 seconds, or until a red indicator light starts blinking, and then turn the thermostat dial to A or B or C depending on how hot I want my water.

In all my previous and successful lighting attempts, at this point, I would be rewarded with a “WHOOSH!” of the igniting gas burner under the water tank, and half an hour later, we would have hot water.

Not this time.

This time, I got the blinking light, repositioned the dial to between A and B, and waited.

No Whoosh.

I re-read the instructions and tried again. Same result. Tried once more, and you guessed it. Same result.

By now it was approaching 9:00 at night, and no way did I want to call someone else to come help at this time.

So at 8:15 the next morning, THIS morning as I write, I texted my main plumber guy. I said, “Hey Al! Are you the man to call about water heaters? Mine won’t light.” Within five minutes, he called me. He told me he had three big jobs piled up today, and I should call Daniel, because Daniel helped (so and so) fix his water heater, and if Daniel couldn’t do it, then call him (Al) back and he’d squeeze me in.

Daniel is my neighbor, two doors down, a good friend, and until he came down with MS at the end of last year, my main contractor and repair-guy for pretty much everything I needed done in the repair arena. Between my own house and the rental houses I manage, I’ve given him quite a bit of business over the years.

But he had to give up his business at the end of last year, because his doctor told him “If you don’t give up your contracting business right now, you’ll be in a wheelchair in six months.”  So he did.

So I called Daniel, and told him Al said I should call him, and he said “Sure! I’ll help!” And he did.

He came over and HE tried to light the heater, and unfortunately, he could not light it, either. So we decided I should just go buy a new one, rather than keep wrestling with this one that didn’t want to work.

Daniel asked me to check prices at Lowe’s, and I did, and I saw water heaters ranging from $600 up to $1300. Yes, I know! I didn’t expect them to be that expensive, either!

Meanwhile, Daniel called Carr’s Plumbing Supply, a locally-owned business about 10 miles away, in Gluckstadt.

Okay, time for some more background.

I have macular degeneration, which, along with cataracts, makes it inadvisable for me to drive. My family and friends are all more comfortable if I’m not driving. I’m pretty sure I could drive safely, and have on occasion, but we’d all rather NOT take the chance.

Today is Wednesday, and I usually have lunch with my son on Wednesdays. He lives less than a block away and now works mostly from home. So I called him and asked if he could drive me to the plumbing supply shop. Sure, he said, and I drove our Murano over to his house, and he drove from there.

I went into the sales area of the shop and told them what I needed, and they offered me several options, and I picked the one that was 52″ high and 22″ wide. I thought that should fit just fine in our water heater closet.  So I bought it and the workers there loaded it into the car — I had put the back seat down, and it just barely fit. I had to turn the carton a bit sideways so the corner of it went into the window recess of the hatch – but we were able to close it.

We got home, I dropped off my son, and drove the short block to my house, and was able to unload the water heater from the car just fine.

Daniel came back over (he had left while I went to the plumbing supply shop) and continued draining the water out of the old heater, and I looked at the width of the closet door.


It didn’t look as wide as I remembered.

So I got out my tape measure, and sure enough. The opening was only 20″ wide. The new water heater I’d just bought was 22″ wide. No way was that bubba going to fit into that closet.

By this time, my wife had taken our car with two grandkids to the park to play, and I new that if the 52″ water heater barely fit into the Murano, then a taller heater would definitely not fit there. And I knew it would ahve to be taller, because if a 40-gallon water tank is mad less wide, the only way it can accommodate 40 gallons is to get taller. When means taller than 52″.

Time to borrow a pickup truck.

I have three neighbors who live essentially across the street from me. All three have pickup trucks. So I called the only one who has lived in the neighborhood longer than we have, and asked, and he said “Sure!” Tom is a great guy. I went to his 80th birthday party many years ago, so he’s got to be pushing 90 now, but is still as alert and vibrant as ever. I walked down to his house, and as I got near, I heard a clatter coming from the driveway, so I bypassed the front door and went to the driveway. There Tom was, cleaning pine straw out of the bed of the pickup truck. I had told him all I needed to do was carry a water heater, but he wanted to clean it up any way. What a guy.

 I called my wife to drive me, and she dropped the grandkids off with their Dad (my son), who had some work things to do at home. While she was headed back from the park, I loaded up the first-bought water heater into the bed of Tom’s truck, so when she got here we were ready to go.

I had called the plumbing supply company and told them how I had blundered in the measurements and needed to exchange it. They said, “Is it still in the box?” and I said sure, never opened, and they said bring it on back and we’ll take care of you.

And they did.

I went in the office, gave them my paperwork, and the guy behind the counter did mysterious things with his papers and mine, then handed them back to me and said, “There you go. You’re all set.” I asked, “Isn’t there any price difference?” and he said, no, we made it all come out for you. The other guy behind the counter said, “But we COULD charge you more money if you like.” I laughed and declined his offer.

Then I said, should I back up to the dock, and he said, “No, you’re all loaded already.”

Man, that was quick service, for sure. I was out of there in less than 15 minutes.

On the way home, we stopped and I filled Tom’s gas tank for him. It wasn’t cheap at today’s gas prices, but it was way less than I would have paid to have someone deliver the water heater for me.

Okay, this is getting too long, so I’ll abbreviate the rest. At least somewhat.

Daniel came back again, and we had to wrestle the old water heater out of that closet, the closet that seemed to be shrinking by the minute, and then we had to unpack and wrestle the new water heater into that closet.

Just in case you are wondering, water heaters are HEAVY! Let me just say it took two grown men, with dollys and crowbars to get the job done.

Finally, it was in place, and time to hook it up. Fortunately, Daniel did most of it, and he knows what he’s doing. He got the water lines connected and sealed, and he got the gas line hooked up and operational.

The biggest hassle was the burned gas exhaust vent. The old heater had the vent pipe installed, of course, but this new heater was 3″ taller than the old one.

So I had to climb up into the attic and wrestle with the vent pipes and sleeves and binding wires and piers while Daniel manipulated all the connections below me inside the closet.

It turns out Daniel had to take a piece of the pipe out to my utility room and cut it with my hacksaw to get it to fit, while I sat up in the attic for about 20 minutes, waiting. I was very glad it was early March and not August or September, that’s for sure.

Also, have you ever had to sit on the short dimension of a 2×6 rafter beam for 20 minutes? To say it’s uncomfortable would be a gross understatement. Also, my right leg went numb while I was there.

We finally got it all put together, and I had to make my way out of the attic with one leg fast asleep. First, I had to scoot myself backwards on hands and derriere and heels, because I didn’t want to try to stand on that sleeping leg; then when I got to the planks laid across the rafters, I was able to go on hands and knees for the width of my living room, and by that point I felt safe standing again.

Whew. It was definitely a bit of an ordeal.

But we now have hot water, and hopefully, I won’t have to worry about relighting that water heater for at least a dozen years.

Daniel, one of the best friends anyone could have, doesn’t do this kind of work as a business any more. He only does favors for friends. But he said he accepts “tips.” Of course, I gave him a very good one. When I put the bills in his hand, he didn’t even look at them. He said, “Whatever it is, that’s fine with me,” as he stuffed them in his pocket. 

So that’s my 2022 Hot water … Adventure. What did YOU do today?

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