Friday, October 31, 2014

The Elements of Surprise

Today is laundry day and I noticed that after one load of laundry, one bath (to soak my sore neck), and one shower, we were out of hot water.  That isn't right.  Gotta be the water heater.  A few years ago I replaced the thermostats so I figured they were OK - now it was time to check the heating elements.  There is an upper and lower element - pretty easy to get to and test with an ohm meter (YouTube is my friend).  So I tested them and one was reading on the low end of the approved range.  I figured I might as well change both if I am going to change one.  The guy on the video said there was no need to drain the water from the tank - just get your pieces ready and a towel and you can swap them out lickity split with minimal water loss.  He even showed how simple it could be.  So off I went to Home Depot and got the replacement elements ($12 each) AND I got the special element wrench to take them out.  You can see in the picture above what an element looks like (the new ones are nice and shiny).  I shut the power off and opened the panels and flipped the relief valve to let off the pressure and turned off the water supply.  All good.  I figure I would start with the top one so I would be practiced when I went to do the bottom one - which, theoretically, would have more water to drain out.  I removed two wires, put my wrench on and slid the screwdriver through (which served as wrench handle) and lifted.  Ugh.  Nothing.  Lifted and lifted.  No budgie.  Come on!!  Off to get the all purpose tool (the rubber mallet) and I proceeded to offer some persuasion.  Still wouldn't budge!  As my brother Lowell, and some guy named Archimedes once said, give me a lever big enough and I can move the world.  So I got my pry bar and started leveraging.  All that did was bend my screwdriver.  Alrighty then.  Another trip to the garage for the Liquid Wrench.  Gave the element a good hosing down of that stuff and started in on the lower one.  Same process - remove the panel, remove two wires, and start with the wrench.  But looky here - it is coming out nice and easy!  I got my replacement piece all ready and my towel and unscrewed it right on out.  And you would think I released Niagara Falls!  Water came shooting out like from a fire hose!!  So now I have to feed the new element in - against the tide!  It didn't take too long actually and it went right in.  Tightened up nicely. Put the wires back on (left the panel off to dry) and went back to the upper one.

I gave it some more encouragement with the rubber mallet, put the wrench to it, and gave it a whirl.  Loosened right up and started unscrewing!  Well isn't this nice?!  I figure most of the water was drained out from the bottom so this should be easy peasy.  Wrong again.  Had my replacement piece all lined up, pulled the old one - and the dam let loose again!  This time at chest level and she is a gushin'.  I am trying to get that new piece in but of course it won't get started on the threads!  If I cross thread the female threads inside the water heater, it will be time for a new water heater.  I am screwing and screwing and right when it is pretty finger tight - it spins free.  Uh oh  This is not good.  Backed it off, with the water jetting out, and tried it again.  And again...  Finally she took.  Tightened it up, hooked up the wires, and turned on the water.  It wasn't long after it started filling that I see it was leaking...  Dang!!  Ran upstairs for some Teflon tape fearing it was stripped.  Shut the water off, took off my soaking wet clothes (at least it was relatively warm water), and prepared for the immersion.  Undid the wires and backed the element out.  Lucie had been throwing towels to me like a Western fire brigade so I stuffed one in the hole and wrapped the tape around the threads.  Oh but looky here - there are TWO rubber washers on this one.  Turns out the old washer got left behind which made for the difficult threading and prevented a tight seal.  So I pulled that off, the towel out, and threaded her right back in there nice beautiful.  I was able to tighten it right up.  Turned the water on - no leaks!  Flipped the breaker on - no short circuits!  It is filling now but seems to be working.  Good for another 17 years I hope.

The guy on the video made it look so easy.  And so dry...