Appreciating Hot Water (Especially When It’s Gone)

It’s easy to take for granted so many of the conveniences in our lives. Our homes have electric, heating and cooling, indoor plumbing, and so many other little things that make the day-to-day existence more comfortable. I’m so used to all of these things that I never really appreciate them until they’re gone. (Wait…does internet access count as one of those modern conveniences? ‘Cause I’m a panicky, weepy mess when that goes out in the house.)

But lately one first-world comfort has been making our lives a little more…exciting? frustrating? game-show-like? (Take your pick, really.) Hot water. It’s so simple, right? You turn the faucet handle to the left, and magically hot water comes out at your bidding. Except when it doesn’t.

Despite our house being fairly new, we’ve been having problems with our water heater for a few years. Three winters ago, I noticed the hot water ran out in my shower really quickly. A look at the water heater revealed the pilot light had gone out. OK, no big deal, re-light it and go on my way. No other issues cropped up until about a month later when it happened again. Repeat the process, chalk it up to a cold, windy day, and continue on, only slightly perturbed.

That summer the water heater continued to function normally. Then last winter, the pilot light went out again. Another re-light and all seemed well, until it went out again a few days later. And then a week later.

So we gave up and called in the professionals. And they couldn’t reproduce the problem. That water heater performed perfectly the entire time they were there, even during tests to force the pilot light to go out. They thought maybe it just needed a good cleaning, so they polished it up and took $120 for the time to look at a perfectly functional water heater.

And then it went out again the next day.

By spring, it was working fine again, so Aaron and I did what we do best in home improvement situations and ignored it. Not the best solution, I’m aware.

And then a few weeks ago?

C’mon, everyone say it with me: “it went out AGAIN!” 

Only this time the pilot light is going out nearly every day. Sometimes twice a day.

I’m waving the white flag. The water heater has broken me. I don’t know about you, but I strongly dislike like cold showers. And I really hate surprise cold showers when I’m expecting hot. Even worse is when the water heater fools me into thinking everything is fine at first and then runs cold just as I lather up my hair. I can’t abort the shower at that point, right? I’m committed now, and have to suffer through at least rinsing out the shampoo, applying conditioner, and rinsing again while violently shivering and cursing. And curse words don’t sound nearly as dramatic when said through chattering teeth.

I’m not thrilled at spending a lot of money on a new water heater. But I’m tired of playing hot water Russian roulette, too. I never realized how grumpy a lack of hot water can make me.

So the plan is to have a new water heater by the end of the week. Or start buying dry shampoo in bulk. 

(This is also the point where my mother reminds me that when she was a child they had no indoor plumbing and took baths by heating water on the stove to fill the tub once for everyone in the family. Oldest got to bathe first, and the youngest child (her) was the last to be bathed and therefore got the coldest water. OK fine, mom, I’m spoiled by my hot water.)

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  1. You’re doing the right thing getting a new heater – pilot lights freak me out! Isn’t it funny how something you’re so used to having at your fingertips throws your life upside down when it’s not there? A few winters ago, our furnace, which of course also heats our water, kept cutting out on very cold weekends (need I say more?!?). It was the fuse in the furnace.

  2. Heather E says:

    Shit, having no hot water would KILL ME. For the first 3 months my husband and I lived together, we took cold showers because we couldn’t afford to turn our gas on. It was AWFUL.

  3. I own an HVAC company:
    Thing 1: $120.00 to clean and misdiagnose a water heater is OUTRAGEOUS. We are $95.00 an hour and our guys could tell you within 15 minutes what the problem is.

    Thing 2: I’m almost positive you have a bad gas valve. That would cause intermittent problems and be the reason why it wouldn’t always fail with the technician there. A good technician should have know that. If the gas valve is faulty and the gas shuts off, the pilot goes out, but since it will happen sporadically they can’t always determine that. But he should have just known it. There is a possibility your ignitor is bad, but I’m betting on the gas valve. If the gas valve has been bad long enough it will destroy the ignitor which will also cause it to go out.

    Thing 3: Go with the Bradford White. Also, you can purchase one at Home Depot and then have someone else install it to save on paying for the plumbing companies mark up.

    Thing 4: If your current water heater is a Bradford White it should have a 6-10 year warranty. The labor won’t be warrantied but if that gas valve is faulty it WILL BE.

    I recommend checking angies list for a better plumber. HVAC companies can also work on water heaters. Here is an Angies list trick though, the people at the top IN YELLOW paid to be at the top. I don’t call them, I always call the top person in white who is at the top because they are good, not because they paid to be. Check the warranty before buying a new one though, and after that, find someone with a less ridiculous labor rate. I would never charge a customer that much to say, “gee can’t find a problem but I cleaned it for you.”

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