Leaking hot water heater and house party

I’ve often heard it said that there’s nothing like the sound of pitter-pattering around your home. This weekend, I found that sometimes this sound isn’t so nice. Like when your hot water heater is leaking.

I noticed it in the early afternoon on Saturday, shortly after the third load of laundry had finished in the washer. There was a hissing noise emanating from the basement. I assumed at first that this was from the heater reheating. But the noise didn’t stop.

Further inspection — actually looking at the heater — revealed hot water leaking from the relief valve. This was the first time I actually had a mild panic as a homeowner. How the hell could I stop/fix this? I knew a little of hot water heaters, but not enough to fix one. Luckily for me, my sister married an original Mr. Fix-It.

A phone call to Ontario found my sister and brother-in-law in the glow of having just finished the installation of their kitchen skylight. Cathy was a tad surprised to hear me ask for Craig. (Usually, it’s the other way around.) Craig gave me a few ideas as what to do, and some ideas of maintenance. The first step: hook up a garden hose and purge the tank. While purging, open the valve a couple of times and clean it out.

The relief valve on a hot water tank is a very simple (but very vital) piece of equipment. A hot water tank runs at about 150 psi. While that doesn’t sound like much, if a hot water tank were to explode at that pressure, you could say good-bye to your house and everything in it. That’s what the relief valve is for. It’s set to open at 150 psi and bleed off excess pressure before something nasty happens.

Except mine was just open. After purging the tank, the leak was even worse. Another call to Ontario. This time, I removed the valve from the tank. That’s when I found the culprit of all my problems. Although I can’t tell for sure, the inside of my tank seems to be lined with about a half inch of calcium deposits. If ever there was an advertisment for water softeners, this is it. The temperature probe on the valve was so encrusted, and I had to pull quite hard to get it out.

Thus began my repair project: immersing in a glass full of CLR and trying to get the thing to work properly. My grandiose plans for hitting the gym and getting in a little exercise before events in the evening were rapidly going to pot. By 19:00, the best I’d been able to do is a slight (but still noticeable) leak. And that was with a lower temperature. At least I could have a shower.

I left for a party hosted by Chrissie, a fellow co-worker, around 21:00 — the valve returned to its CLR bath for the next 15 hours.

While we wait for the valve to soak, let me tell you about this party. Chrissie, a long-standing CM employee, wanted to throw a “nothing to do with Stampede” party. For those of you not in the know, we’re currently immersed in the Calgary Stampede, which means the invasion of this city by every cowboy wannabe in the world for two weeks of … well, probably the best explanation is drunken stupidity. I’m really glad I no longer live right downtown.

Held in the southeast quadrant of town, Chrissie is in an area that I had previously thought I wouldn’t want to live in. But her house was gorgeous — owned and renovated over a few months by Capri and Jason (other co-workers). They’d done it mostly for fun. (Yes, they’re both crazy.) It made for a great party venue.

The soiree had a fairly healthy cross-section of the company, new to veteran, programmer to artist. And three DJs (two of whom are on my WebDev team) who kept the tunes running for the next few hours. There were about 60 people there, though it was hard to get an accurate count — people kept coming and going all night.

One of the key reasons was to jointly celebrate Cory and Laura’s birthdays (both on Sunday). And hey, like we really need a good excuse to get together and have fun. The trick is just to avoid talking about work.

Shawn came out, too. It was good to see him again. Shawn’s been on leave for a couple of months, and we’re really looking forward to his return at the end of the month. It’s just been too quiet without him around.

I value Shawn’s opinion, mostly because he’s about as genuine as they come. Towards the end of the evening, Shawn and I were talking on the couch, when he mentioned that it was good to see “the Old Sowrey” again. I was a tad confused at first. I know I’m among the older folk in the WebDev group, but I didn’t realize I’d become the “Old Sowrey”. But Shawn qualified this by adding that the “New Sowrey” had worried him.

Basically, Shawn had remembered what I was like in my first year and a half here. I was loud, obnoxious, and apparently a lot more fun. In the last year, I’ve become much more business-oriented, more focussed, and apparently a lot less fun. The thing is — I agreed with Shawn’s assessment. My ambition to rise in the ranks had led me to reforming myself to be more “appealing” to those who would promote me. I succeeded (far more than I thought possible) in that aspect, but inadvertantly led me to failing in another.

The team dynamic is everything. No-one gets into the WebDev group unless they’ve got the attitude to go along with the skill. It was that attitude that I’d slowly been killing over the last year. I’ve actually become too professional.

Before you start objection with this analysis, I’ll point out that this was not some snap decision. This was a bit of a revelation (even if it was someone pointing out the obvious), and I did spend some time truly thinking about it. It’s something that I’m going to have to keep an eye on. I want to be a professional, but the last thing I want to do is have that get in the way of having fun with my teammates.

We left the party around 04:00. We knew we were ready when Cory just upped and walked out the front door. I’d stopped drinking about two hours earlier, knowing that I’d be driving people home. Originally it was just Shawn. But Candace abandoned Cory at the party, meaning he’d need a lift home. And Reid, who’d somehow managed to hang out that long, asked for a ride since he wasn’t far from Cory’s place.

The ride back to Cory’s was fairly quick, though he lives at the south-west edge of town. At four in the morning, most of the intersection lights are blinking (amber on the main thoroughfare, red on the minor ones) — only major intersections have their lights still in normal operation. Which was good for Cory.

We hit our only red light when we got to Southland and MacLeod. Cory, sitting in the front passenger seat, nonchalantly turned and opened the door. At first, I thought he was going to get out. (Cory was still quite loaded at this point, and I’ve seen drunks do weird things at early hours of the morning.) Cory leaned over, but not to get out of the car. He cursed me later for taking so long to stop at a light.

As Shawn and I returned to downtown (Shawn lives not too far from my house), we noted that the sun was taking an awfully long time to set. It was then we realized that it was so late that it was early. Already, I knew that my sleeping schedule was going to be really screwed up for the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, back at the hot water heater…

Awaking around 13:00 (having gone back to bed after Jim called me at 10:15 to play disc golf, which I sleepily refused), I returned to the hot water tank problem. The valve had sat in CLR all night, and was glistening clean — no more rust or calcium. Figuring this was good, I taped it up and slapped it back in. A couple small drips.

Fixed, right? Wrong. There shouldn’t be any drips. So it was off to Revy to get a new valve, and some piping for a drain pipe (the previous owner didn’t have one). Luckily, this stuff is so standard it was almost ridiculous how fast I picked up the valve, a 3/4″ adapter (for the pipe), a connector, a three-foot section of copper tubing, and a plumbing soldering kit (I didn’t have one yet, and it was as good an excuse as any to get one).

Admittedly, I didn’t purchase the valve with the intent to replace it right away. Actually, I had hoped the dripping would stop while I was gone. I might have been able to deal with a periodic drip, but when I raised the temperature to its normal setting, gushing water sealed the fate of the valve. It had to go.

Luckily, my father had taught me how to install plumbing when I was a kid. I’m no expert, but I can handle most of the simple stuff. Probably couldn’t do a home improvement show, but as far as a pressure relief valves go, I’m good as gold. All I have to do now is sit back and wait to see what will go wrong next.

My bet’s on the furnace…