So, last night at 10:15, I was standing in our garage, watching my husband hold a small butane lighter in one hand, and repeatedly push the pilot light button on our brand-new water heater with the other hand. My hands were trembling as I held the instruction booklet. "Oh please God," I prayed, "let it be the tiniest of explosions."
Monday night Brian came home to discover a giant pool of water in the garage. Turns out our water heater finally remembered that its warranty had expired. Our main concern was how quickly we could get the new one installed. Brian was leaving Wednesday for a 2-day work meeting out of town, so waiting until the weekend wasn't an option. Especially after that first cold shower on Tuesday morning. A headache-inducing cold, I might add.
Homeownership has been grand, (3 years next month!) but unlike apartment living, it's a steady debate of "how much does this bother me? a lot? okay, let's spend the money to fix it." Or, "well, daycare will be over in a few years, we can get it then." And the idle conversation about how we might spend our PowerBall winnings - um, I mean daycare budget - turns to new appliances and new flooring and we're off to the races. But in all honesty, we haven't actually done anything significant to the house since we moved in, except to paint it. Well, I take that back. There was the Toilet Repair Day of 2005 right after we increased the water pressure, but for the most part, this house works just fine. So, to find a broken hot water heater Monday night - I thought, you know, we've been pushing our luck for 3 years. Time to pay up.
On the Top 10 list of reasons why I married Brian, somewhere around #5 is "truly handy with tools." I just assumed he'd look at the old unit and try to fix this himself. But we needed a new hot water heater instead. And in our initial discussions on Monday night, I learned that Brian knows enough about plumbing to be dangerous, but was understandably nervous about working on something attached to a natural gas line. So I had a conversation with a guy at Home Depot before work the next day, and Brian checked out the scene at Lowe's. We compared prices & models & warranties & the all-important online reviews. The choice was made, and payment exchanged hands.
Note to taxpayers: Next week is tax rebate deposit week. We are spending our economic stimulus package early. You can thank us next month when you hear about the rebound in the manufacturing sector.
During the shopping, Brian saw the stiff numbers associated with an installation, and he was truly inspired to try it on his own. (I should have known.) He borrowed a truck from a friend, shut off the gas & the water, got the old unit out and hauled it to the dump. Then he hauled the new unit home from the store. By this time, Helen & I were home from work. I sort of helped manuver it through the gauntlet of car projects while Helen danced around like a ninny. I quickly decided the two of us would be no use in the garage and planned to put her to bed early with the idea that I would try to help later. Instead, a short time later, she & I were at Home Depot getting 90 degree copper pipe bends. Plus, a propane torch and solder and flux.
Yeah, a blowtorch near a natural gas line. Sign me up for this job!
When I got home, I put Helen to bed and then watched Brian work. First he soldered a new cold water pipe out of the wall and attached a flex bend pipe to it and the new water heater. Then he did the same thing for the hot water pipe coming out of the tank. Next trick was to get the air out of the line, and pray nothing would leak. It's hard work to solder copper pipes together from an angle above your shoulders. Even with a ladder. It's even harder to attach that flex bend pipe with two wrenches at that angle. But he kept cranking away and finally achieved no leaking.
He then had a tricky time figuring out if the gas was on or off. He turned it back on to the house, but the knob on the pipe was a mysterious little thing that didn't indicate either way. I think he must have pushed that pilot light button a zillion times and kept readjusting the knob with a wrench to see what might work. Finally he grabbed the butane lighter. I clutched the instruction manual like it was our Last Rites, which clearly stated with all kinds of giant warning signs - DO NOT TAKE OFF THE INNER DOOR TO LIGHT THE PILOT. DO NOT LIGHT THE PILOT WITH A LIGHTER. DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200. Oh dear lord, the praying began. But to my credit, I never said a word out loud.
He didn't have to use the lighter, thankfully. After some more adjusting, which also included me moving clear to the other side of the garage for an easy escape, I heard him say "Aha!" and I realized something important must be happening. Or something bad was about to happen. I inched even closer to my escape hatch. And then there was light - a pilot light. Lo & behold, it all worked like a charm! Oh, what a relief.
That night I slumbered peacefully, with the new water heater humming along a mere 6 feet away on the other side of our bedroom wall. This morning, our house was still standing. The bonus? We had plenty of hot water this morning for Helen's oatmeal and both of our showers. Hallelujah.
Brian, deep down, I never doubted you for a second. But I'm peeking into the garage when I get home to see if I need my swim fins, or a nice hot bath.