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Thursday, January 31, 2013

A tale of two repair jobs

My dad's electric water heater started acting up. It produced hot water, but in very limited quantities. Right off I suspected the lower heating coil had failed. The top of the tank gets hot, but the bottom stays cold. If the top coil had failed, the bottom coil would struggle to heat all the water by itself. That would result in a tank full of not quite hot enough water.

Much to my surprise, my dad had no experience trouble shooting water tanks. He's installed them, but never had to repair them. I took the lead on the job.

We killed the power to the tank, shut off the feed water, and drained the tank. Dad decided to change both heating elements while we were at it.

It's not all that hard. There are two cover plates to be removed. Then the wires are disconnected from the heater coils. The coils are unscrewed using a big socket wrench. Then the new ones are screwed in and the rest of the process is reversed.

Cost of the job? $22.

I don't always do my own work. The very same day, I brought my bicycle to a local shop to have some work done. While most bike work is well within my skill set, truing bent rims is not one of them. Sure, I tried, but was not satisfied with the result. The shop has better tools and a lot more experience.

It would not pay for me to buy shop quality tools and spend the time learning how to do it. It's a specialized skill. Water heater repair fits in with a much larger set of skills: plumbing and electrical work. Those basic skills can be used on a wide variety of jobs. It might be necessary to do a bit of research in a manual or on-line to get the finer details of a specific project. It's just a matter of gaining a bit more knowledge on how to apply existing skills and tools.

Had I not been around, dad would have figured out the problem and how to fix it. I just saved him a bit of time and wrench turning.



  1. "If the top coil had failed, the bottom coil would struggle to heat all the water by itself. That would result in a tank full of not quite hot enough water." How very interesting... I am experiencing that right now. Only, I have a gas water heater. Do they have two coils also?

    I took a college course in bicycle maintenance. After I was done I could pretty much build a bike from parts. But as far as I was concerned a bent frame or rims meant the bike was totaled.

    1. Rims are a special skill.

      Gas is different. Gorges may have the answer: thermostat.

      Could be something on the gas supply like the regulator or burner.

  2. Check your thermostat, Mr. Wheeler.

  3. That isn't one of my skills. Luckily I have a great neighbor who can fix things.

    1. Thats why community is so important.

  4. Nowadays you can find out how to fix most anything on Youtube. Yep, specialty repairs are best left to folks with the right tools and experience. Some things are just not worth buying a tool for, or spending the time to figure out...

    1. It didn't matter how many bicycle Youtubes I watched . . .

  5. I am kind of a jack of all trades but a master of none. Of course at my age, I prefer to have someone else do the heavy stuff and the stuff in hard to get to locations. But because I am cheap, I usually do it myself.

  6. RE: gas water heater, Check the thermostat and check for pinhole leaks of the water jacket.
    Seems like the water heaters aren't made as well as they used too.
    It's 15 degrees here this am. The river crested at 9.5 feet on the yough and the water temps is 38 degrees and falling.

  7. Straightening bent bike wheels is an art.
    First you have to have a jig to hold it so you can spin it but the tightening and loosening of the spokes is counter intuitive.
    Plus you need really good spoke wrenches because the material is so soft they round off easily.
    Good call on letting someone with expertise handle that job.

    I used to have a little MG that had wire wheels and it literally got so hard to find anyone to true them and so expensive that it was actually cheaper to buy a new wheel!

  8. I agree that plumbing and electrical work are some skills that are worthwhile to learn. Whether it's a leaky faucet or electrical wires needing to be checked, there's always that one task to do around the house. However, not all jobs can be DIY. It's a matter of discerning what can be done with what knowledge and tools are readily available against what needs a professional to look into.