Monday, January 30, 2012


My children had an “A-B-C” book that I thought was largely uninspired except for the illustration at the letter H which read: “Hector waits for hotter water.” The illustration showed the animal character (Hector) testing icy water in an old-fashioned bathtub with his big toe. The first time through the book, this funny illustration was such a surprise that the kids and I laughed till we cried.

Time glides on and we take forgranted our blessings, among them instant – or nearly instant – hot water flowing through the faucet to our sinks and tubs. Grandma Ina never had the luxury, and while my world always had hot running water, I do remember that it used to fail right regularly when I was a child. Mother would fill her big canning kettle with water and heat it on the stove for our washing and bathing. Sometimes she poured hot water into the tub for my bath. Sometimes she declared that I would have only a “sponge bath.” Eventually the hot water tank was upgraded and problems rarely occurred.

I thought of these things Wednesday night as I prepared my sponge bath. We realized in the morning that we had no hot water. Mike always warms his hands in hot tap water before putting on his gloves for the ride to work, so when the water refused to be more than tepid, we knew there was a problem. We assumed the pilot light had blown out during a windstorm in the night – and indeed that might have happened, but Mike was not successful in efforts to re-light. A service call would have to happen, so we moved a chest of drawers out of the closet where the hot water tank is located in order to give the man space to work. The serviceman came, lit the pilot light, and ordered a replacement part. We’ve had to re-light the pilot several times, so I’m looking forward to completion of this work – and getting the chest back into the closet. 

Mmmmm! Nothing like not having hot water to make you appreciate it. A nice hot shower is such luxury!

And speaking of bath time, I strongly suggested yesterday afternoon that Nellie should have a bath, so Mike complied. That meant the cover of her nice big pillow had to be laundered, so Mike brought one of her old pillows into the house for the duration. Last night Nellie was restless and finally disappeared. I found her in the laundry room, lying on her big fluffy pillow. You can see the cover in the machine. It isn't just my imagination -- she truly prefers that big pillow. KW


Chris said...

Hope you'll soon be back to gallons of hot water! Ann and Eric just had a similar problem (the top element burned out on theirs) and finally got a new gas water heater installed last Thursday. They could take showers, but only short ones because the hot water ran out quickly. They decided that if they had to replace, it made sense to upgrade to a gas one at the same time.

Meanwhile, after our bout with no power, I continue to be thankful for the ability to cook, run water, and flush! I think I'm firmly entrenched into this modern world as far as home conveniences are concerned.

Chuck said...

With our oversized tank, we have never run out of hot water, even when several families visit at once. My system heats the house as well as the hot water faucets. I recently decided to install a solar hot water heater (in conjunction with the gas system). That should significantly reduce the gas usage, and provide hotter water, too. I like hot, and I want it right now. My, aren't we spoiled!

Leah said...

During most of 1958, I lived in Germany with my husband who was in the Army. He wasn't an officer, so had to get an apartment off base for the 2 of us. Our apt. was the upstairs of a new house in a German village southwest of Frankfurt.

The houses & amenities were similar to the 1890's in the U.S. Each room in the house had a wood stove. The water heater & tub were in the basement. It looked like any water heater, except the source of heat was a little space at the bottom where we had to build a fire. As you can imagine, it took a very long time to heat the entire tank. The housemaster (landlord) only allowed us to take one bath a week probably because of the cost of water. The rest of the week we took sponge baths, known in our family as "birdie baths."

I'd never heard of a water heater with a wood fire. It wasn't as easy as lighting a fire and waiting. The space for the firewood was small & we had to keep watch on the fire so it didn't do out.

Living in Germany was quite an experience for us. We were advised by the Army not to get milk from the milkman on his daily route (with horse & cart) because the milk came from tuberculin cows. The vegetables/fruits were also a source of fear because the fertilizer was...well, I'll not go into that. One thing that seemed familiar was the small pizza parlor nearby owned by an Italian (novel idea). It was there because of the Army base, I'm sure.

Hope your water heater is healed soon and can give you happy hot baths. Living in Germany for so long made me appreciate the U.S. and the simple luxuries we enjoyed in the modern 1950's.

Leah said...

Footnote to my life in Germany. We lived within walking distance of the Army Base, Vogelweh. Just now I Googled the address of our apartment/house. As I moved the map center north of our house, I saw the street names on the base (which had many housing units for officer's families). The streets are named 2nd Ave., 5th Ave, Kansas St., Colorado, California & Idaho to name a few. Funny to see such street names on a German map.

Hallie said...

Poor Nellie looks like she's afraid that she's in trouble for laying on the pillow while the cover is being washed.

Uncle Chuck: I'm impressed to hear about your solar hot water heater! Did you calculate how long it will take you to reach your break even point where you've recovered the cost of the upgrade in savings?

Leah: Did you drink milk at all while in Germany? Did you have to buy it on base?

I don't really have a hot water heater story other than Nick and I had to learn how to drain ours this last summer while we had new floors put in. Apparently, draining your water heater is supposed to be part of regular maintenance--no one ever told me that until I had to look up how to drain one.

Leah said...

Hallie: Yes, we drank milk in Germany. I'm a big milk drinker. After all the warnings given to us by the Army, we bought all groceries on base at the PX. Two exceptions were bread from a German bakery & wurst (bratwurst/cold cuts). The dark brown German bread fresh from the oven was outstanding. American cold cuts are "wimpy" compared to their German cousins.

I've heard horror stories about a burst water heater. A house can be flooded, destroying carpets, wood floors, etc. When the owner is away for a long trip, the damage isn't discovered right away. I believe that the code in my county is to have a drip pan under it.

Tankless water heaters really make a lot of sense.

Kathy said...

We take our creature comforts forgranted until we don't have them.

Nellie knew she wasn't in trouble, but she was expressing her preference. And the little black box that makes a flash of light totally eludes her.

I'm supposed to drain the hot water tank? I'm going to ask the service person when he returns.

Kathy said...

The repairman said that draining the hot water tank is recommended annual preventative maintenance -- and added that nobody does it. The tank actually has a place where you connect your hose in order to drain it. The purpose is to remove sediment.