The joys of working with contractors

Following Friday’s excitement, and a lot of research into solutions over the weekend, the plumber arrived this morning to install our new water heater.

Interesting times ensued when he shut off the water to the old heater – only to find that hot water was flowing into it through a pipe they didn’t recognize.  Turns out our geothermal heating and A/C unit circulates hot water through it, to take advantage of the heat it’s either providing to or removing from the house.  A quick call to the A/C tech, and he came out to switch off the water pump in the unit.  He’ll be back this afternoon to switch everything on again and “burp” the pump.  That’s another service bill coming our way . . . good thing our “rainy day fund” can cope with it!

The neighbor’s kitten, Curtis, a charming little black-and-white five-month-old hellion, has decided that our open garage (where the water heater is installed), and the open plumbing van, are exactly what he needs to explore.  He’s getting in everybody’s way, particularly when he climbs into the plumber’s toolkit.  The expression on a plumber’s face when he reaches down without looking, expecting to pick up a wrench, and instead grabs a purring kitten, is very amusing – to us, at any rate!

Here’s hoping we’ll have hot water again by tonight.  Tomorrow, we’re expecting a couple to stay overnight, with their two toddlers, so we’d better be able to offer them a working bathroom!



  1. Didn't you know? Unless you're so wealthy that your staff handles this sort of thing, the whole purpose of contractors is to remind you that you're not as important as you might like to think you are.

  2. I had my water heater die last year. I ended up calling the best plumber I know, my father and we walked me through what I needed to do to replace it on my own. Saved me a fortune but it reminded me why contractors exist, some jobs are just not worth doing yourself.

  3. You (and the plumber) are having more fun that humans should be allowed to have … or something like that. Young cats are best kept in a spare bedroom, along with their food/water/litter, until the contractor is done. Just imagining the fellow's face when the finding the tools have grown fur … heh!

  4. Peter,
    My binary communication skills are weak today, so was unable to figure out how to include an Amazon link to this product. Strangely, I have been able to accomplish that in the past.
    That being said, I wanted to recommend a product that I have found very useful: Ecotemp L5 Portable Water Heater / Shower. Mine came with a shower wand and all the propane connections, but the one currently shown on Amazon does not mention that.
    I originally purchased one several years ago for our family's annual Memorial Day campout at our house. I built an 8'X 8' structure with modesty panels out of 4X8 sheets of plywood. I used a synthetic decking material for the floor. It has held up well.
    Over the years it has morphed into an attractive building with a twelve-and-twelve pitched gable roof with exposed 4×6 rafters and clear lexan roof sheeting capping the original modesty panels. A seven pound propane tank and a garden hose and you're set. I keep a large selection of shower shoes (95 cents) from Walmart in a plastic tub inside the door.
    But, I digress.
    This "outdoor" shower has proven to be a huge hit with the family. I recall an incident where seven grandkids looking like Swampthing when they got back from the creek, trooped in and hosed each other off. I frequently use it in the summer after working in the yard.
    People like the open free feel in the 8X8 space and open feel of the roof and partial sidewalls.
    Our home has been designated as a rally point for our widespread friends and family should they have to bug out of their locals.
    We have prepared for that possibility.
    One does not think of a hot shower as a item on your survival check list, but it is psychologically comforting and there are obvious health concerns to staying clean.
    My dad liked this shower so well that I installed one up for him in his horse trailer. It operates off of a twelve volt battery with a solar charger and a twelve volt pump sucking from a fifty-gallon drum. Scoop out the manure, throw down a duck board, and he's good to go. A plastic lawn chair and side table makes it downright luxurious for those of us with memories of bathing in a cold creek.
    This is important enough that I included it in the two-is-one-one-is-none category of things to have when Bad Things Happen.
    If you are interested in this and decide to persue it there are a few tweaks that make it MUCH easier to use.
    Sorry about the length of this "Comment".

  5. When I first saw the title "The Joys of Working With Contractors", I was sure you were about to go on a rant about the perfidy of contractors. I was pleasantly surprised that your experience was overall a positive one. Around here where I live, it's a crap shoot if they are even going to call you when they inevitably fail to show at the appointed time. Their price? Well, that's another thing altogether.

    I had to do a plumbing job back at the beginning of September. I needed to replace a 35ft long 3 inch drain pipe that went from my washer drain over to the main stack on the other end of the house. The cheapest plumber wanted $2500 to replace that pipe which is in the ceiling of my basement and was easily accessible.

    I ended up doing it myself.

    I spent about $200 in materials and an entire Saturday doing the job and I worked my a$$ off. The thing is, I would have gladly paid the plumber $1000 plus materials just to save me the hassle, but thought $2500 was just egregious. Doing it myself saved me $2300.00 in exchange for a day of my time and labor. But think about this: I would have had to have earned around $4000.00 to have the after-tax dollars to pay that plumber. The government would have taken $1400 from me on the $4000 gross I would have to have earned, and the plumber would have had to pay at least $600 tax on the $2500 I would have paid him. Uncle Sam would have been $2000 richer on just those two things.

    A hot water heater? Those are easy.

  6. @waepnedmann: That's very interesting. I looked at your unit on Amazon (its current incarnation, anyway), and there were a number of low-rated reviews, claiming that it broke down very quickly and the company didn't stand behind its products. Have you had any trouble like that? It doesn't sound like it.

    I'll look into buying something like that. You're absolutely right; not only is it great for hygiene, it's also good for morale. When everything else is going wrong, a hot shower can make one feel a whole lot less miserable!

  7. I bought the L7 model (bigger is better!), initially, and it was a little finicky about the balance of water flow to propane/heat.
    I admit some frustration in getting it to work at an acceptable level.
    I think this was due to our high (80 psi) water pressure.
    These units are designed to work at a water pressure as low as 10 psi.
    Once I got the water flow reduced by partially closing the faucet connected to the garden hose the L7 has been fine, except it has an annoying quirk in that when you first turn it on the propane heater fires immediately but shuts off in about five seconds. If you turn it off and restart,it fires up and works fine. It is an irritant, not enough to return the unit.
    My gut feeling is that the L7 is, also, much more easily affected by wind than the L5.
    We have used the L7 for three years. Our water is very good quality with almost no mineral deposits occurring in our system and have not calcification as noted by some owners in their reviews.

    For my dad, after my experience and reading more reviews, I bought him the L5 unit.
    People, in their reviews, have consistently been happier with the L5 than with the L7.
    The L5 was Ecotemp's first model and they have had more experience in getting it to work at an acceptable level.
    The L5 for my dad has worked flawlessly for two years with no tinkering or odd quirks. Only uses it in the summer and fall. It has been used MUCH less than my L7 unit.
    As I noted on my previous comment,i his operates with a twelve-volt pump suppyling the water from a fifty-gallon drum. I have not measured it, but the pump is supposed to supply the water at 10 psi and the system works great.
    The L5 is quick to assemble (10-15 minutes) and very portable. You can hang it on a single nail or screw. The on/off switch on the shower wand is extremely stiff (particularly with our high water pressure). I put a ball valve in line where the hose connects to the unit and the long handle makes it easy to turn on and off. I just leave the wand switch in the "on" position.

    I bought an L5 as my backup.
    As I have not tested it I do know it it will work as well as my dad's.
    Now that I think about it I should at least do a function test on it to make sure it works as I am relying on it as my backup.

    I see that Amazon now offers several other brands of water heaters of this type.
    Were I you, I would read the reviews on all the brands available before deciding to purchase.
    Oh, be careful when first setting up and adjusting. The water can be hot enough to scald a hog and you don't want kids fooling around with the temperature setting once you get it at a comfortable temperature.
    Incidentally, the unit currently pictured on Amazon does not look exactly like my L5 unit.
    As far as customer service from Ecotemp, I have never called them.

    I hope I have been helpful.
    Your "Lessons Learned" series on the aftermaths of the forced evacuation scenarios that you have experienced are very informative.
    Thank you.

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