When all else fails, follow the instructions

IT WAS SEPT. 9, 1993. My wife said to me on a Sunday at 1 p. m.: "Honey, there is water coming out of the closet. Would you take a look at it?" I got up off the couch and put down the book I was reading. I opened the door in the bathroom. You guessed it, the COLD water heater. If you know anything about water heaters, when water comes out the bottom, they are done, they have come to the end of their

IT WAS SEPT. 9, 1993. My wife said to me on a Sunday at 1 p. m.: "Honey, there is water coming out of the closet. Would you take a look at it?"

I got up off the couch and put down the book I was reading. I opened the door in the bathroom. You guessed it, the COLD water heater. If you know anything about water heaters, when water comes out the bottom, they are done, they have come to the end of their useful life.

I know that because, you see, I am a licensed Journeyman Technician. I worked with my hands on piping and heating for more than 10 years. So, I announced, "Stand back, honey, I'll take care of this!"

I shifted gears and put on my tool belt and off I went. First I wrote down all the important information one needs in a case like this: model number, serial number, voltage, amperage, gallons, height, etc. and off to the hardware store I went.

I picked up what I needed and came home to get the job done in time to watch the 9 p.m. movie. You would have been proud of the piping job I did. It was plumb, aesthetically pleasing and solid as a rock.

During the installation the instructions fell out of the box. Real men don't use instructions, that's for sissies. I tossed the booklet like a drunken man tosses an empty bottle. It took me about four hours to finish the job. I threw the breaker to power up the new heater, turned on the water and waited for the magic to happen.

Less than five minutes later, the new heater made a very loud and sudden "Bang!" I jumped back. Now these things make a lot of noises, but "Bang!" is not supposed to be one of them.

Just then, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. Guys, you know the one, a feeling of dread and impending doom. You see, COLD water heaters have what is known as an "immersion heater." These heaters are designed to be immersed in water before turning on the power. By turning on the power before the tank was full of water, the immersion heater blew up. That explained the loud bang. Ohming out the heater confirmed my fear.

I looked at my watch and realized I only had an hour before the store closed. I immediately disconnected all my beautiful piping and put the heater back into its original box and sped back to the hardware store.

I approached a very mature and seasoned hardware guy with an apron on. He was the Sheriff of the Plumbing Department. The apron was his badge. He reminded me of Curly in the Billy Crystal movie, "City Slickers."

"What do you need, young fella?" he inquired sternly.

" Oh, boy," I thought to myself. "Now what do I do?"

I did the only thing most men do in a situation like this ... I lied!

"This heater is defective," I said with authority. "The heating element is bad!"

He just smiled. "Let me ask you one question. Did you happen to turn on the power before you filled the tank with water?"

It was a test; I knew it, he knew it. What to do? Something unusual came over me. Temporary insanity ... I told the truth!

"Yes," I admitted like a kid whose hand had been caught in the proverbial cookie jar.

"OK," he said with a smile. "I'll give you a new water heater on one condition. When you get this one home, sit down and read the instructions all the way through. Fair enough?"

"Fair enough," I replied, sighing deeply in relief.

I loaded the new heater in my Bronco and drove home grateful.

True to my word, upon arriving home, I sat down on the front steps and read the little booklet of instruction. I got to pg. 3 and in big bold font it said: "WARNING! Under no conditions are you to turn on the power until the tank is filled with water!"

I smiled and said to myself aloud: "Imagine that, there it is. What do you know!"

I kept reading. I finished the book and began installing the new heater. When it was time to hook up the power, I removed the cover for the electrical as I had on the previous heater and, lo and behold, a big red tag similar to the one I had to remove on the first heater! It said: "WARNING! Under no conditions are you to turn on the power until the tank is filled with water!"

Deja vu. I don't know how I missed it the first time because I HAD TO REMOVE IT THE FIRST TIME! Just then I remembered the old proverb, "PRIDE comes just before a fall." I waited for the heater to fill up with water. It was now 11:30 p.m. and my wife had long since gone to bed, giving up any hope of a hot shower before bed.

The next morning, I enjoyed a nice long, hot shower. Afterwards, I took a big black felt tip marker and wrote on the side of the tank, "When all else fails, follow the instructions! Sept. 9, 1993."

Mark Matteson is president of Pinnacle Service Group. He can be reached by phone at 877/672-2001, by fax at 425/745-8981, by e-mail at [email protected] or on his Website at www.mattesonavenue.com.