Between an unscheduled motorcycle repair last Saturday and a whopper of an air conditioning system repair bill last Monday, I was already four figures deep into unplanned expenses this week. The last thing I expected—or needed—was to come home and have my wife tell me that water was pooling on and around our hot water heater, but that she couldn’t tell where it was coming from. So what could I do? I grabbed a flashlight from my collection and went down for a look.
I think what disturbed me most was that I, with my wooden hearing, could hear water running before I even got to the unit. It was exactly as Karen had described. Water was indeed pooling around the water heater, but was also dripping off the top of the tank. I looked up, expecting to see water dripping from a pipe overhead. Nope. Dry as a bone.
Then I saw it. Water was raining out of the flue directly above the little opening on top of the unit. I shook my head and looked again. Water was raining down from the little ductwork opening above my hot water heater. But that’s an air duct, I reasoned. How on earth was water pouring out of an air duct? I reached up and touched the duct about a foot up from the opening and felt the faint vibration of running water, which was still very audible. Had I entered the twilight zone?
My eyes followed the duct up to the ceiling. Both the metal duct and the ceiling above it looked quite dry. The sound of that running water was maddening. What in the world had happened? I ran upstairs and checked two of our bathrooms, one on each floor, that were not quite directly over that spot in the basement. Both were dry. And while I could hear the usual telltale sound from our copper pipes announcing that water was running somewhere in the house, it was not loud like it was downstairs. This was maddening. I had water raining down from an air duct and no apparent source. I had visions of walls being cut open and unbelievable bills mounting up.
I shut off the water to the house and called a very handy friend of mine (I’m not handy—I break things). He came right over and I showed him where the water had been coming from. “That’s impossible,” he said, as he pointed upward, “This is just a flue. You see any exhaust from the hot water heater just goes up the duct work and…”
“I know what it is,” I said, smiling. Then I turned to my wife. “Karen, please turn the water back on, so Lee can see this for himself.”
By now some of you probably know exactly what had happened. My handy friend figured it out almost as soon as the water came back on. And yes, water was in fact raining out of the flue and all over the top of the tank, where it then ran to the floor, pooling until it went down the drain in the floor. What was not immediately obvious to me or my wife was that the water was spraying up into the flue from a rupture at the top of the tank—hidden from sight by the little hood around the bottom of the flue. The water was then running back down the flue, spreading out along the little round hood and raining down onto the top of the unit. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for this discovery outright, although in all candor, I must take my dear, handy friend out for a nice meal sometime soon. He is always helping me look less inept than I actually am.
And so tomorrow morning, I will wash up with cold water as I get ready for work. A new unit has already been ordered and will be installed before I come home. This will undoubtedly put me at an all-time personal record for highest amount of unexpected expenses in a seven-day period, but at least I’ll be able to drown my sorrows in a hot shower.
Thanks for hanging with me.