I have a pretty simple morning routine: wake up, push up sleep mask, dislodge dog from whatever part of me she’s currently squashing, make and consume vast amounts of coffee, wash face, brush teeth, get on with day. Yesterday happened much as all other days do, except for my face washing water failed to get hot. This was a pretty big “oh no” situation because it meant that my half-sized electric water heater had shuffled off to join Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain at a round table reserved for dead people too cool to hang out with me. The chances of calling a plumber to fix said heater were next to none as I have been recently tapping the parental ATM excessively – to the tune of a new mattress. I calculated how long I could live without hot water, and thought I could hack it for a pretty long time — especially since summer is coming and the water pours from the spigot at 95 degrees anyway.
I dreaded telling Dad (the Great Provider – G.P.) about the situation, and decided I’d better make some moves to fix it before calling him. I went outside to the garage and stared blankly at the electrical panel for a few minutes. I don’t know about your board – maybe your house was previously owned by some super organized person who owned a label maker and by God knew how to use it – but mine looks like the last person who tried to write “washing machine” on it was a drunk Klingon with a thick-tipped red Sharpie. After staring uncomprehendingly, I gave up and flipped every single circuit, including what I assume was the main. Power did go off briefly and then come back on in the house, but that was the only indication that the thing was even connected. I literally might have caused a mild panic in some Class 5 Klingon Warship without knowing it, but that’s what they get for siphoning off my electricity. My house secretly powering interstellar travel (I’m imagining a really long extension cord) would finally explain the expense of my monthly energy bill.
I went back into the house, reset all the clocks (again), and waited. Normally, when the water heater is doing his job, it makes a sibilant sound like a content boa constrictor out and about happily doing snake stuff. There was no sound, but I waited for 20 minutes before turning on the hot tap just in case. The water did not heat up as it ran. In fact, I’m pretty sure it got marginally colder. It was time to open the blood red cabinet that housed the beast.
The only creature behind the two doors (without handles – like it’s a bad idea to even think about opening them) is the heater. It’s not very scary, really. It’s a small, squat, water heater. It’s not worrisome in the least until, upon further examination, you notice a variety of lines that look a lot like thick extension cords wired to the large metal cylinder. That gave me pause. In third grade science, Mrs. Klepperman taught us about water conducting electricity by saying, “if you screw in a light bulb while standing in a puddle of water, YOU WILL DIE.” That kind of lesson sort of sticks with you, even after you screw in about a billion light bulbs with damp tootsies and fail to croak. Mrs. Klepperman was more concerned about SAVING LIVES than strict, scientific accuracy.
I found the release valve first — but it didn’t look like one. It was a red numerical dial with a strange, hinged piece of dangling metal. I discovered (via experimentation) that if you turned the metal deal-y (technical term) just right, a whooshing noise would come through the attached PVC pipe and water would flow into the black plastic pan underneath. “Okay,” thought I. “Good to know, but not what we’re looking for.” Not that I knew what I was looking for…something to do with heating water probably.
There was only one place left to look. Two pieces of long, bowed pieces of metal were screwed into the side of the heater. “Now YOU look like you got something to hide,” I accused in my best hard-boiled detective voice.
It’s possible that when Sears made my water heater, they put those metal plates on the side to deter idiots like me from opening the panels. They also threw on a lot of stickers in DANGER colors that said “WARNING, DO NOT OPEN” in multiple languages – evidently Sears sells water heaters to people who only read Farsi. Ignoring the warnings due to the fact that we now have to be warned about everything, including that we might drown in a bucket, I pulled the 8 foot long screws (obviously magic since the tank itself was only about ¼” thick) from the top and bottom of the panel and was greeted by a Styrofoam housing with a little handle on the top part. I gingerly opened the lid. Inside the housing was some cotton wadding.
“Hmmm, this is beginning to look more and more like a bomb,” I thought, as I carefully removed the cotton only to find a thick piece of translucent plastic that covered up: 1) a bunch of wires 2) a gauge of some kind that was not temperature and 3) a big red button. The plastic had the words: “DO NOT REMOVE WHILE POWER IS ON” engraved in it. I carefully pulled it off, REVEALING THE BUTTON.
I was well aware that the power was on, and I had no idea if the big red button was a reset or a detonator. “I should turn off the power first,” I thought as my right index finger crept ever closer to the enticing button as though it was caught in a tractor beam. I tried to restrain myself. My internal chicken was screaming about stupid people blowing themselves to kingdom come while trying to recall the current condition of my underpants … but still my finger edged ever nearer. At the last second, I closed my eyes, whispered, “Goodbye cruel world,” and pressed the button.
I emerged from a “duck and cover” position to hear the happy hissing of the heater. It was a reset button after all. Equilibrium has been restored, although the water is perhaps a little hotter than it’s ever been.
Now to figure out how to unplug those parasitic Klingons.