I Can Do It Myself…No Matter How Easy

Now that I’m retired, I have time for small “do it yourself” maintenance projects in the house. I stick with projects that appear to be relatively simple and straight forward. But I’ve found that no matter how simple a project appears to be, problems can drag out the completion time.

A few months ago, the toilet tank (only) broke. Since the house was built in 1982, the toilet is an older model that is not as water efficient as newer “water saving” models, which I don’t care for.  If I want to save water, I put a few bricks in the tank. But if I feel the need for a strong flush, I can take the bricks out. Flexibility.

So when the tank broke, a new toilet would only be a final resort since they‘re all water savers now. I was concerned about finding a replacement tank but an Internet search found one right here in Florida for just $80, including shipping. After I installed it, it leaked from the bolts where it attached to the toilet bowl.

The solution was simple. I used silicone caulk around the bolts inside the tank and also outside. No more leaks. Sloppy but it worked.

On Monday, I discovered my hot water heater wasn’t working. The elements had burned out. I knew this because I have a timer near the heater and when I turn it on from there I can hear the elements starting up.

I had changed the elements some years ago without any problem. So I headed off to the home improvement store for new elements. Since the top element heats only when needed, I figured only the bottom one was bad. But since I was getting into the tank, I may as well change the top one too.

I figured I’d finish the job in about two to three hours. Didn’t work out that way…

My first problem was draining the tank. The drain is close to the floor and I it was hard to attach a hose, which I don’t recall happening the last time I changed the elements. Finally, I managed to attach a hose. First hose leaked. OK, try another hose then. Second hose leaked. I put on some silicone tape. Still leaked.

Since it appeared I need to attach the hose from a higher angle, I attached an adapter used to connect two hoses to one faucet. The adapter outlets ended up facing upwards, so it was very easy to attach a hose.  No leak from the hose.

But the adapter leaked. I put on the silicone tape, used a wrench for extra tightening and…no leak. Progress!

Once the tank was drained, I looked inside the tank through the element opening and it was obvious I needed to get all the solidified minerals out of the bottom of the tank. There was a good two inches in there.

But, the smallest nozzle of my wet-dry vac couldn’t fit through the element opening. I needed to improvise…

I noticed a cardboard paper towel tube in my recycle bin. I wrapped it in duct tape, used more duct tape to attach it to the wet-dry vac nozzle, and then crimped the other end to fit through the element opening. But it didn’t work. Probably because the dryer is close to the heater and I had to bend the tube in the center to get it into the heater. I needed something more flexible…

Looking in the garage, I noticed some tubing from a kitchen sink sprayer I had replaced. One end was larger than the other and had a rubber tip. Duct taped that to the wet-dry nozzle. And it worked!

It was slow going because the suction tip was small so it wasn’t a strong suction and often got clogged from large sediment pieces. But after about an hour, I had removed most of the sediment.

Now for the easy part… attach the elements. Since the water heater is the one that was installed when the house was built in 1982, it does not use the “screw in” elements but a square “flange” type. I was able to find it at only one store. It was a “universal” type that fits “most” older heaters.

But when I began filling the tank with water, I noticed a small leak from the bottom element. Tightening the screws worsened the leak. Uh oh…

It got ugly. I tried reinstalling the element. Leaked. Switched the top and bottom elements to see if one was not manufactured properly. Leaked.

I looked at the old element and noticed that the corners of the square were rounded. The new element had a square corners. So that’s why it was leaking. Since it was a small gap, I was able to seal it.

Turned the water back on. Leaked again! Now what?

Water looked to be coming out of the element, so I removed it As I looked at the thin fibrous gasket, it seemed that would not hold water back. So I looked at the old element again. Now I noticed some sort of large, round rubber seal which did not come with the new element.

The seal on the old element looked pretty good. I was able to pull it off and use it with the new one. But when I looked at the other old element, it had no seal. Huh?

I recalled I had to pry off the bottom element with a screwdriver to remove it but the top element came out easy. I looked at the top element opening and…there was the seal. Presumably, the seals are meant to be reused and so do not come with replacements.

Reinstalled the elements. No leaks. Woo-hoo!

Turned the heater on. I didn’t hear the elements come on. Arrgh!

With new elements, the likely culprit now was the thermostats. I’d never replaced them, so they were at least 25 years old and probably 32 if there were the original ones.

Back to the home improvement store. About $20 for top and bottom thermostats, about the price of the two elements.

Made a diagram of where the colored wires connected on the thermostats, replaced the thermostats, and turned on the heater. I heard the elements come on… Woo-hoo!

A job I thought would take about two or three hours took many more hours spread across five days. Another easy job… ;)