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November 25, 2009
Waiting game

Curtis Jaspers connects the bathtub fixtures. Note the water coming out of the spout!

Gail stayed alone at our mountain home for three nights for one main reason: to get hot water installed before Thanksgiving. She had been doing months of research and coordination, and all of it was scheduled to come together this week.

Gail’s first decision was to get a tankless “on-demand” water heater. Given that we would only be at the house on intermittent weekends, it made no sense keep a huge tank of water constantly heated. Slakey Brothers, a plumbing supplier in nearby Jackson, recommended Noritz as the most reliable brand. Gail settled on a box that would supply 7.5 gallons per minute at 11k-200k BTUs per hour. Our plumber, Curtis, agreed to pick it up and install it, entitling us to a 30 percent rebate.

Gail’s second decision was to power the water heater through propane. She found a terrific deal through Amerigas, also in Jackson. Amerigas would install a 150-gallon propane tank for free. The first three years of tank rental would also be free. To start off, we would only need to pay for the first tankful of propane, at $2.09 per gallon. Given that our water heater and stove combined should only use two gallons a day, that first tankful would last us about three years.

Gail coordinated an extremely complex schedule of vendors that looked like this:

By Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 26), we would have hot water.

We got off to a great start. By the time we arrived at the mountain on Friday, November 20, Scott had already dug the trench. Curtis arrived a half-hour after Russell departed on Sunday afternoon. In addition to installing the water heater, he also helped Gail with shower/bath fixtures in the upstairs hall bathroom.

The pantry wall, before and after installation of drywall and the tankless water heater

It was at this point that the improvisation began. Our original title for this web letter was going to be “Hot water.” As readers will note, that is not the case.

As we reported in a previous entry, a tree had fallen across our access road a few weeks ago. While most of it has been cleared away, there are still large branches on both sides of the road. Gail called Amerigas to make sure that their truck would be able to get through. They worked out a number of back-up plans, including physically walking the pipe up to the house if necessary.

Gail was therefore surprised when Scott (a different Scott) from Amerigas showed up on Tuesday morning with a pipe… but no tank. Scott had no problem laying the pipe and filling it with 60 lbs. of test pressure. However, he also had several updates:

  1. The pipe would need to hold pressure for a full 24 hours before Dennis could pass it for inspection.
  2. Scott guessed that the tank truck was 10 feet wide. He would need a minimum road width of 12 feet for clearance, and ideally 14 feet.
  3. Given our location, Amerigas would need two crewmen to install the tank, not one.
  4. Also given our location, the pipe trench would need to be filled back in before the tank truck could drive over the work area.

Gail did some fast thinking. If Dennis could not inspect the pipe until midday Wednesday, Amerigas would not have enough time to come back out Wednesday afternoon to finish the installation. Gail would have to be present for the safety checks, but she would also have to drive back home Wednesday afternoon in time for Thanksgiving.

Gail consulted by Russell via phone. Russell was skeptical that Amerigas should require 12-14 feet width of clearance. He pointed out that this was wider than a normal car lane, and probably wider than our entire road. Gail called Amerigas, who also assured her that the truck should not require that much road width. Nevertheless, Gail called neighbor Scott, who volunteered to move the fallen tree out of the way with his tractor.

Plan B started to come together. Amerigas could come back out on Friday to install the tank. Neighbor Scott could refill the trench on Wednesday or Friday after the pipe had passed inspection. While there was a chance that we could still have hot water by the weekend, the odds were getting smaller.

Stages of the propane trench:
Our friend Dirk stands at the ultimate location of the propane tank;
The trench as dug by our neighbor Scott;
Amerigas Scott lays propane pipe into the trench

It was just about time for more improvisation.

On Tuesday afternoon, Curtis the plumber called. He had accidentally ordered the wrong flue for the water heater. The correct flue would not be delivered until next Monday. Curtis was very apologetic. He volunteered to meet Amerigas next week, so that he could sign off on the safety checks in our absence. While it was now impossible to have hot water by this weekend, we could at least have the propane tank completed.

Our revised title for this web letter was going to be “Propane.” As readers will note, that is not the case either.

Dennis the inspector showed up promptly on Wednesday morning, 24 hours after the propane pipe had been pressurized. Dennis inspected the pipe. The pressure reading was currently “zero.” Dennis was actually very surprised; while a pipe may lose a few pounds of pressure, there was clearly something wrong. Unfortunately, Dennis was not able to approve the pipe for further installation.

After a phone call, Amerigas Scott returned within an hour. Scott was also very apologetic; he had used a new cap that obviously had not worked. He changed the fittings and re-pressurized the pipe.

At this point, we are on to Plan C. The soonest that Dennis can return to inspect the pipe is next Monday. Once that is done, neighbor Scott will be able to re-fill the trench. Once that is done, Amerigas can return to install the propane tank, connect everything and conduct safety checks. This will have to be coordinated with Curtis the plumber, who will install the correct flue and sign off on the safety checks. The exact schedule for all of this is “yet to be determined.”

In the meantime, we still have eight people coming up here on Thanksgiving weekend. Fortunately, Gail had lots of time to do her own work while she was waiting for things that never actually happened.

Gail installed subfloor and drywall in the utility room. This enabled her to fill the utility room with all of the tools and shelves that had previously been in the downstairs pantry and Joss’ bedroom.

The upstairs utility room, with new drywall and two racks of tools

Joss’ bedroom, before and after cleaning

Gail cleaned out Cameron’s bedroom enough to accommodate the futon from the upstairs living room. This will serve as the guest room for Joss’ girlfriend’s family this weekend.

Cameron’s bedroom, which we had been using as a kitchen and dining room, is slowly being turned into a real bedroom

Gail took the rest of the gear from the upstairs kitchen and packed it away in the downstairs cabinets. She also swept and tidied the entire house before finally departing shortly after noon on Wednesday.

The upstairs living room now has two actual sofas.

We are as ready as we can be for our big Thanksgiving weekend. Our current hope is that we will have hot water by our next visit after that.

Gail spotted a record 20 fully-grown wild turkeys wandering around on our property. Happy Thanksgiving!


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