[Worldtrippers home] [Mountaintop home]

December 21, 2009
Not hot yet

Our Noritz on-demand tankless water heater – all dressed up, but nowhere to go

The first time we ever laid eyes on our mountaintop property, Gail remarked “We have to buy this, even if I have to pitch a tent to live here.” Ever since, the story of building our mountain home has been a story of slowly becoming more and more civilized up here. Early on we created a mental checklist of milestones, and one by one we have checked them off.

We turned on our first outside water faucet in September 2006. On the same day, we switched on our first electric light. The advent of electricity enabled us to install a refrigerator, microwave oven and television set. We finally declared the house to be weathertight and watertight in May 2007, although we have been fixing it ever since. We flushed a toilet for the first time a month later in June 2007. And we gained control over our climate (with a short-term solution, at least) at the beginning of this year, with three portable air conditioner/heater units.

As we have passed each of these milestones, our mountain home has become more and more comfortable, enabling us to stay for longer periods of time regardless of the weather. The last major milestone on our list has hot water. It has proven to be the most difficult, most complicated and most delayed of all.

Gail navigated a complex path that involved electricity, the gas company, the plumber and some trench digging. The original plan was for hot water before Thanksgiving. That did not happen. After a couple of other reschedules, it was reset for the week of December 14.

This latest schedule was important because the weekend of December 19th would be our friend Steve’s only opportunity to work on the house for the next several months. Russell wanted to accommodate him, but we had a family gathering scheduled for Sunday December 20th. Russell figured that with hot water available, he could work with Steve during the weekend, get himself cleaned up and drive over to the family gathering on Sunday afternoon. We put the date on the calendar as “tentative.”

By Thursday of that week, the hot water had still not been installed. However, both Amerigas and our plumber promised it would be done on Friday. Russell and Steve decided to drive up.

On Friday evening, the big moment came. Russell turned on the hot water tap in the kitchen. Water came out. It was cold. Moments went by. It stayed cold.

What followed were multiple phone calls between Russell up on the mountain, Gail back at home in the Bay Area, and our plumber Curtis somewhere else on his cell phone. (Multiple calls were necessary because Russell’s cell phone reception was spotty and intermittent.)

Curtis had Russell check every step in the path. Was the water heater turned on? Yes. Did the standby light go on? Yes. Was the water heater gas spigot opened? Yes. Was the house gas spigot opened? Yes. Did the ready light go on when the faucet was turned on? No.

Aha. In the dark, Russell walked out to the propane tank down the hill. The tank showed 120-plus gallons of propane. The tank showed 60 psi pressure. The copper pipe came up out of the covered trench to the propane tank. However, the copper pipe was not actually connected to the propane tank.

Once again, there would be no hot water this weekend. As Gail discovered through subsequent phone calls on Monday, there had been a major miscommunication between Amerigas and Curtis. According to Amerigas, Curtis had told them he would leave the house unlocked so they could conduct their safety checks when they installed the propane tank. According to Curtis, Amerigas told him they would not need access to the house. When Amerigas showed up to install the tank, the house was locked. So they installed the tank, but didn’t connect it.

The problem is that Amerigas didn’t bother telling any of us that they had a problem and didn’t connect the tank. Instead, they told Gail that everything was installed.

In the meantime, Steve and Russell had a productive weekend of work. Steve worked outside as usual, continuing to clear brush and tackle what was left of the huge fallen oak tree. (Our neighbor Scott had spent 3.5 billable hours moving the tree trunk from the access road to our northern knoll.)

Steve dismantles a tree on the northern (trampoline) knoll

Russell worked inside as usual, building the third and final flight of stairs. He was able to get all three stringers measured, cut and attached to the hanger board. He has now gone as far as he can go without dismantling the temporary stairs, which occupy the same space. After some discussion, we decided to wait until next week to take the next step.

Russell assembles the third flight of stairs, which will be installed once we take down the temporary stairs

Russell never got his hot shower, but he went to the family gathering anyway. No one minded.

Our family of four is planning to return to the mountain during the week after Christmas. According to the latest schedule, we will have hot water next week. We’re not holding our breath.

Our 125-gallon propane tank – the loose link in the hot-water chain


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