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Old 01-15-2009, 11:16 PM   #1
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Multiple hot water heater issues


Not quite in over my head here, but lots of seemingly unrelated issues are making it hard to troubleshoot.

After 20 years of faithful service the hot water heater has given up the ghost.

Purchased a replacement "lowboy" as it fits in the space under the stairs.

Of course this one is not same dimensions, so I will need to either elbow my way over or probably use quick disconnect braided hose to adjust for the offset. Not a problem.

Here's where I'm baffled. I shut off the power and shut the cold water valve leading into the heater. Up to that point I had good flow on the cold side to the faucets throughout the house.

As an added precaution I shut off the main water valve leading into the house. Probably the first time in at least 12 years (possibly 20) that it has been shut.

Drained the hot water heater, and cut the pipes off the cold intake and hot exit pipes. At this point I moved the new heater in place only to realize the old pipes do not line up w/ new heater because new heater is fatter and bumps up against the wall before getting properly aligned. So, it being 9:30 pm and all DIY stores were closed, I quit for the night.

That's when the wife informs me there's no water at all. Not a problem, I forgot to turn on the main again. Turn the valve on and she still says there's no water anywhere in the house except for a faint trickle.

Here are my questions:

1. It is 28 degrees outside with 20 knots of wind blowing. The water was off for about an hour with nothing moving in the house - no toilet flushes, nothing. Could my supply have frozen that quickly? I crawled around under the house and from where the supply line comes out of the ground and into the house is well lagged and insulated, so I don't think the exposed area under the house should have frozen.

2. With essentially an open system (the hot water line and the cold cut where the heater was, would this somehow depressurize the lines and cause them not to flow until the heater is re-plumbed to close the system?

3. Whe I went to open the main supply valve, the knob feels like it is free spinning. Is it possible the 20 year old packing came apart and the valve failed in the closed position?

Thanks for any assistance and guidance to get some water back in the house prior to sunrise when I get the "I told you so..."

Craig in Virginia Beach, VA

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Old 01-15-2009, 11:54 PM   #2
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Multiple hot water heater issues


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3. Whe I went to open the main supply valve, the knob feels like it is free spinning. Is it possible the 20 year old packing came apart and the valve failed in the closed position?
Ayuh,... From your discription, I believe that's what happened...

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Old 01-16-2009, 12:42 AM   #3
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Multiple hot water heater issues


You should be able to tell from the shape of the valve body whether or not it's a gate valve. If it's a gate valve, that's what I suspect happened. Something broke between the spindle the handle turns and the gate itself, resulting in the gate being stuck in the closed position.

Take the aerator off one or two of your sink faucets and open the taps on those faucets to confirm there's no water pressure anywhere. And then replace that gate valve.
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Old 01-16-2009, 06:18 AM   #4
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Multiple hot water heater issues


i'm guesing I need to shut the water off at the street main where my meter is. Any special tool required?
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Old 01-16-2009, 06:23 AM   #5
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any way to repack that valve, or is replacement of the entire valve by cutting it out the easiest way to go?
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Old 01-16-2009, 08:26 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by a-6intruder View Post
any way to repack that valve, or is replacement of the entire valve by cutting it out the easiest way to go?
Ayuh,..

Personally,... I'd replace it with a Ball Valve... Better, much Simpler Valve...
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Old 01-16-2009, 09:28 AM   #7
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Multiple hot water heater issues


Agree with everyone, sounds like (and most likely) you had a gate valve that broke in the closed position.

Thank God you don't live in the communist state of MA, the plumbers Union convinced the state to prevent homeowners from doing any of their own plumbing, that's something you couldn't "hide" very well.

Here's what you do. Call the city to get the guy to shut the water off to your house at the street (and usually even if you have the tool you're not usually allowed to do it yourself). It should cost around $50 for him to come out and do it. You then replace the valve (and I would specifically get an Apollo brand ball valve DO NOT GET NIMBCO!!!). Over the years I've found they always leak, they don't have any sealing/telfon at the seat where the handles go into the valve body and out of 6 installed, only 1 hasn't leaked. Get an Apollo ball valve and pay the extra cause you sure don't want to spend the money again to have that guy come out twice.

Then, call the city back to turn on your water. Total cost is likely around $100 if VA lets you do it yourself (about $50 for the valve, likely $50 for city to send a guy out to shut your water off at the street (it may be more, may be free)).

Last edited by Piedmont; 01-16-2009 at 09:33 AM.
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Old 01-16-2009, 02:17 PM   #8
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Multiple hot water heater issues


Thanks for everyone's advice - greatly appreciated.

Failed Gate valve, broken in closed position.

Went to the water meter main that is in my front yard. Rotated the two valves from the arrow pointing in-line to 90 degrees out (just like any lever / ball valve, right?). As I was looking at them, I saw holes in the knob and thought how strange that the holes did not line up when the water was shut off so you could put a lock on it to prevent anyone from using water the city had shut off.

So, I start to cut through the pipe and get a stream of water under pressure coming at me. I should have stopped there, and if I was smarter realized there should have been no pressure on the system. But, I pressed on, and made the hole bigger, thinking there couldn't be more than about 5 gallons of water in the system from the street to my house.

As my second 5 gallon bucket was overflowing I pretty much realized I had a huge problem that wasn't going away, and had to say those dreaded words "Honey, I need a little help here...now!"

I asked her to look at the meter and see if it was clicking away. She said it had pressure on and a little red triangle was spinning around.

By this time I had decided to cut the whole pipe through and try and cap it off - like Red Adair fighting a wildcat oil gusher. I had no luck getting that cap on against the pressure. Plus, I was getting pretty cold being soaked to the bone. (I can't imagine how cold the guys in the Hudson River were when that aircraft ditched yesterday).

Finally I started thinking smartly and put my "Shark-bite" valve on the pipe in the open position, then closed the lever - voila, problem solved, although still some leaking as I put it over some solder and it wasn't a tight seal. Then I went out to the street to figure out that the shut off position was not at the 90 degree like a typical flow valve, but lined up so a lock could be placed in the holes to secure it from tampering.

The installation of the valve and hot water heater went straightforward after that, but for about 10 minutes I was starring in my own Three Stooges movie and wasn't quite sure how I was going to get out of the jam.

Fun times!
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Old 01-16-2009, 06:58 PM   #9
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Multiple hot water heater issues


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Finally I started thinking smartly and put my "Shark-bite" valve on the pipe in the open position, then closed the lever - voila, problem solved,
Ayuh,... Red Adair would be Proud of you,... 'course, That's how it's Done....

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