Saturday, December 10, 2011


That's what I call it. There were several inches of it in the bottom of our water heater's tank. And the heating element was caked with it. Before he got to the gunk, however, the plumber had to fix our shower stall. It was really easy (for him) to get the stall unbolted from the wall, disconnected from the drain, and pulled away from the corner where it stands.

The gunk from the bottom of the water heater, some on the ground, most in the bucket.

He disconnected the flexible cold water pipe in minutes. Then he had to drive to the hardware store to get a replacement. I don't know why a plumber doesn't have that stuff on his truck, but there's probably some very good technical reason (like: I can charge more if I have to take the time to go to the hardware store). The shower was back up and ready to go in less than two hours.

A close-up of the gunk. I knew you'd want to see.

Next up was the issue of the water heater. Before he started on the shower stall, the plumber opened the drain on the water tank. It was still draining, very slowly, when he finished upstairs. Since it was close to lunch time, he said he'd just let it finish draining over lunch and come back after.

When he got back, the tank had stopped draining. When he opened it up, however, there was still a good six inches of hot water in the bottom. The drain is about six inches above the floor of the tank. I'm not sure why. So, the plumber got in his truck and went back to the shop to get his wet/dry vac to suck all the water out. That worked pretty well. The rest of what was in the tank was the gunk you see in the pictures. This is the stuff that's been clogging the filters in our faucets, toilet tank, and washing machine intake for the last year and a half.

The new pressure regulator. The white-ish pipe on the right will be replaced Monday.

It's not really gunk and it's actually pretty clean. It feels like sand, but is actually tiny crystals. I suppose it's crystallized calcium from the hard water. The plumber said it had to have been there when we got the tank; that much gunk could not have accumulated since we've had the tank. And, he said, the plumber who installed the tank should have noticed it was full of gunk when he moved it. Oh well.

He got most of it out of the tank and cleaned off the heating element. After doing that he installed a new pressure regulator. The previous one was obviously not working. This new one is adjustable so that we can change the pressure if necessary. It's supposed to protect the water heater from too much pressure and also is supposed to keep the pressure even throughout the house so that opening a faucet or flushing the toilet won't result in a sudden drop in pressure elsewhere (like in the shower). We never had that problem until that other pressure regulator went in about a year and a half ago.

The plumber is coming back on Monday because he wants to replace two short lengths of old cast iron pipe that he says are most certainly clogged with rust and calcium. He'll put in copper pipe, like the rest of the house has.

One of the nice things about having the utility room below the living space is that all of the systems are accessible. Nothing's hidden in a cramped closet or crawlspace or under a stairwell. It makes maintenance and repairs a little easier.

So, did it work? The shower is back in commission, so that's good. And the pressure is good, back to where it was before all this started. Ken opened a faucet while I was showering and I did notice a little change in pressure, but nothing like it was last week. So I think we're in good shape. The plumber said that now that the gunk is gone, the heater should be a little more energy efficient. And he turned the temperature down a bit; it was set too high.

I can't wait to see the bill for all this. Well, maybe I can.


  1. At least he repaired it, and didn't just shrug and say you would be better off getting a new one.

  2. Crikey, that's a lot of gunk. Good thing it hasn't seized up your entire system. Living in London, that's one thing I get checked every time I have to get the heating element changed.

  3. You could now send the story with photos to Calgon or other water softener company (for a price!) for ad copy.

    I'm willing to bet that even if he had had a pipe on hand, it wouldn't have been the right diameter, or the right length, or something like that.

  4. Man oh man that's a lot of yucky stuff! I know the bill will be high, but it must feel nice to know that you're starting off now with a good, clean system, with correct settings, and a pressure valve thingy, and all of that.

  5. I now know a new French word... "gunk"! I'll keep a good thought that the bill is a pleasant surprise.

  6. The good news is that it should be a very long time before you have to do it again, if ever.

  7. I want to believe that the "gunk" was "clean". I think this is why my plumber advised never to consume hot water directly from the tap. Use cold and heat it yourself.

    We also have pressure regulators. Sometimes the municipal water system pressure is so great that it can burst your pipes. Another good reason to have one. :-)

  8. Holy Smokes! That's quite a process. But I'll bet it feels fantastic to get that crap out of thee. Great.

  9. susan, yes. Thankfully!

    autolycus, very good thing. There's always some maintenance stuff to do on a house. I think it's better to spend money on maintenance and repair than to wait until whole systems need replacement. But, eventually, the stuff just wears out.

    ellen, there used to be some complex water softening contraption down there bolted to the wall. It was disconnected long before we bought the house. We had the plumber remove it all together a while ago. The water is not terribly hard, but we have to keep an eye on things.

    judy, yes, and it feels good to have the pressure restored. Showering under a trickle is not fun.

    mitch, thanks! Let's hope so.

    starman, there will always be something else!

    mike, my thoughts exactly. The hot water isn't hot enough to kill anything that might be living in there...

    alewis, it does feel great, and partly because the mystery has been solved.


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