Not Yet In Hot Water

One aspect I may not have mentioned yet: I’m also living, most of the day, without hot water.

In this country, most older home have large, tank-like hot water heaters in the cellar. These run on gas or electricity, and keep a huge volume of water hot and ready to use– average size is probably around 40 gallons. One downside of this system is that you can actually run out of hot water, if several people want to shower in a row, or you are doing dishes at the same time. That’s no fun. The other down side is that most people’s water heaters run 24/7, ’round the clock– whether you’re at work, asleep, or on vacation.

This is a ridiculous convenience. It’s like employing a servant just to stoke the fire under vast cauldron of hot water all day and night, just in case you decided you you needed a splash of it to wash your hands. Yet it is considered entirely normal around here. I remember visiting France as an exchange student in high school, and being shocked that my host family only bathed during certain hours of the evening, because that’s when there “was hot water”. They were equally shocked by my (initial) assertion that people should be able to get hot water whenever they want it. Later, in England, I first encountered an on-demand, point-of-use hot water heater, a cantankerous old gas gizmo affixed next the the bathtub at my relative’s house. I assumed they did not have enough money for a proper hot water tank. Silly American.

When I bought the Cold House, I was excited to find it gets its hot water from a “tankless” system attached to the furnace boiler. It is sort of an on-demand system, although it does have a small (2 gallon?) tank that it keeps hot all the time. Which means the furnace turns on for a minute or two every hour. Even in the middle of the night. Even in the summer. Unless you cut off its electricity– which, over the past year, I have increasingly been in the habit of doing.

This is not in any way encouraged by the furnace designer, oil company, or other “stake holders” in my heating system. The switch to turn off the furnace is inconveniently located down the stairway to the cellar. It is industrial-looking, big and red, with fading text reading “EMERGENCY OIL BURNER SHUT-OFF”. Yes, it’s good that it says that, in case you had a fire and needed to shut-off emergently. But the phrasing also implies that it should ONLY be shut off in an emergency. Which is hogwash.

It only takes four or five minutes for the burner to get the little tank ready for shower time. Then it runs heating the water while I shower. Then I switch it off, until the next morning. On the weekends, enough residual warm water remains for some hand-washing during the day. In the evenings, I heat a little water in the tea kettle for face-washing. Altogether, I have had had the hot-water heater switched on only about 30 minutes a day.

I’d really like to relocate the OFF switch to somewhere more convenient. Alternatively, I’m considering installing a heavy-duty timer for it, so I don’t have to keep remembering to flip the switch back & forth.

The whole game will end, though, when I eventually turn the furnace on for heat purposes– then the water-heating becomes a constant side-effect.


One Response to “Not Yet In Hot Water”

  1. The MSILF Says:

    Everyone here has the timers (for winter, for summer solar is required by law). The timers are always right by the bathroom. It is really convenient…especially when you work in an icky hospital. You just leave it set for the time your on-call is over…in winter at the coldest, we run it maybe an hour a day. In summer with the solar panels, you don't run it at all and there's always hot water. I was explaining this to a friend in California and she said they had looked into it and that it was insanely expensive. I had no idea why – here, a hot water heater with the solar stuff, and installation, runs about $700 (consider that everything here costs about twice what it does there, so it should be more or less equal to . As I understand it, the solar panel isn't anything fancy, just basically a black coated glass box – it doesn't break down. (Now, when I looked, the price actually seems to have come down from the last time I replaced one: )I just couldn't understand it – they quoted her something like $20,000 to install…and it's a lot hotter in her part of California than my city. Dorms had those on-demand ones too.The ones in the pictures here – those are on top of huge apartment complexes – each unit has its own. They aren't huge…and big blocks of apartments still manage to have everyone have one on the roof.

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