Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Utility Page 4 of 5

Our Water Heater Breakdown – Attack from the Within!

Our October goals, originally, had nothing to do with laboring in the basement. We want to hike with our pups, watch leaves changing colors, watch ski movies, and hit thrift shops and flea markets. We will still work on the ranch, but after replacing the roof, grading around the house, and caulking every seam inside and out, we were done thinking about anything water-related. For heaven’s sake – I typed the phrase “water-proof” so many times that my browser now auto-completes it for me!

Just when we thought we were done with water. Water is not done with us. Last Saturday, in a bright, sunny morning, our basement flooded:


We had done so much to protect our house from water coming from the outside, and did not think that we could get water from within. Yep, it was the water heater – the last piece of major utility appliances we had not replaced:


Fortunately, we have a floor drain nearby and the leaked water went down there. The flood was pretty confined.



Slav immediately terminated the gas and cold water supply to the heater, and started to drain the hot water tank directly to the floor drain:


It was last weekend we opened up the utility room to the neighboring bedroom. Imagine how difficult it would have been to work with the water heater if we have not done that!

We happened to have just purchased a wireless endoscope. It was immediately put in use:


This endoscope/camera kit transmits signal wirelessly to our phones and tablets. After some probing, Slav caught this video from his phone:

He slowly retracted the probe end out of the water heater, so we could see that the leak is really close to the bottom of the rusted tank reservoir. It makes sense since that is the location with the highest pressure. It also meant that the leak would only stop when all the water was drained out.


It took almost the rest of the weekend before the tank was drained completely. During this time, we contacted our insurance company. We purchased a separate home warranty for a year, which covers major appliances and plumbing during our first year of home ownership. We got it with the old furnace and water heater in mind. We had replaced the furnace out-of-pocket during HVAC installation, so it is not a bad thing that the water heater went out during the first year of our ownership.

We submitted some pictures and the video showing the leak, and on Monday, the insurance company sent a plumber to complete a report. Our claim was of course accepted, but only for a basic water heater that matches our capacity and labor cost for simple replacement, which added up to merely $500. From the plumber’s quote, we knew that it would not be the actual cost, because codes have changed dramatically since the last water heater was installed 15 years ago. Even installing a new basic water heater would require us to switch tubing and modify the gas line, adding about another $500 which we have to pay out-of-pocket.

Slav called me at work mid-day to discuss all options and our preferences. We decided to get a tankless water heater instead of a standard one. For one, tankless is what we had wanted all along. Second, it will cost us as much as the plumber’s quote, which is about a grand, and Slav can install it himself to save the labor cost. Our insurance company agreed to cash-in, so we are still getting the $500 that would have gone to the plumber, and still paying another $500 out-of-pocket which would have gone to the plumber as well. So we might as well let the $1000 go to ourselves for a new tankless water heater.

When I got home from work on Monday, this was the first thing I saw walking down to the basement:


The man has clearly done something. Let me tell you – Slav is a very, very, very patient man. He is the most accommodating and gentle person I knew. But there is a limit. This house is clearly pressing his button with the old, rusty water heater. The misbehavior will not go unpunished.

Within a few short hours Monday afternoon, Slav has gotten the insurance company straightened out, gone to the city hall to get a permit for self-installation, gathered codes and manuals for installation, and decided on a water heater to purchase. He also (!) disconnected the water heater and capped the water and gas lines:


And kicked it out of his way:


For a high energy efficient tankless water heater, two 3-inches PVC pipes are required to be directly connected to the water heater to supply fresh air and exhaust. Slav removed old supply pipe (labeled with blue arrow in the picture below) along with the exhaust pipe directly above the heater.

HVAC room


This old fresh air supply pipe came from the back side of the house, went through the ceiling and was parallel to the PVC pipes for the new furnace. You can see it in the pictures below:



It came out of the back wall immediately to the right of our furnace PVC pipes, above the window well:


After we removed the dividing wall last weekend, the pipe was already exposed:



So Slav removed it completely to make room for the new 3-inch PVC pipes. In this way, we have both PVCs come out of the house just like the setup for our furnace, and the roof vent can be capped.


With insurance cash coming in, and permit on hand, Slav started planning pipe layout and getting all the supplies. The man is on the move!

The First Wall Down (with videos!)

Happy Monday, friends and family! I am happy to report that we have knocked down the first wall in the ranch house. I am sure that there will be many more to follow, but this basement wall will forever hold a special place in my heart – this is my first time seeing a wall coming down and it is just so thrilling!

As usual, I tried to document everything with my lens, and it reaaaly annoyed Slav. He hates taking pictures, especially when he has to be in it. So I apologize for not getting many progress photos as I would like to get – we’ve all seen Fargo and you do not want to get on you guy’s nerves in a basement laundry room while he is holding a hammer.

You might remember our utility room from our basement tour, but in case you missed that video, let me take you back to the beginning – this is the utility/bedroom combo we inherited when we moved in:


We believe that there used to be only one room, based on our neighbors’ floor plans and the floor situation here. Switching out the old washer and dryer further convinced us that the wall between the laundry area and the purple bedroom was built later, likely by the last owner, because the old washer and dryer were too big to get out without removing the furnace.

After we moved in, the purple bedroom quickly became a storage space:


It has a closet under the stairs, which holds surprisingly good deal of stuff. Any closet in this 1964 ranch is appreciated.



We had a solid plan for our basement from the beginning – to convert it into a private guest suite. And the plan is to combine the purple bedroom and the laundry room to make enough room for a kitchen.

This is our current floor plan and you can see the laundry room and the third bedroom above the living room, to the left of the stairs:

Ranch basement_current

And this is what it should look like once we combine the two rooms:

Ranch basement_proposal 1

Although the basement renovation will not come until next year, we are super motivated to knock down this wall already, because our new front-open washer and dryer do not work well in this narrow space on the left.


We removed part of the door frame during HVAC installation, which made the room look a lot worse:


So on a bright Sunday morning, when Slav descended to the basement with his music, a hammer, and a pry bar, I knew exactly what’s happening and quickly grabbed my camera and followed him.

The frame was down in two songs:


After another 20 minutes, the purple dry wall was gone:


Then the dry wall on the laundry side followed. There was a lot of dust and debris, but the process was quick.


The framing here is not weight-bearing, and in fact very poorly nailed together. It was easy to take apart:


So much better! It was instantly brighter and the new utility room is so spacious! I always felt cramped down here, either in the laundry room or in the purple bedroom. Somehow the new room feels bigger than I imagined them together. It changed the entire vibe of the downstairs.

Yay for easy laundry access!


We are left with some dry wall to patch on the ceiling, but the concrete floor is continuous.



Since we are planning to change the water heater soon and putting in a kitchen eventually, we are not going to do any dry wall repair or electrical work for now. What we will do in near future, is to widen the doorway by a foot and a half to the right, so the kitchen and the living room are more connected.


The purple room has this weird moldy window looking into the living room. I am wondering if this was put in for fire safety concerns. We think it is dorky, but the window itself are too moldy to be saved.


After the wall was gone, I took a short video of our new utility room:

We decided to get all the storage out so we could map out the potential cabinet space for the future kitchen. So I took everything out of the room including the stuff in the closet:


After cleaning up, I taped out the potential kitchen layout. Below is option one – this is the corner to your right when you walk in the doorway:


It gives decent size of counter space for a simple kitchen setup and the closet on the left could be used as a pantry. However, these two walls does not offer any utility lines, including gas, water, and sewer. It makes more economical sense to put the stove and sink where the utility lines are and preferable with a window.


This wall faces the back of the house, which we could run a vent easily. It does have a shorter wall. One way of adding counter space is to lower the washer and dryer to counter height, so we could run a continuous “L” shape counter top. Luckily, the drawers at the bottom of Merry and Pippin are purely storage. They can be removed to make Merry and Pippin even shorter, to merely 38.5″. Standard kitchen counters are usually 36″ so we think that we could get away with it.


As of the furnace corner, the 2 feet dry wall behind the trash can will be trimmed down mostly, and the furnace will be concealed with a closet. We plan to replace the big water heater with a tankless one in the next a few month to free some space.


So, this is the new utility room we are left with after a day of demoing, cleaning, and organizing:

We love how big and bright it became – I found myself visiting this room a lot to daydream a simple, cute, and minimalist kitchen. If you have good ideas for cabinets or small appliance, tell us in the comments below!

Welcome home, Merry and Pippin

Welcome home, Merry and Pippin!


Yes, I named our new(-ish) washer and dryer. And yes, I know they are giants. But Merry and Pippin reminded a good friend of mine with two dogs named after them and just sounded funny. So say hello to Merry, our new(-ish) washer, and Pippin, our new(-ish) dryer!

I keep calling them “new-ish” because they are not really brand new. We bought them second-hand off Craigslist (more on this later), a few days before we closed on our ranch. At that time, we were told that there would be no washer and dryer left on site, so we rushed to find decent washer and dryers without breaking our bank. But the day when we moved in, look  what we found in the basement:


Working washer and dryer! The dryer is a front load and has touch panels and special settings for linen and jeans. It was so much fancier that any dryer we have ever used.


We were initially grateful for the previous owner’s thoughtfulness – it was so convenient to have working washer and dryer when you are moving. If you remember our move in June, we torn out the dirty carpet on the first floor during the first a couple days without unpacking anything. It was such a nasty job that I changed every time during a long break – and these washer and dryer were definitely a strong work horse.

But we soon found out that there was another reason why these units were left behind – they are simply too big to be moved out of the utility room. If you look at our basement floor plan, you will find a dividing wall between the utility/laundry room and the weird third bedroom:

Ranch basement_current

And this is in reality how the wall looked like:


The utility/laundry room is on the left of the wall, and the weird third bedroom, painted in purple, is on the right side.

Based on the concrete floor and our close neighbors’ floor plan, we believe that there was just one big utility room when the house was built. The dry wall dividing it was put in later. Very likely, the dry wall was put up AFTER the current washer and dryer were wheeled in, which explains how these big units got in here. You can also see the original door frame to the living room and the poorly constructed bedroom door.

Sad door frame without trims


A hook as a door handle – gotta respect the pure function


As much as I wanted to believe in the good will of people, I had to say that this wall was probably the determinant why these units were left here. They did provide some convenience initially, but quickly became a headache when we wanted to switch to our new-ish washer and dryer combo.


Look at this corner and the bump-out from the big furnace – there was no way to take the washer and dryer out. Just when we decided to give up and sell the new-ish washer and dryer, an opportunity presented itself:


The furnace was out – during HVAC installation! And even better, there were two strong guys on site to help Slav to move the units. These units, especially the washers, were super heavy. Trust me. I tried. Even with the best night of sleep, protein shake in the morning, plus coffee, I could not move any of them even on flat ground. So never mind going  up and down the narrow basement stairs!

With the guys’ help, the dryer and washer were moved out of the laundry room and up to the garage.


We quickly discovered that there was no dry wall behind the dryer. The dark pipes you are looking at are the plumbing for BATHROOM VANITY on the other side of the wall! We think that the dry wall was cut out to install the vanity in the bathroom, then never patched up.


If we had lived downstairs, we would have noticed that whoever doing laundry could hear everything happening in the bathroom, and vice versa!

The missing dry wall extended all the way behind the washer:


At this point, there was nothing to lose. I decide to cut the rest of the dry wall out and see what was behind it. It would also make connenting the dryer vent easier:



Hello, sewer pipe with an access point! At least we know where the upstairs sewerage connects to the main line now. Let us hope that we never need to use this information, ever.

When everything was vacuumed twice and the floor was clean, Slav happily moved the new-ish units in. It was just enough room to rotate them in:


This picture was taken after everything was connected! Slav breathed a big sigh of relief that one big task of his was finally over. Look at his face, so happy and innocent. He did not know what was coming…


What was coming, is a disaster during which we could have gotten hurt badly. But Slav being Slav, who is very thorough and always makes sure his work is complete, prevented our house from burning down. Lots of people claimed that they pay “attention to details”, but Slav truly practices it, both at his work and at home.

Like this moment, it was 5 PM on a hot and dusty day and the HVAC guys have gone from their first day of work. I was down for a shower and some pizza, but Slav insisted to perform a test run on the washer and dryer, “just to make sure that they are doing their jobs”. And it turned out that the dryer was not. A couple minutes after turning on the dryer, it smelled like something was burning inside the dryer. The smell was so bad and the dryer got so hot, that we had to immediately turn it off and open the windows.


Slav took the door off. Immediately, we saw feathers.





Tons of feathers. It was like a pillow exploded in there. In fact, I think that was exactly what happened. A pillow worth of feather filled the filter compartment, all the way to the back between the dryer cavity and the outer siding, and the worst part, the heating compartment. Feathers were directly in contact with the wires and blocked the heat transfer, and they were burnt from just a couple minutes of usage of the dryer.

I do not want to think about what would have happened if we had not done the test run. The laundry units are in the basement and the only times we are down here are doing laundry. We typically start the machines, and go right back upstairs. In many cases, we turn on the dryer before going to sleep or going out. Without the test run, the first dryer run could have burnt the house down, and we might have gotten hurt really badly.

When it comes to second hand stuff, I always count on people’s honesty. When we sell something, we will tell people everything we know about it and price it accordingly. We did wonder why these units are so cheap – they looked almost unused and they were only 40% of their original price. And when the seller told us that he just want to get rid of the “spare set” and everything “runs great”, we believed him. Does he ever wonder if he has destroyed a room, a house, or a family? How does he sleep at night knowing the dryer could catch on fire first time it was used? I know I could not.


Slav started vacuuming, disassembling, vacuuming, disassembling. It took him two hours to get every pieces of feather out.

So there they were, Merry and Pippin, clean and free of feathers. They have been working for us for a month now and they have been great. They runs quiet and shout loudly when finished. I felt that we saved Merry and Pippin, and I love them even more now.


The only problem we have here now is the dry wall – the wall sits so close to Merry and Pippin that only I could squeeze through the open doors to do laundry. Since we really do not need the 5th bedroom in the house, we will broke down the dividing dry wall and return the big utility room to its original glory.

Ranch basement_proposal 1


Slav has put his hammer through the dry wall during HVAC installation – cannot wait to see the whole wall coming down now!

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