The Tank › New water heater nightmare!
- January 28, 2009 at 1:43 am #10465
We needed a new water heater, and we got a bunch of problems!
About 2 weeks ago we bought a new water heater (GE, 12-year warranty including 1-year onsite parts & labor, the store said it has a glass tank), and we had a plumber recommended by a coworker install it. From the beginning the plumber made me a little nervous; the sales guy had told me that the heater was fragile & couldn’t be tiltled or laid on its side, and the plumber immediately put it horizontal on its side to get it out of the box, and he seemed like he could have been more careful getting it into the house (I mentioned the fragile/tilting thing to the plumber, and he told me the sales guy was full of it — but I later saw the box said the same thing about not putting on its side). He then took half the day to install it (about 5 hours), most of that time soldering and setting off the smoke alarms (water heater is in hallway closet). He seemed stressed and told me that he didn’t know why it was taking so long and said usually they are quick (said he had installed a thousand, 20 yrs experience). He said he was having trouble soldering an old part (I think he said it was our valve?), and he eventually went to the store and got a new one. He also spent some time soldering on our front porch, where he left a huge mess (silver splotches all over the pavement). My 2-year-old son and I were home the whole time.
My son and I went to dinner & came back, and when we came in the house there was a horrible stench I guess I hadn’t noticed before because we were used to it when he was working. I aired out the house and started to worry if anything toxic was in the air. I did a little research, and found something on the internet about some plumbers using lead solder because it’s easier to work with, even though it’s now illegal to use it on pipes that might be used for drinking water (which I assume includes indoor water supply pipes). I happened to have some lead test swabs I’d ordered for my son’s toys (after all the recalls with toys from China), and so I swabbed some of the silver stuff connecting the pipes he’d been working on above the water heater — and the swab turned pink (positive for lead). I then swabbed the silver splotches on the front porch, and they also tested positive for lead.
So question # 1 — what should we do about this? I am really upset since we have a toddler (toddlers drink bath water; you can’t stop them). Does it sound like our plumber used lead solder on our pipes? Or could the positive test be from old solder mixed with the new? If he used lead solder, should we make him remove the piping with lead? The idea that he came into our house and exposed our son to lead (the fumes we inhaled, now getting in the water), after reading all of the articles about kids & lead paint, and lead causing problems for kids, it makes me incredibly upset. I never imagined that we would ever have this type of concern with getting a water heater installed.
Second issue — the hot water now has a chemical stink!!! I saw some older posts about this issue, is there any more recent information out there on it, or does anyone know what it could be in my situation?? The first 2 nights I showered with the new hot water, the water stank so bad that my hair actually smelled chemically when I got out of the shower. It is marginally better now, but it still does NOT smell like the cold water (cold water smells fine, like it always did), or like the hot water from the heater on the other side of the house (which also smells fine). There is definitely a chemically smell coming from the new hot water heater’s water, and only from the new water heater. It is hard to place it the scent– not exactly like paint. When I read the post mentioning pipe dope I wondered if it could be some sort of plastic caulk the plumber used? (He left black grime all over the outside of our pipes.) The water does smell sort of caulk-y/plastic-y, if I had to put a name on it. Is there any way it could be the heater itself, or is it definitely the installation? Who do I call first to try to fix it — the warranty number for the new heater, or the plumber we had install it? If it is something the plumber did to the supply pipes to the heater, does that mean that gunk is now *inside* our water heater? If so, is there a way to flush it out entirely or will this water heater always have chemical gunk inside it??? Would we have to get a new heater to make it go away 100%?? The smell is really getting to me, I need it gone!!!
Third issue — the plumber put a pan beneath the hot water heater (code requirement) with a water shutoff sensor, but he didn’t position the pan correctly and the spout for the pan sticks out about 1/3 inch into where the door is supposed to close, so now the closet door doesn’t close flush at the base (you can get the door to latch if you push really hard, but the spout is bending/warping the door). Also, the pan is positioned in such a way that there is NO way to access the spout on the water heater itself without destroying the pan — the rim of the pan is too close to the water heater spout to attach a hose, if that makes sense. All it would have taken is for the pan to have been moved half an inch back (there’s plenty of room, I checked) and the spout on the pan to have been rotated about 4 inches either direction to have avoided all this. I assume that since the water heater is now full it isn’t going to slide anywhere, and that fixing the pan means disconnecting/draining the thing (somehow, not sure how given the pan position; I think the pan will have to be cut/destroyed to do it) and then putting in a new pan. I am guessing the plumber will balk at this, but shouldn’t we be able to close our door without warping it, and drain the water heater in case of maintenance issues?? The manual recommends draining it once a month for buildup, and my father (who visited to check it out, and was upset about the whole situation) says that if there’s a leak we ought to be able to immediately hook up a hose to the heater itself without having to resort to the pan spout.
I would really appreciate any help/advice on these, especially in terms of dealing with the plumber & water heater company to get done what we need done. What to say, how to convince them to fix this stuff. I get really stressed having to deal with contentious issues with companies. Meanwhile I am showering my 2-year-old in the shower on the opposite side of the house so as not to expose him to lead and chemicals. 🙁 Please help.January 28, 2009 at 10:47 pm #10468energyexpertParticipant
I want to address the lead issue. June 1988 it became illegal to use solder containing more than 0.2% lead if the use was for drinking water. I doubt he used solder with a high concentration of lead. How sensitive is your test? It might show positive at 0.1% even though the solder is within legal limits.
My personal opinion is that lead did not become a problem until water softeners came on the scene. Water that is not softened cannot leach lead as easily as non-softened water. But again that is my opinion.
I did some soldering a couple of weeks ago and yes I set off the smoke detector. I would suspect the flux fumes would be the culprit there rather than the solder. I guess the way to answer that is to just heat some flux and no solder and see if the smoke detector sounds off.
DavidJanuary 29, 2009 at 1:21 am #10469
Well, now that David has addressed the lead issue, I’ll chime in on a couple of other parts. We have had other people complain about strange odors, and they’re hard to nail down. One person posted fairly recently about something similar to your shower experience, although that was with a stone-lined tank.
Really, you should be talking to GE or Rheem, who makes GE, about those things. It has nothing to do with the tank lying on its side, although the guy should have cut the box off the water heater instead of laying it down and pulling it out, and it probably has nothing to do with the plumber. If the heater functions, then the biggest danger — breaking the FVIR device — was avoided.
The drain pan is between you and the plumber. Maybe he’ll be willing to come out, drain the tank — it holds 300 lbs of water — and move the drain pan and maybe he won’t. But the last thing WE want is to get into the middle of a dispute over a situation we’ve never even seen. We get jumpy when things start to smell like litigation. So I’m not offering any help on how to deal with the plumber. That’s your affair.
Finally, no matter what the instructions say, draining your tank is a total waste of time. Read the section elsewhere on the site titled Sediment to see why it doesn’t work and what does work.
Randy SchuylerJanuary 29, 2009 at 4:59 am #10470energyexpertParticipant
Sorry. I did not proof very well.
“Water that is not softened cannot leach lead as easily as non-softened water.”
Should have read:
“Water that is not softened cannot leach lead as easily as softened water.”
DavidJanuary 29, 2009 at 5:45 pm #10478
Thank you guys!!
That is a good question about the lead test sensitivity, I will definitely call the company that makes the swabs ASAP and ask them. My father said the same thing about the flux setting off the alarms, but I was concerned b/c I read some articles about lead soldering releasing fumes (& one source of poisoning being lead fumes). At least it was only the one time (although it was half the day, ugh). If it turns out that the plumber did use lead solder, do you know what the best way would be to get the lead off my pipes? Like could I get someone to cut the pipe back past the soldered part (to avoid having to melt the solder that’s on there & make fumes) and put on new pipes with the lead-free solder?
I understand about the drain pan. I guess it will get resolved one way or another if GE has to come do warranty work on the heater (I don’t think they could drain the thing without destroying the pan).
Thanks for the reassurance about the heater on its side — I was picturing some sort of something breaking inside the tank (especially when the sales guy kept talking about glass lining) and chemicals leaking into my water. Shows how much I know about this stuff! I will call GE about the chemical stink. It is pretty disgusting (and this shower thing with my 2-year-old isn’t going to work long term). I just can’t bathe my son in water that smells that bad without worrying what’s in it! 🙁
I bet this is a dumb question, but with both the lead & chemical smell source (if it’s not the tank), if the source of the problem is elminated, would the tank eventually flush out the lead/chemicals completely? There wouldn’t be lead/chemicals sticking to the inside of the tank, would there?
Thank you guys for all of your help. Your website is really great.January 29, 2009 at 7:38 pm #10480
Part of what they’re concerned about with the tank lying on its side, and especially transported on its side, is the anode maybe hitting the glass lining and breaking it. And as I said, the other danger is breaking the FVIR device.
I don’t think lead will stick to the inside of the water heater, but I agree with you: I wouldn’t feel very comfortable if lead solder were used on my water piping. I think the simple solution, if that has happened, would be to simply cut the pieces off that were soldered, and put on new ones with the proper solder.
Randy SchuylerJanuary 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm #10495Larry WeingartenParticipant
Hello: A few bits… The heater needs to be lifted to reposition the pan so it fits (two strong guys). Also, some sort of blocking like the composite decking called Trex could be placed in the pan to set the heater up on. That way the drain valve can be used and the pan can do its job.
The odor could be burned flux. This stuff on the outside of the pipes can be cleaned off with soap, water and a Skotchbrite (sp?) pad. Burned flux on the inside of the pipes is a different matter and must be cleaned away over time with water. Soldering nicely is an art.
As for the possibility of needing to remove the solder, I’d unsolder fittings and wipe down the hot pipe with a dry rag. This removes most of the solder. Then wet sand the pipe down to copper. It’s not difficult. Recycle the fittings and start over. It’s not all that easy to find lead solder these days. If you’re on talking terms, I’d ask the see the solder spool the handyman used. It will tell the makeup of the solder.
The tank is glass-lined steel. The glass part is like the glazing on a pot. I do not see how lead would stick to it. Chunks of solder could get rinsed into the tank from the cold line though. if the water were really aggressive, it could slowly dissolve lead from the solder. Usually 50/50 lead-tin solder was not touched by any water but the most acidic.
Yours, LarryFebruary 3, 2009 at 1:04 am #10525
Thank you both again!! Randy, one quick question on your last note, if the anode had hit the glass lining and broken it when it was on its side, would there be a way to tell? Is it something I should get checked out (and it wouldn’t be a possible cause of smell or contaminant, would it)?
Hi Larry, on the burnt flux possibility, do you think it might help if I run the hot water a lot to help clean out the pipes (and is there anything else I could do)? If I can (somehow) keep my son from drinking the water, it’s not a safety concern, is it? (don’t need to getting a different plumber out to do a better job on the pipes, do I?) Thank you very much for the advice on the lead! On the possibility of chunks washing into the tank, do you know if chunks come free in the pipes very often? (like is it something that happens every time someone solders, or only when it’s a sloppy job, or…?) We did order a water lead test kit and plan to test the water.
Thank you guys for everything, it is so wonderful to have someone to talk to about this stuff!!February 3, 2009 at 2:06 am #10526
Oops, one more question on the flux possibility — is the flux stuff that just stops smelling over time, or could there be little bits of it getting in the water? (If the latter, if there are bits of flux in the water heater, do you know if they would stay in there or if they would get flushed out?)
Sorry for all the questions, my technical knowledge is pretty much limited to a jewelry making class I took in school (only thing I’ve ever soldered is a silver jump ring on a necklace, and I had help with that… I know nothing about plumbing!!)
Thank you, thank you!!February 3, 2009 at 12:03 pm #10532
For my little bit, probably you couldn’t tell, but it would not have happened under your circumstances. The anode is a rigid magnesium rod and under ordinary circumstances, it wouldn’t sag enough to hit the glass lining. But imagine the tank riding on its side in the back of a pickup that’s hitting bumps. Then the far end might do something like that.
Randy SchuylerFebruary 4, 2009 at 3:53 am #10549Larry WeingartenParticipant
Hello: I’d expect flux to dissolve slowly in water, so don’t worry about random flux chunks. Running water fast periodically will help to flush the pipes clean. Glad you like this place 😎
Yours, LarryFebruary 4, 2009 at 9:53 pm #10557
Thank you!!! You guys are a huge help! I will definitely tell friends & family to check out the site when they need to research water heaters!
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