The stank

This may have been the longest break between blog posts since I started this darn thing back in July – but there hasn’t been much to report! I’ve been buried in work (actual job work, not house work) and a little sick, so progress on projects has been minimal. And to be honest, it’s been pretty fantastic to just be living in the house rather than working on it nonstop. Brandon did make some great progress today on organizing the spare bedroom (a.k.a. random junk room) upstairs, so I will have to get some photos of what is turning into a neat little music room. This may even motivate me to get the trim painted in there… maybe.

Anyway, none of this has to do with what was a monumental event this morning: I showered in non-stinky water. Why on earth was I showering in stinky water, you ask? Because that’s what was coming out of the shower head. And the sink faucets. And into the washing machine and dishwasher. UGHHH. It didn’t smell at all when we first moved in, but within a couple weeks it went pretty rapidly from “a little sulfury” to “gag-worthy rotten egg geyser farts.” Let me tell you, a shower in Old Faithful does not leave you feeling so fresh and so clean clean.

So what’s a girl to do? Obviously turn to the best research tool on the planet, Google (just kidding EMU undergraduates who may one day enroll in my classes! Haha! Funny joke!). Anyway, “the Google” told me that the stank could be emanating from one of two sources: either the well itself, or the hot water heater. Being the scientist that I am, I designed an experiment.

H1: The stank is emanating from the well.
Prediction: The stank will be present in both hot and cold water.

H2: The stank is emanating from the hot water heater.
Prediction: The stank will only be present in hot water.

Experimental Design 1: Sniff water of various temperatures.
Results: Cold water: NO STANK. Hot water: WICKED STANK.
Conclusion: H1 rejected!

Peer reviewer: But what if the stank is indeed emanating from the well, but in such a form that it must be heat-activated??

Experimental Design 2 (follow up study): Obtain non-stanky cold water; place in tea kettle and heat on stove.
Results: Stove-heated water: NO STANK.
Conclusion: H1 re-rejected! Take that, peer-reviewer!

So after I sent the results of my study to Science, I looked into how to fix stanky hot water heaters. Turns out that hot water heaters contain an element called a sacrificial anode, which is typically made of magnesium or aluminum and keeps the hot water heater from rusting (and is also a terrific name for a rock band). However, it also somehow provides excellent breeding conditions for a harmless but stank-producing species of bacteria that releases hydrogen sulfide gas as a waste product. Everything I read about this problem said something along these lines: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES REMOVE THE SACRIFICIAL ANODE IT WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY AND RUST RUST RUST OMGRUST YOUR HOT WATER HEATER WILL PROBABLY EXPLODE AND FIRE AND BRIMSTONE WILL RAIN DOWN AND YOUR HOUSE WILL COLLAPSE INTO A GIANT SINKHOLE OF DOOM AND SADNESS.

So then I called the guys who installed the hot water heater, and they say all nonchalantly “oh yeah, we see this all the time with well water – we’ll just come out and remove the sacrificial anodes. No prob.” ?!?!?!!!?  I expressed my concern to them about the rust and the brimstone and sinkholes and all, but they said that they would cover the warranty (instead of the manufacturer doing so) and that this was really the only guaranteed fix (they told me zinc-containing anodes, which some websites had recommended, only fix this problem about a third of the time). And I just could not handle the stank anymore, so over they came, and out went the sacrificial anodes. So here we are on Day 2 of flaunting the #1 rule of Fight Club hot water heater maintenance. But you guys, that shower? It was amaaaaaazing.

7 thoughts on “The stank

  1. deAr KatY: yOu unGRatEfUL weNch. i rUsTEd for weEks FoR you and yOuR luMberJacK huSbAND iN A dArK vAt of GEothERmaLiZed hOT weLL WAteR. I MaY HaVE sacRiFiCed MY sHInY MaGNEsiUM finiSH foR you buT i WiLL neVER saCRIFIce my StiNKY bACteria ofFSPRIng. Be waRNEd: OpPRessED aNOdeS knOW HOw to PLOt reVengE.

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  2. Yes, I love your experimental design and response to peer review. Very nice. One tip I think I've seen a couple times on Ask This Old House: even with the anode, they recommend draining the water heater once a year (I'm not sure about the frequency) to get rid of the random grit that accumulates in there and extend the life of it. I'm not sure if that would help the rust situation, but seems like it couldn't hurt, plus it might alert you if it's starting to rust away so you could replace it before it ruptures.

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