Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I don’t mean to be an annoyance, but I need more help. I wrote a few weeks ago about my husband not fixing the hot water heater that was singing to me. Since I last wrote, my husband spent several hours and dollars trying to fix our hot water heater as you suggested. He couldn’t get the element to unscrew and finally sought professional help which was not cheap.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but the hot water heater is still singing to me. This time it’s a different tune and a whole lot worse. The sound comes from the tank every time I turn on the hot water.
I hesitated to bring this issue up with my husband. He is still agitated by the last episode. To my surprise, he brought it up. The noise seems to be bugging him also.
We are five hundred miles away from where we had the element changed. My husband called them and they said it was not the element. They suggested we now need new “check valves.” Is our hot water heater possessed? Are we getting scammed? Should we just play loud music all the time to drown out the water heater noise?
Please send more advice our way.
--Sounding Board, no longer in Bozeman
Dear Boze, again:
You are not getting scammed. It is also a common occurrence to have check valves start making noise. Perhaps something was flushed into one when the element work was done. Regardless, it is another simple fix. If your husband doesn’t feel confident doing plumbing work, you might want to have another repair shop handle it.
Depending on the model hot water heater and RV floor plan, it can be quick and easy or a real pain. It is usually all about access.
I am imagining your husband trying to get the element out. It can be challenging. The last time I tackled mine, it was a task. It is on the inside, backside of the heater, which meant taking part of the under cabinet apart to reach.
Most people find the element very hard to budge. The element nut is very thin and hard to grip. The often sold, thin-walled element socket is not really the best tool for the job.
I use a regular inch and a half, six point socket that fits my half-inch ratchet. It allows me much more leverage. Even with that, I had to use my torch to heat the tank wall before it would budge.
You will find one or two check valves on the backside of your tank. They should loosen a bit easier than the element.
The valves that often come with your unit have plastic inserts. I would recommend you switch them out with brass.
The biggest problem in doing the job yourself is finding the valves.
They look like a fitting that would come from any hardware, but I found they are not. Because they just made noise and everything worked, I took my time looking for the parts. I tried every home improvement store we passed. I tried every hardware I passed. I tried every plumbing business I passed. Every place had female thread check valves, but it would cost an arm and both legs to buy enough fittings to make them work in this application.
I finally went online and found several places that offered them. The going price seemed to be north of twenty bucks apiece.
If I had it to do over, I would not have invested my retirement in the stock market. I would have invested it all in brass fittings. I would be a billionaire.
Some people would say I’m cheap, but I like to think of myself as frugal. Just because I refill my expensive wine bottles with boxed wine, does not necessarily make me cheap.
My point is, you don’t have to take the first bid. I surfed around online and found two places that sold the exact check valves for less than ten bucks apiece. One wanted $35 dollars to ship them to me and the other wanted $4. Guess which one I bought from!
So here is the bottomline. Your husband can go to another professional and spend one hundred plus dollars to silence the hot water heater, or take a crack at it himself. It means taking one or two water lines loose, extracting the valve(s), replacing them, and hooking up the water lines again.
I like to think of these little annoyances as an adventure. You also get more acquainted with your rig and have a better understanding of how it all works.
Don’t be afraid to tackle these jobs. There will always be something that needs tweaking, so don’t turn them all into mountains, they are just mole hills.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink