Need advice, elderly Mom's Hot Water Heater

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by marys1000@attbi.com, Sep 12, 2008.

  1. marys1000@attbi.com

    marys1000@attbi.com New Member

    Messages:
    3
    I'll be traveling from where I live in one state to a neighboring state to see my 83 yr old Mother.
    She called last night and her pilot light in her water heater has blown out yet again. She blamed it on her waving her dress a little bit. She has had a lot of problems with this pilot light ever since she got it. I think its about 10 years old and I'm trying to convince her to get a new one. But in a dying little town I'm not even sure anyone is left around qualified to properly install a new one.
    But that's off track.
    I don't have a lot of details - i can maybe provide some when I get back (no laptop)

    1) What do I look for as potential problems? (especially that I might be able to simply correct)
    I know she tends to fuss with the temperature a lot, turning it down, then turning it up to take a shower - don't know why exactly I'm just throwing that out in case its also a no-no.
    She doesn't have air conditioning. The heater is in a basement, near the furnace which isn't running. Nothing else down there is running. Washer and Dryer upstairs.

    2) How do I light it again? I've always been a little afraid of lighting gas stoves. Can I get step by step instructions?

    3) What info should I bring back with me for further help(fulness)?

    Thanks in advance,

    Mary

    P.S. I submitted my user name as Marys1000 but it used my old email address for some reason.
    my email IS NOT my username's
    It is
    marys1000@woh.rr.com
  2. nhmaster

    nhmaster Master Plumber

    Messages:
    3,189
    Location:
    S. Maine
    Lighting instructions are usually right on the water heater. If the pilot keeps going out it's usually the thermo couple. either it's weak or not fully in the pilot flame.
  3. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,889
    Location:
    New England
    The thermocouple is a sensor...if it doesn't detect the pilot light is lit, it won't open the main gas valve to enable the main burner to be turned on. If you're lucky, the holder just needs to be bent a little to put it into the flame, or it is really dirty. They aren't very expensive, if it is bad, but at 10-years old, who knows how long the whole thing will last.
  4. krow

    krow Plumber

    Messages:
    906
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    As per above, also check to make sure you have proper ventalation for combustion air in the room that the water heater is in ie: window in the vacinity or open grill on door of room for air circulation
  5. marys1000@attbi.com

    marys1000@attbi.com New Member

    Messages:
    3
    What does thermocouple look like?

    Ok so check the thermocouple - what does it look like and where is it supposed to be? And how do i clean it?

    As for ventilation, its a fairly large basement that has been cut up by walls a bit. I don't know where the ventilation in the basement comes from but I assume since the house was built in 69 that ventilation isn't an issue. (Seems like it would have cause problems before?)
  6. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    I suggest you call a plumber to check it with a meeter and then replace it if necessary, if it is OK then it may be the gas valve and you may not want to replace that due to the cost and age of your heater.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2008
  7. marys1000@attbi.com

    marys1000@attbi.com New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Ok I googled it. The site I looked at shows how to replace the whole assembly. Not sure I'm up for that but at least I know its the big flat pan thing....
  8. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    No, the thermocouple looks like a copper wire that terminates in the pilot flame. The round flat thing is the burner. The pilot sits just off the burner and is what the burner uses in order to light.
  9. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    BTW if you over tighten the thermocouple where it threads into the gas valve to much you can strip the threads.
  10. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,453
    Location:
    Connecticut
    and if it's a whirlpool water heater you could have other problems...
  11. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    The new style heaters arent 10 years old
  12. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,453
    Location:
    Connecticut
    That means it could be any age!
    It could be 5 years old or 20 years old you don't know until you check the serial number.
  13. gkdiamond

    gkdiamond New Member

    Messages:
    6
    Location:
    Phoenix, Arizona
    The thermostat is the silver box (with the temperature control knob) on the outside of the heater. If you look at the bottom of it there are three tubes connected to it. A big tube (for gas to the burner), a medium tube (for gas to the pilot light) and a smaller copper tube. The smaller copper tube is the thermocouple and goes to the same place as the medium tube. You can also go to a hardware store and ask to see one or look on the net. Make sure that where it connects to the thermostat is tight (hand tight plus 1/4 turn). If it's not loose and is adjusted correctly on the pilot end then there is a good chance that it is going bad. You can test it using a multimeter but if you don't know how to do that a new runs $12 to $15. You might first want to clean the end of the pilot where the hole for the gas comes out and make sure it's not starting to plug-up. There are other possibilities like the air supply (could have changed) as mentioned above or the thermostat is going bad or if for some reason the gas inlet pressure (gas supply) is changing or varying.
  14. GrumpyPlumber

    GrumpyPlumber Licensed Grump

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Licensed Grump
    I have to jump in and say what Cass already said, she needs a plumber.

    Maybe some have forgotten how confusing a burner assembly/gas valve was when you first started plumbing, but with the questions she's asking I don't think she ought be tinkering with one.

    I understand she has an 83 year old mom, but sometimes you just have to stop and think before you paint yourself into a dangerous corner.
  15. Redwood

    Redwood Master Plumber

    Messages:
    7,453
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Well stated Grumpy!

    We want grammy waking up for a few more years don't we?
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