The water wars

The lovely new Evergreen ready for service.

I currently have three working water heaters. That is correct. Not one, not two, but three. Here’s how that happened. Let’s start with solar. I bought my first solar heater about 10 years ago. It did not work at all. I still had my big gas heater connected, so I procrastinated for a few years. Finally, I complained at the hardware store where I purchased it and, to my surprise, it was removed, and I got a full refund.

I let that same hardware store convince me to buy another of a different make, an error. It worked sometimes, sometimes not. That’s like having a car that works Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but not Tuesday, Thursday or weekends, i.e. a useless car. It was a useless solar heater. Again it sat on the roof for a few years. We used our old Heat Master. I had lost faith in solar water heaters completely.

We’ve been using a big Heat Master for the past 16 or so years. Works great, but it’s getting long in the tooth. I don’t want to wake up one winter morning to find the water heater has succumbed in the night, but it is still working okay, so I didn’t want to replace it. I’ll just install an alternative, I told myself.

I called Jorge the plumber.


Jorge came over, and I told him my plan. Remove the solar heater from the roof and install downstairs an on-demand heater I had already purchased, a nice brand called Avera. Hmm, opined Jorge, I bet I can get the solar heater to work. I am 99 percent sure. Those are good odds, so I agreed. He worked on it for a couple of hours and left.

It must have been a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. It worked when he left, but not on the next day, so I was back where I started, and my wallet was $1,500 pesos lighter. And the Avera was still in the box.

I called Jorge again.

He said all his customers with solar heaters are very happy. My relatives with solar heaters love them too. I asked Jorge for a solar heater recommendation. He mentioned a company named Evergreen. Jorge has one on his house, so I bought an Evergreen. Jorge installed it. It works pretty well, but it takes a good while for hot water to arrive from the roof, and it’s not very hot in the mornings. But it’s far better than the previous solar heater.

Heat Master

A week later I called Jorge to come install the Avera, which he did. He left. The water was wonderfully hot but, I discovered, the pressure through the house was abysmal, and when I turned on the cold tap even a little bit, the Avera switched itself off completely. Useless. I was pissed.

Online investigation led me to the conclusion that the water pressure entering the Avera was insufficient. When that happens, it turns itself off. It doesn’t care if you’re covered in soap or not. That seems to be a quirk of on-demand heaters in general, not just Avera.

I called Jorge again, telling him I wanted a pressure pump installed on the cold water pipe entering the Avera. He did not think that was the problem, but I insisted.

He installed a pressurizer. It’s the orange thing in the photo.

It now works like gangbusters. The solar will serve as backup. The Heat Master is old and uses lots of gas, plus it has a permanent pilot light which the Avera does not. I turned off the Heat Master. I can switch easily to any of the three heaters, but now the Avera is my main man. Hot and forceful. It’s a volcano.

A story of water

Ready for another year.

Earlier, when the plumber was doing his work.

DON’T DRINK the water, we tell tourists, and it’s true almost everywhere.

Most Mexicans get their drinking water from those five-gallon bottles, which are all plastic down here. I’ve never seen a glass one. Trucks drive around neighborhoods delivering and picking up those bottles, which are darn heavy.

It’s the heaviness plus my advancing age that inspired me two years ago to abandon the bottle method and install a filtration system that delivers water through a dedicated faucet on the kitchen sink. It’s the only source of drinking water in the house.

There is another out near the street in my child bride’s pastry kitchen. And there is a third installed in our Downtown Casita. I don’t fight with those ponderous water bottles anywhere anymore, thank the Goddess.

The system includes three filtration cartridges and an ultraviolet light that, or so they tell me, kills bacteria. The cartridges and the light are replaced annually. That happened here today. Last year I did it myself. It’s quite a struggle to get under the sink, so I decided that once was enough. It’s why God made plumbers.

Nondrinking water for bathing, washing dishes, mopping, everything else, comes down from a tank on the roof, delivered by gravity. It gets up there via a pump from the underground tank beneath the garden patio. And the water in that buried tank comes from underground springs in the area, delivered via the municipal pipes.

For that we pay a set monthly fee, the peso equivalent of about $3.25 U.S.

More stuff about water

New Image
The shiny, new pump above, and the old faded one below.


A FEW DAYS ago, I wrote about where water comes from, and the annual cleaning of the underground cistern, a chore we handle ourselves, the two of us. Coincidentally, during that same week, the nearby pump that delivers water from the cistern to the tank on the roof made funny noises for the second time in recent weeks, so I decided to replace it. It was 17 years old, installed during the Hacienda construction.

It is not a pump you want to fail. Without it, there’s no water anywhere in the house.

I don’t know the useful life of such a pump, but 17 years seems a long time, and the pump looked quite ratty, as you can see from the photo. The new pump is big and beautiful.

Like Muhammad Ali.

Coincidentally again, and also water-related, the Honda got a new water pump last week, another precautionary measure. That pump too was the original, and the car has 210,000 kilometers. As I write this, the Honda sits in the shop having its A-C radiator replaced. The A-C decided to commit suicide during our hottest month of the year.

Yes, the Honda has a streak of malevolence.

But enough about the Honda. Let’s return to the house. The tank on the roof sports some sort of electronic gizmo — with mercury inside, I think. It dangles inside like a snake — that senses when water falls below half full. At that point, it signals the pump below, the one that was replaced, to ignite and send water from the cistern up to the roof.

Following this?

Just after the pump started acting goofy, the electronic gizmo up top failed its mission, and the roof tank’s water level fell considerably below half. I knew this because I went to the roof, put a ladder against the tank, popped the top, looked in, saw the situation, and gave the electronic snake a shake. It turned on the pump below, and water started to come up.

But obviously, there was a problem. So today, Jorge the Plumber came with the new pump, plus a new electronic snake for the roof tank. Jorge is also an electrician.

So now I have a new pump down below and a new electronic snake up top. With luck, this pump will top the 17 years of the previous one, and the snake will last as long as possible. And the Honda’s A-C will keep me cool for a long time to come, especially in May.

The entire cost — the labor and materials — ran the peso equivalent of $160 U.S. The cost of the work on the Honda has yet to be determined.

Let’s go have a coffee now. I’m bushed.

Nearing the end

Our very large propane tank.

The solar heater is dicey, but it can work. It’s our second. The first was useless.

OUR PROPANE tank is almost empty.

Normally, the response is to phone the gas company, and they send a tanker truck, usually the same day, and refill it.

But we have a problem. There’s a gizmo that sits inside our tank, and it tells us, via a gauge outside, the level of the propane. That gizmo has gone on vacation!

This happened almost two years ago.

Since then, the gizmo decided to start working again, so it’s been filled a time or two. A fill-up lasts almost six months. But now it’s not working again. Our plumber says the gizmo cannot be changed unless the tank is empty.

If you knock on it with your knuckles, you get an empty sound, but there remains some gas in there because the stove and water heater are still functioning fine.

When the gas runs out, we’ll call the plumber pronto. Whether he comes pronto is another matter.

You know how we Mexicans are.

Both our stove and water heater rely on gas.

We have a second water heater — solar-powered — on the roof. However, it’s temperamental. Sometimes the water is blazing hot, sometimes not, sometimes tepid.

The kitchen stove is considerably less of a problem because we have another stove out in the pastry workshop, and it’s on a different gas tank.

And if the solar water heater totally fails, we can always drive the 15 minutes to our Downtown Casita, which is currently unoccupied, to take showers.

A few months ago, our plumber told us that the measuring gizmo inside the tank almost never malfunctions. He’d never known of it to happen. Lucky us.

* * * *

(Note: We have more gas tanks, water tanks and pumps than you can shake a stick at. I could be a survivalist kook.)