Last week I blogged about how my frugality has, on occasion, cost me a bunch of money. Over the weekend, my miserly nature almost cost me something even more valuable--my face!
Saturday morning my wife complained that her shower was lukewarm. I told her it was probably because a couple of the kids and one of their overnight guests had used all of the hot water. Saturday afternoon, when my youngest son tried to shower, it was ice cold. I knew what that meant.
I wandered down to the furnace room and sure enough, there it wasthe telltale water on the concrete under the 5-or-6 year old water heater. The tank was leaking. Time for a replacement.
I dialed my faithful plumber. He was more than willing to help, but pointed out that all of the plumbing supply houses were closed for the weekend. He said hed be happy to pick up a new water heater at one of those consumer warehouse stores which ARE open on weekends, but the only brand they carry, in his opinion, would last no more than three yearssometimes only one. Better, he said, to wait until Monday when the supply house opens and he could pick up a quality unit. I agreed. Why pay all that money for inferior goods and have to do another replacement installation a couple of years down the road?
I looked at the current, leaking heater. It was dripping, but it wasnt a gusher. Water heaters are cleverly and safely designed so that leaking water eventually fills up kind of bowl atop the flame spreaderwhich looks like a giant version of those on a gas stove. The water in the bowl keeps the flame from igniting; thats how you soon learn your tank is leakingno hot water. Theres also a failsafe that shuts down the pilot light.
No hot water? For the rest of the weekend? No showers, clean dishes, clothes washer? My wife was less than thrilled. I decided to relight the water heater--which isnt as completely stupid as it sounds. My thought was that Id mop up the water from the leak, re-light the pilot and let it ignite the main flame. Heat the water in the holding tank good and hot and it should get us through the weekend. My plan worked fineexcept one tank wasnt enough. There was always the need for one more shower, load of laundry, vat of dishes. Each time, Id head back to the basement, flop on the concrete and go through the same drill.
By Sunday afternoon I was working on about my fifth re-light. Yes, I was tired of crawling around on the dirty floor, mopping up water and reaching into the belly of the tank to hold a match to the pilot. So I did what my father, my flight instructors, my inner voice have always told me not to do.
I took a shortcut.
Why mop out all that water for yet another relight? Wont it just boil away?
I lit the pilot. I turned on the gas. I heard a curious gurgling noise, apparently the sound of gas bubbling through that saucer of water atop the flame spreader. I waited. Nothing.
If I were smart, or careful, or both, Id have turned off the gas before I made my next move, but I didnt.
I assumed the pilot light had been extinguished; I lay down on the floor to take a peek into the access door where that tiny flame flickers.
It is difficult to describe the moment of clarity that hit my brain about the same time a wall of blue flame hit my face. You moron! said my brain to the body it directs. You just roasted yourself in a mini gas explosion!
It took no longer than the blink of an eye; I know that I did close my eyes, although not before noticing the lovely blue color of the jet of flame that was erupting out of the viewing port at the base of the tank and wrapping around my head. I bolted upright in an instant to get my face out of the line of fire. But by the time I reached a sitting position, it was over. Flame gone. Whoompf gone.
Face? Still with me. My eyes felt strange; that turned out to be the odd sensation provided by eyelashes suddenly singed and now curled back against the eyelids. Eyebrows and hair, also singed. The resulting smell? Not pleasant. But no skin damage, no burns, no serious damage of any kind, really. Just the sobering reality that I had done something very, very stupid and come out pretty much unscathed.
Oh, but there was evidence. Hildathe makeup artist here at Fox tasked with making me look presentableand Carol, who styles my hairnoticed right away when I sat down this morning. The steel-wool texture of my eyebrows. The melted lashes. The missing hair. Trust me--you do NOT want to have to endure a lecture from those two.
Plumbers, firefighters, OSHA expertsI appreciate your concern, but I dont need to hear from you. I know better than anybody that I did something really, really senseless. Its not much fun to feel your head enveloped in a ball of burning natural gas, if only for an instant. Thankfully the angels were with me, and I could be on-air with Janeand youtoday.
Yes, the plumber is at my house right now putting in a new water heater. And no, I wont do that again.