The Homestead Springs a Leak

By , May 20, 2011

Tuesday morning, Aly and I worked to fell a standing dead tree near our trail. When we’d finished, we hurried down the ridge to the cabin to get showers. Michelle and her mom had started the wood-fired water heater, we could smell the smoke. But, when we got home, we found Michelle working over the heater, and I felt a familiar sinking feeling.

We had a leak. When the water heated up, a tiny, pinhole sprayed a thin stream of water into the room.

wood fired hot water heater

Our faithful Aguaheater, beginning to show its age. (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

We’ve had two Aguaheaters since moving to the homestead, the Mexican-made heaters that are now so hard to come by. We installed our current one even though it apparently leaked, leading to its replacement. We knew where the leaks should be inside the fire chamber (they were indicated by writing on the side of the tank) but we’ve never had problems in those spots—I suspect creosote build up in the fire chamber sealed them. The leak Michelle discovered Tuesday is a pinhole at the top of the tank.

We tried to patch it with waterproof epoxy putty, as we’d done for a while with the old heater, but the leak persisted. Finally, we shut off the water, drained the tank until air and water pressure subsided, then patched it again. After a day, we had no sign of leakage. On Thursday, we showered, and the patch held throughout the process. Mission accomplished.

I don’t remember if we tried draining the tank before patching the previous water heater. Had we done that, it’s hard to guess how many more years that unit would have lasted before wearing out. Based on how rapidly new leaks developed, probably not long. By that same reasoning, while we’re glad to have patched the latest leak, we have to assume more will appear shortly. Apparently, though, decreasing water and air pressure in the tank is key to patching.

We’re tracking down a new water heater. We have most of the components for a different water heating system, but that one will require a fairly major reorganization of our living space, so we’d like to avoid it if possible, saving it instead for the sauna we hope to build one day.

2 Responses to “The Homestead Springs a Leak”

  1. Rudy Mallonee says:

    H, I’ve been reading your site articles.. Started feeling sorry for you..
    For youe water heater solutions– and — your home heating solutions, look at this weblste.. A rocket stove uses about 80%-90% less wood that a conventional wood stove.. Also easy and cheap to build..

    Good luck,

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Rudy,

    No need to feel sorry for us. This was a problem that we cleared up a long time ago, and the system continues to run smoothly.

    I’ve looked at rocket stoves a lot. My big brother is very interested in them, and has gotten very enthusiastic about me building one so he can see how it works. However, the idea seems to work best in a masonry based system. We’d have to shore up our cabin timbers to take the weight, then haul in a lot of heavy materials to make a go of this. Maybe if we ever rebuild the cabin . . . .

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