The price of comfort

Today we had a service call for our water systems.  When we moved in we had an extremely high sulfur count in our water, and there was a significant amount of coliform backteria in the water.  We had some people in to install a filtration system for the sulfur, and a UV light for the bacteria, and flushed our system out with chlorine to remove the sulfur from the existing systems.

We had a follow-up test which showed that the sulfur was way down, and that the bacteria was eliminated, so we scheduled a follow-up visit for us to be trained on the units, and how they functioned.

Today was that day, our system is still working well, but while he was here Beth asked him to take a look at our hot water tank.  We’ve been having a bit of a smell from the hot water, so she wanted to see if anything was wrong there.

Well, he opened the plug up on the top, and took a look.  Apparently our 11 year old hot water heater had been ravaged by the high sulfur.  The anode rod had been eaten away almost completely, and it appeared that the inner walls of the hot water tank were pretty nasty too.

Well – it got worse.  Taking the plug out had damaged the threads, and we couldn’t get it back in airtight… so we now suddenly have no functional hot water system.

We knew we were going to have to replace it soon – but we had counted soon as a few years, not a few days.  We’re suddenly in the midst of a crises.

Well – we currently have a 40 gallon unit, and use under 100 gallons a day – although most of those stats were from before the kids came home.  We were told we’d probably want to replace it with a 50 gallon electric unit to be sure we’re covered for our needs.

The big problem is that I’m very careful about some things – and one of them is energy usage.  This house uses _a lot_ of energy, we don’t have the exact stats yet on our own occupancy, but the last year (before we moved in) it was averaging 3100 kwh per month.

Most people are aware that domestic hot water usage accounts for a pretty substantial portion of a household’s energy usage… so it’s to your benefit to replace your systems (when they break) with the most efficient ones available.

I have always wanted to take it a step further.  These days you can get a solar domestic hot water system installed – which uses the sun to provide most of your hot water, and then has electric elements as a backup in case you drop below your preferred temperature, or you have significantly cloudy days (or long nights).

The downside is that a system like that takes a much larger tank, since you want to use your thermal mass as much as possible to store heat.  It also costs quite a bit more to get it installed and set up.  Still – it will reduce your electrical bill by a significant amount when working.

Well – we can’t quite afford something like that at this point, so the fact that this came up so suddenly has kind of put us in a bind.  I don’t want to buy a hot water tank that I’ll be trying to replace very shortly – but at the same time I can’t afford to put a solar system in right now – nor do we have the time to wait really.

Just on a lark though I called a dealer recommended by our installer – but they now only do photo voltaic systems.  They were able to recommend another more local place to me though, and I called them to check things out.

The full systems were just as pricey as I had feared, but between a government rebate and a tax credit things start to come back down into a more affordable range – although still a lot more than a hot water tank.

The man I talked to at the local place was able to work with me though – we’re going to get a hot water tank (with electric backup) installed now, and then work on getting the funds together to get the solar element in within the next few months.  It seems to meet our needs both present and future, and although it costs a little more than I’d like – it’s money we were expecting to pay anyways.

I guess the biggest change in our lives is that we won’t be replacing the truck any time soon, and we’ve kind of lost out on our savings for emergency… since this is an emergency.  This system will cost substantially more than the replacement truck anyways, and we can’t possibly buy a truck while we’re saving up for phase two of this… so that’s out of the picture for a while.  We’re back to being a single car family, with our van the only thing used for hauling.

Ah well – everything comes with a price, and there are certainly worse things that could have happened.  We’ve been blessed with the money to buy the hot water tank outright, so it’s just the solar element that really needs to be saved up for.

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