My stupid redneck water heater…

Okay, so I went through the same thing this time last year so it didn’t come as a surprise…


I expected to have to blow the scale out of the fitting, so I never even installed the new spigot I bought last month when I was fixing the water pipes. Instead I barely got a heavy trickle out of the hoses. No question this was more built-up calcium scale.

So…


I hauled it all out of the box…


…then separated the hoses and tried to wash the scale out with water.

Turned out the hoses were damn near completely plugged and I didn’t have enough water pressure to do anything about it. So I ended up carrying each one halfway up the ridge to Ian’s place…


…reasoning that he has an actual water pump producing actual water pressure. And I was able to wash a lot of scale out of the hoses. Then I carried them each back down…


…and the trip alone probably helped, because I left trails of white flakes up and down the ridge.

Anyway – at Ian’s place I flushed out a bunch of goo and then got good volume out of each of the four long hoses. So this afternoon Tobie and I spent a lot of time out in the yard while I teetered on a ladder carefully putting all the hoses back in the heat exchanger box, pushing them into place with a long stick. Flooded the hoses, screwed on the new spigot…


…and dammit, I still don’t have a whole lot of water coming out. I mean it’s better than it was. But that’s not saying much. Now I have to go over everything and see if I kinked a hose somewhere. But I was being awfully careful when I laid it out in the box. Maybe it’s something simple, like a kink in the feed hose…

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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13 Responses to My stupid redneck water heater…

  1. The Neon Madman says:

    Out of curiosity- wouldn’t it be possible to set up a fairly decent hot water system with a small propane heater and a demand pump, as is done in RV’s? You already have a 12 volt supply and a water source. Of course, you would only run the heater when you want hot water and the pump shouldn’t use too much juice. You could drain the heater and pump between uses to help with sedimentation issues.

    Engineering a solar solution is enticing, but the RV approach is pretty well rock solid and should not be too expensive.

  2. Joel says:

    That would certainly be possible, though I doubt it would last long. It’s essentially a more complicated form of what I already have when I heat wash water on the stove.

  3. Anonymous says:

    With the amount of scale he is seeing in those pipes, I fear the small copper tubes that heat the water in an on-demand unit would clog up very quickly. Even with normal water it is recommended to flush them every year. Plus, while you can flush them, I don’t know what you would do if one completely clogged. It can’t be broken down like Joel’s system. I use an on-demand propane unit and love mine, but his water scares me.

  4. Joel says:

    818 ppm, baby. You ought to see the inside of my boiling pot.

  5. feralfae says:

    I wonder if filling the pipes of all types with white cleaning vinegar or lime away substances of some sort, following directions. I have scaly water here, so I routinely soak filters, sprayers, etc, with white vinegar. Then after as long as I can leave it, I scrub gently with a stiff brush. And rinse well. It helps a lot. There are many de-scaling compounds, and perhaps one for hoses and/or copper.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Have you checked the spigot? and the feed lines?
    Always check the cheap/easy stuff first.

  7. Edwin says:

    How much pressure does it take to flush the calcium out of the solar heater pipe? Could a small gasoline-powered pump do that job? Then some fittings and a semi-annual or quarterly flush might be just a scheduled maintenance job.

  8. Anonymous says:

    You need a heat exchanger and to use a closed loop system. This is a bit of work, but it should work in your area. Unfortunately, if you don’t want to use a pump (and I would advise against this complexity), basically you put a tank up high and your collector down near the ground. Make a closed loop of your hose(s) and fill it with distilled water. Put half the hose in the collector and half in the tank. Convection will pump it.

    Just an idea. It would be so much effort that I doubt you’d want to do it. But basically with that much calcium in your water you have to get medieval on its ass.

  9. Mike says:

    818 ppm? No wonder you had a kidney stone way back when. OMG, that water isn’t drinkable, it’s chewable.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Joel: I am anonymous at 2;26PM

    Email me and at Schmoo196(X) at (y).com. We have emailed back and forth before so you have the email.

  11. Cliff says:

    Certainly a low tech answer if it works but would a sediment trap of some sort help. Almost like a P trap in plumbing or a water trap in a compressed air line. Put closed container of some sort with a line in from the high side at the top and a line out again from the top to the spigot? I have no idea if the calcium based sediment is heavier and would settle to a low point. Where I live it’s iron based sediment it definitely sinks.

  12. Anonymous says:

    You are fighting chemistry.

    Your water is extremely hard – it has lots of calcium carbonate dissolved in it. Calcium carbonate is much less soluble in hot water than cold water. That’s why your boil pot gets so crusted so quickly, it’s not just because you are evaporating water.

    Moderately warm water at 122 F will hold only about half as much calcium carbonate as cold water. The gunk in your hoses is calcium precipitating from the hot water.

    The fix, other than constantly cleaning plugged hoses, it to circulate something else. You have all the parts to do a redneck experiment. Your recent post showed you have a bit of water/glycol mix – that would do. You also have a heat exchanger – the old radiator. Sink the radiator in a container filled with water, use a very small pump to slowly circulate glycol through the black solar hose and radiator, and the container of water will get hot. How hot depends on how well you insulate the container of water. You can probably get by on 1 hose instead of 4, and get much more and much hotter water.

To the stake with the heretic!