Thanks to everyone who offered help after yesterday's alarums and excursions. I think we're on top of the situation for now. I've learned a few things, and re-learned others, so I thought I'd share them for the benefit of anyone who's interested.
First, Miss D.'s and my emphasis on building up and keeping a cash reserve has paid off, yet again. We're facing bills of over $1,000 to buy and install a new water heater and associated bits and pieces, and also replace my cellphone (with ye olde basic economy model - I don't waste money on high-end phones with features I don't need). Fortunately, because we've saved for a rainy day, we can spend the money without worries. That's a real blessing.
I went online and searched for information about a replacement water heater. To my surprise, it emerged that the different warranty periods for those things - usually 6, 9 or 12 years - often (not always) apply to precisely and exactly the same heater. The difference in price is usually to pay for an insurance policy for the manufacturer, which is betting its unit will last long enough that it can keep some extra profit on the deal. Local plumbers confirmed online advice to buy a good-quality 6-year unit, and look after it. Given due care and attention, it's likely to last as long as a more expensive one.
Some readers recommended tankless water systems. Those are useful, but they also cost more than a traditional heater, and have one drawback - there's no water reservoir for use in emergencies. If we lose our water supply for some reason, it's comforting to know there'll be 50 gallons in the water heater, in addition to my backup supplies. That might come in handy in an emergency.
Three precautions and routine maintenance measures were recommended:
- Given the prevalence of sediment and algae in our water at certain times of the year, a whole-house water filter, installed in the line ahead of the water heater, is a very useful thing. It traps most of the sediment that would otherwise build up inside the heater's tank. It's a lot cheaper to replace the filter than the heater!
- Buy a heater with replaceable anodes. We're doing that; in fact, I'll buy the first set of replacement anodes, plus the wrench needed to install them, at the same time that I buy the heater. That way, we'll have them on hand when we need them, in case the store doesn't have them in stock. We'll make sure to swap them out at recommended intervals.
- Don't let the plumber supply the equipment from their stocks, because they'll charge more. This proved very true. I reckon we'll save between 20% and 30% on their price by buying the heater and filter ourselves, and having the plumber install them.
Miss D. also came up with a very useful idea. She wants the plumber to install a water shut-off for the whole house as the very first thing in the line as it comes in, even ahead of the filter. That way, if we have a leak anywhere and it's sub-zero outside, we don't have to go plodding around the garden at two in the morning, freezing our unmentionables off, looking for the hatch and trying to fiddle with the special key needed to close off the inflow. We can simply walk into the garage and close a tap instead. I think that's a great idea, so we'll add it to the list for the plumber's attention.
So far, so good. My new phone is set up and working, and we've got our ducks more or less in a row for the plumber. Now, bearing in mind that problems seem to come in threes . . . what else is going to go wrong?