Oh, to be in hot water

This is a story of what happens where something simple goes horribly, horribly wrong. Two weeks ago yesterday, I noticed while washing the dinner dishes that the water wasn't getting hot. Turned out that the 7-year old, 40-gallon, white, upright hot water heater had a leak. The equivalent of a rod going through an engine block -- certain death requiring immediate replacement.

I went though my paperwork and found the 2002 receipt from the home improvement place I had purchased it and went there to purchase a new one and have it installed. From my distant memory, I didn't recall any issues involving the store or the subcontractor working for the store who installed it. This is called repeat business, but it's also business in the post-Katrina, economic downturned world.

First I couldn't find someone to wait on me since they seemed understaffed. Once I did, I had to wait for the right person from the right department to wait on me. Once he was available, I had to go through the "new" way of doing things. First, the subcontractor had to come to my house, for a $35 fee, and inspect the old heater to make sure I was getting the right one. I had my receipt from 7 years ago and it said on there plainly what I needed. Granted, the model numbers may have changed, but the requirements remained the same. Nope, had to do it their way. Still, I purchased what I knew I needed and paid the fee for the inspection.

Thursday they called and said they would arrive at the house the next day to inspect the hot water heater. The guy who came out opened the heater door and was attacked by wasps. One stung him on his forehead. Apparently there was no need to inspect any further and would contact the store with an estimate.

Now you're probably wondering why I haven't mentioned a herd of wasps living in my heater until now. I learned off of the canister of wasp spray that they are domicile in the early morning and evening hours, which was when I opened the door. And I never looked up at the door jamb where two combs were positioned. I focused my attention on the bottom of the heater the entire time. So, over the weekend, I used the heater house as wasp killer target practice and removed the nests with the end of a broom handle (covered in foil, of course, since I'd like to use the broom again without wasp kill on it).

Monday I received a call from the store. I was quoted $511 for the installment, which rivaled the price of the heater. When I asked on why the price was so high, I was told that connections needed to be replaced. I just spent the last five days boiling water on the stove for bathing and washing dishes. I wasn't going to haggle. I had to go to the store and sign a contract and pay for the installation.

When I arrived, the information had not been entered into the system. As the sales girl entered the information, she noticed that the estimate from the subcontractor had not included pricing for the materials, which would have made the price higher. The guy who had called me (we'll call him "Tom") was new and stood next to her. Tom said that that was the price he was told to tell me and that was the price I was going to pay. She fussed about how things would not be able to override and someone was going to be mad. Tom insisted that the store had to stand by what was quoted. The zone manager came in along with another manager and Tom continued his battle cry. Zone manager took over for the sales girl and, with Tom at his side, began to manipulate the data.

The associate manager said the subcontractor was too high to begin with and was their only installer and she tried to explain to me how the sub had screwed up. I was calm and quiet enough to be heard. "All I know was what I was told," I said simply. I wasn't going to budge. I figured I might get out of this easier than I put in or I'd tell them to cancel everything, which was the last thing I wanted to do. The associate manager and the sales girl went away. The zone manager was able to code the materials differently, overrode this, changed that, and soon my total for the install was $470. Again, I wasn't going to quibble. I paid for it after signing the contract.

Tuesday the subcontractor called only to find out if I had any contact with the store. On Wednesday, one week after all this nonsense began, I was told by the store that the installation would not take place -- they had fired the only subcontractor who would do the job. Apparently the subcontractor wanted to add additional money on top of what they didn't put in the first estimate. It sounded like a fight ensued because the subcontractor's "quote" for installation of the hot water heater would be $2500. No way under God's green earth would I allow that to happen. That's why the store fired them. Their only alternative was to refund the install and the inspection fee, but said I could still have the heater. This was too much and I told them I wanted a refund on everything. I'd go without hot water until I could figure out how to fix this.

I called my old contractor to get a recommendation of a plumber. When he learned about my plight, he said he'd stop by that day and check on it himself. He checked it out, went to another home improvement store, bought the hot water heater, and had it installed before I came home from work that night. It was a relief and I was grateful. He charged me for the heater and installation, but nothing over that. I called him that night to thank him. He said that going without hot water was an emergency and he would have gotten to it that night if he had had a full schedule that day.

It's been a week since the install and I still notice how nice it is to turn the faucet and receive hot water pouring into a sink of dirty dishes or filling up a wash basin. I don't know how the old folk used to boil water on a wood-burning stove every day of their lives. I don't know how our ancestors went to the well with buckets or the stream with animal skins and carry water back to their dwellings. I'm just glad that I don't have to do without anymore.