We arrived at our Mexican house more than a week ago—greeted by our wonderful friends Antonio and Eloisa, who knew we were suffering from miserable colds and had prepared coffee and lunch for us. How wonderful.
We found everything in order, as usual. The only problem: no hot water.
The pump was seized up and it was a holiday weekend. But you can do without hot water for a few days, and on Tuesday morning our plumber showed up with an oil can and got it going. He also showed Jack how to get it going if it happens again next year. He’s a nice guy. We’ll be calling him again.
The water system here is either dead-simple, or too complicated to comprehend. The dead simple part: everyone has a “tinaco” on top of their house—a water tank, filled continuously by the city (except when it isn’t), which feeds the house via gravity. Of course, no one drinks this water, but it’s what we use for everything else.
Most people use a conventional gas hot water tank, fuelled by fairly small gas tanks. Every day, before 9:00 am, men wander through the streets shouting “gaaaas, gaaass”, and if your tank is low or empty, you stick your head out the door and let them know you want gas. Then they carry a 140-pound tank on their shoulders to your door, hook it up, and take away the old one.
If that’s your system, you get water—hot or cold—at whatever pressure gravity will provide. It’s what we did until two years ago, and frankly, it worked fine. But the water heater for this house was old and clearly inefficient. It leaked gas. We decided an on-demand hot water system was the environmentally and economically sensible thing to do.
I haven’t had a decent shower in this house since.
On-demand does require a steady pressure to activate it, pressure higher than gravity was providing from our tinaco. We could have solved this problem by raising the tinaco higher, or by installing a pump. Higher wasn’t really an option, so, along with the Bosch on-demand water heater, we bought a pump that would send water through the heating system at a constant pressure. The result was—awful. We could get very hot water on demand all right, but the instant we added a bit of cold we got NO hot water. Showers became a frantic dance, jumping in and out of the flow, hoping to catch a moment between scalding and freezing. We put up with this for a couple of months two years ago.
Then, last year during our renovations, we talked to the plumber who said yeah, lots of people were buying Bosch heaters, but they just don’t work with the water system here in Guanajuato. He’s replaced quite a few. Everybody uses a different brand—a sort of hybrid that keeps six liters of water hot to kick-start the system. It uses a different kind of pump. So, we installed water heater number two and pump number two.
Now, we get six liters of wonderful hot water. But you’d be amazed how fast six liters goes. Then…well, then it’s tepid. Not frigid, I grant you. But no one would call it hot. We fiddled with it much of last year. The plumber said what’s happening CAN’T be happening, but he didn’t taken us up on our offer of a free shower. We’re still fiddling. Turn the pressure up and the heat down; turn the pressure down and the heat up; start with cold, add hot; start with hot, add cold. All to minimal effect. The dance goes on.
What to do? This whole thing was supposed to save gas. But two hot water heaters and two pumps later, you have to wonder how either we or the environment could possibly have come out ahead.
We hate to go back to a conventional system, but we’re considering it. I guess we’ll call the plumber again first.
Now, I’m off to shower…tra-la!