It all started at 8:00pm on a Tuesday night. The phone rang, and I answered, a new customer needed an after-hours emergency plumber to assist with her rental property where the tenants reported no hot water at any of the faucets in the home. We discussed the fact that an after hours call out would be more expensive then to attend during normal business hours, the customer was understanding and told us the problem must be fixed that night. After getting all the details for the property I dispatched one of our plumbers Luke to the job, he was just completing another call out in Norwood.
The property was located on Sturt Street in Glenelg. The buildings are 4 stories in height with multiple apartments throughout the complex, it turned out that the apartment we were attending was on the ground floor which made life a bit easier at that time of an evening. When you attend a property late at night and have never been to it before things can be a bit daunting especially when no one else at the apartment has any prior knowledge of the infrastructure in place. So, the first thing to understand is where the hot water system is located as the problem was reported to be with the hot taps only in the property. After some quick investigating we established that the buildings were running on bulk hot water. Bulk hot water is where a plant room contains multiple or one water heater large enough to supply multiple rooms or apartments like what you would see in a hotel or aged care facility.
Energy efficient heating of water
Fortunately, these apartments had access to natural gas when first built allowing for an energy efficient source of hot water delivery to be installed. The hot water services deliver heated water to each apartment whenever it is required 24/7. How the clients are then billed for there use is where the issue of our late night call out comes into play.
Looking for clues
As a plumber with many years of experience in the maintenance side of the industry you develop skills which enable you to think fast and affectively on your feet. These skills allow you diagnose an issue and resolve it all within a timely manner leaving a client feeling happy. When we attended this emergency call out in Glenelg those skills were quickly used. The fact that other apartments in the same building had hot water yet the one we were working on did not meant it was an individual issue. How was the hot water being delivered to the apartment needed to be established? Out the front of the building was a metal box which housed the hot water meters. These meters measure how many litres of hot water is drawn off by each apartment and this is then calculated as to what portion of the gas bill each apartment is liable for.
It was clear that there was a blockage or a closed (seized) valve which was hindering the delivery of hot water to this apartment, but where, how and who? It was the task of our plumber on call that night to identify and fix. The logical place to start was the isolation valve installed before the hot water meter and confirm there was pressure there which would confirm that the apartment had access to hot water, but it was more of an internal issue. After loosening the barrel union slightly, it was identified that yes there was certainly good pressure there, so why no delivery of water into the apartment?
The plot thickens
After establishing that hot water is available the questions still lingers of why wont it come out of the taps? The isolation valve was then turned off and the water meter removed, as you will see in the image on this page is what the problem was. A 10-cent piece was sitting perfectly inside the water meter completely stopping flow, what is going on here the question which was on everyone’s mind at this point. Surely its corruption who else would be placing a 10-cent piece inside the hot water meter and more to the point who knows that a 10-cent piece fits???
Set up your utility accounts properly
After our customer then spent many hours on the phone to the utility provider the next day (Origin Energy) it turns out the owner of the apartment did not know that they needed to set up an individual account for hot water only in the complex. After nearly 8 months Origin Energy came out and placed the 10-cent piece inside the meter to stop the delivery of hot water to the apartment and force the owner to investigate the problem which has now led to them opening an account and everything is working well.
It certainly is amazing just what you come across when working in reactive maintenance plumbing and how you need to be constantly switched on. This storey will go down as a very memorable moment and a great piece of information to keep in the memory banks for future jobs such as this. It was just as well the tenant was with us when we made the discovery otherwise trying to convince someone that’s what you found might have been a challenge.