Self-Fusing Silicone Tape Fixes Leaking Washer

One more reason that fairly-new-and-in-good-condition washing machine was on the curb slowly revealed itself as we used it.  It evidently had a slow leak.  After several uses, the floor around the washer would be slightly damp, as if it were leaking just a few spoonfuls of water with each load.  Water where it shouldn’t be is all kinds of trouble for machinery.  It can cause corrosion, electrical shorts, who knows what else.  It also provides a water source for roaches and other vermin.

I carefully looked at the supply line intake hoses, where they attached to the back of the machine, but I never saw even a drop of water on the rear of the washer.  However, I realized that I had re-used the hoses from the previous machine, which meant I had old hoses.  I couldn’t figure out just how old, so just for safety’s sake, I got new ones.  They also didn’t leak.

The floor under the washer, a concrete basement floor, still got damp each time we did a load of laundry.  If the inlet hoses weren’t leaking, then the leak must be somewhere inside the machine.  Attempting a repair to some interior part seemed daunting, the thought of calling a repairman was even moreso.

I unplugged the machine (you must always unplug anything electrical before starting any work on it) and moved it away from the wall, removed the back, and took a look.  Yikes!  There was a pool of water in the bottom of the machine.  Evidently, it was deep enough (maybe a quarter inch) to overflow onto the floor each time the machine was used.  More troubling, the water wasn’t too far from various electrical connections, thought, intelligently, none of the electrical connections were at the bottom of the machine. I felt around on the inside parts , hoping to find some dampness.  Nothing.

Having come this far, it seemed that the only thing I could do next was plug the machine back in and do a load of laundry.  I did this and sat back and watched, being sure not to touch anything.  With a flashlight I scanned the interior of the machine.  Only after several minutes of patiently watching, when the machine drained at the end of the wash cycle, did I notice the slightest drip.  Just one drip.  Aha!  The discharge hose!  I marked the location and waited for the machine to finish.

After the machine was done, I removed the hose and inspected it carefully.  Sure enough, there was a small hole near my mark.  Hardly more than a pinprick.  The hose wasn’t routed near anything that might damage it.  Perhaps it was a manufacturing defect.  I checked on the prices of replacement hoses from the manufacturer — of course, they were outrageous.  An internet search found some generic one-size-fits-all hoses, but they  weren’t quite as long and were a slightly different shape.  Such a small hole being the problem, it seemed repairing it with some kind of patch would be the best solution to the leaking washing machine problem.

silicone_tapeSomewhere I’d heard of self-fusing silicone tape, so I thought I’d give that a try.  Interesting stuff.  It’s tape, but it doesn’t stick to anything — except itself.  It’s especially useful for repairing cords, hoses, pipes, tubes or anything that can be wrapped with tape.  The basic idea is to wrap the leaky hose with the tape, making sure to stretch the tape as it overlaps.  The stretching causes the tape to adhere to itself under tension, which holds it tight.  When the tape comes into contact with itself what was multiple layers start fusing into one solid layer.  Once that happens, it can’t be separated and it’s not coming off (unless it is cut off with blade).

After a good wrapping with the silicone tape, I put the discharge hose back into place and did a few loads.  No evidence of any leaks.  Several days and several loads later, the concrete floor under the washer was completely dry.  The silicone tape did the job.

Self-fusing silicone tape isn’t cheap.  The roll I bought cost about $10 and I used about 1/3 of it to repair the washing machine hose.  But the job has held.  Months later, the floor remains dry.




New Thermocouple for Water Heater

Before the morning of December 31, 2016, I don’t think I’d ever heard the word “thermocouple” and I certainly didn’t know what one was.  By noon, I’d replaced the thermocouple in my house’s water heater and in doing so repaired it and put it back into service.

The previous evening, I noticed there wasn’t much hot water coming out of the faucet.  I went downstairs and took a look at the water heater and noticed that the pilot light was out.  That was unusual.  (The pilot light, btw, is a small flame that burns 24/7 that serves to ignite the thermostatically-controlled main burner when it comes on, as necessary, to heat the water in the tank.)  Before that day, the only time the pilot light ever went out was when someone used a fan to dry a wet spot on the floor (caused by a leaking washing machine) and positioned it so that it blew toward the water heater.  The fan, I think, blew out the pilot light.  When I re-lit the water heater pilot that time, it stayed lit.  On December 30, I re-lit it the pilot light, saw the main burner come on, but the next morning … no hot water.  I tried lighting it again, but it wouldn’t stay lit.  For some  reason, it was repeatedly going out.  Some internet investigation made me suspect that the problem was the thermocouple.

thermocoupleA thermocouple is a very clever device.  Gas water heaters have a useful safety feature: the gas turns off if the pilot light isn’t lit.  In other words, if the water in the tank gets cold enough to trigger the main burner, but there’s no pilot light, the gas won’t come on.  The gas to the pilot light itself turns off when it’s not burning.  Thus, if it’s not going to be properly burned immediately in water heater, the gas will not flow.  This prevents gas from accumulating and possibly causing an explosion or fire.  That’s pretty useful, preventing your house from catching on fire or blowing up.  If you wonder how this can be made to work in a machine that is not connected to household electricity, the answer is the thermocouple.  A thermocouple is a device made from two metals which, when heated, produce a small electric current.  This small current can be made to keep open an electrically-controlled valve such that when the current stops, the valve closes.  (So, in this way a gas water heater with a pilot light does make use of electricity, even though it’s not connected to household electrical system.)

Like every other useful device, thermocouples eventually (like maybe after 10 years of continuous use) stop working for various reasons.  And so it happened that on the last day of 2016, I had no hot water for my morning  ablutions.  The internet told me that spending $12 for a new thermocouple, available from the nearby big-box home improvement supplies store, and installing it myself was a good bet.  Youtube showed me how to do it.  The DIY fix is working just fine and (a penny saved being a penny earned) probably earned me a couple hundred dollars for an hour’s work.

Note: If you do this yourself, you must be comfortable with your ability to disconnect and reconnect the gas lines that go from the water heater’s thermostat to the main burner and pilot light.  Research and learn how to do this before you start.  Be sure to follow all safety precautions such as turning off the gas to the water heater, etc.