“What's that burning smell?” asked Spring when she walked into the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere. She had just gotten home from work. “Were you cooking something?”
“Not that I know of,” I said. We started sniffing around, trying to locate the source of the burning smell. The strongest source seemed to be coming from the air conditioning vent. Not a good sign, as we had just recently got the thing repaired after a series of back and forth exchanges with the rental office.
Heading upstairs, we first checked the master bedroom; the burnt smell was strong throughout the room, but it wasn't obvious what was wrong; the only thing plugged in and on was an alarm clock. The smell was just above a background threshhold. It was coming from somewhere but the somewhere wasn't obvious.
I then went to check The Kids' room, fearing that The Kids' might have tried an experiment or something, but was confounded by a locked door. The door knobs have a small hole, usually the type where you can jam a straightened hangar through it to pop the lock. That proved futile (as the lock itself is of the turning type—not sure what exactly you do to unlock that type) when Spring started wailing on the door, trying to get the kids to wake up and unlock it.
But no, the source of the smell did not turn out to be a half-forgotten childhood experiment. In fact, there was no smell at all in their room. Back in the master bedroom all the facts were slowly pointing to the air conditioner (which is actually in the master bedroom) when Spring went to check on one of the mail inlet vents. She started coughing. “There's smoke here, lots of white smoke, and the smell is very strong here.”
That was enough for me to call 9-1-1 as we evacuated the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.
“The hot water heater burned out,” said the fireman. “It must have shorted out as it scorched the insulation and outter casing.”
“The wot hotter heater?” I asked.
“Wot hotter heater?”
“You said, ‘wot hotter heater.’”
“I meant ‘hot water heater.’” It was strange, but I had difficulty saying “hot water heater.” Don't ask me why, it just came out as “wot hotter heater.”
“Yes, the hot water heater.”
“You got to the wot hotter heater?” The wot hotter, um, hot water heater is in (as we call it) the Harry Potter Closet, a deep, cramped closet underneath the stairs, all the way to the back, below the middle landing where the stairs turn. We use it as storage. Enough said.
“Yes. Sorry about the mess.”
“Oh, that's okay. Better that than a fire.”
“Yes,” he said. “Here, let me show you.” And he lead me deep into the Harry Potter closet to show me the damage. “As you can see,” he said, pointing things out with his flashlight,” the casing of the wot hotter heater—”
“Wot hotter heater?”
“Great, you got me saying that now,” he said, sighing. “the casing—” and he pointed, “is burned, along with the insulation.” I snapped a few pictures. “The main power cord has also burned through.” Snap. “And take a look here,” he said, pointing to the blackened rements of a control panel. Snap.
“So we have no hot water?”
“You have what's left in the heater, but that's it.” He indicated where he unplugged the unit.
As I remarked later to Spring, the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere has been the most exciting place I've ever lived in. Between spider infestations (don't ask), walls bleeding honey, water leaking through the kitchen lights (oh yes, about a week ago or so, we found water leaking from the master bathroom into the kitchen through the light fixtures) and constant fun with the air conditioner, you can't ask for a more interesting place to live.
I'm not even going to ask what can happen next …
Update later today
heh, we had the exact same thing happen to me and insanity back when we lived in a nice two floor apartment in Ft. Lauderdale. She had the fire department there and everything.
Turns out that the design of the water heater / air conditioning closet was to blame. As the A/C unit was directly above the water heater and all the condensation that the A/C generated dripped right onto the water heater, eventually causing it to fry. It looked almost exactly like the pictures you have in this entry.
Squeaky, commenting on the situation
Something to think about when designing a house ... don't stack the air conditioner above the wot hotter heater.