The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Titan Revisited

A name is a creature of immense power.

In more modern times, we've become rather lax in our appreciation of names. Sure, parents agonize over their newborn child's name, but we don't attach the same seriousness to it. In many ancient cultures, knowledge of a person's, an animal's, or god's true name was believed to give one power over them. The ancient Jews believed the mere uttering of the name of God could unmake the world.

Perhaps folks in advertising and marketing best appreciate the power of names. On some level, everyone wants to believe that what they buy is super, fantastic, or extra-whitening. And, you can't help but wonder if the reason that the Chevy Citation was a suck-ass car was because it was called a citation. According to Webster's, being cited can mean, "to mention in an official report as meritorious," but, when I hear the word, I think of it in terms of its other meaning, "to summon before a court of law." No one wants to go to court. Bad things happen to good people in court all of the time. And, if a policeman gives you a citation, you can typically expect to pay a fine.

On the surface, titan is a pretty potent name. It implies a creature of great power and strength. Once, they were even gods.

So, if you were marketing an on-demand water heater, calling it Titan seems like a pretty good bet. What could be better than a water heater of immense power, right?

But, upon closer inspection, perhaps Titan isn't such an auspicious name. Take Cronus, self-made leader of the Titans, for instance. He was an abused child, he castrated his father (perhaps not without justification), and crowned that achievement by marrying his sister. As an abused child, it was almost statistically inevitable that would perpetuate the cycle of violence by becoming an abusive father. And, he was then castrated by one of his sons, a product of incest. Nice.

So, what does it mean when your on-demand water heater is a deposed, incestuous, blood-thirsty eunuch-god? It means that your testicles will shrivel like ice-wine grapes and fall from the vine because January is bad time to take cold shower. And, when I say cold, I mean a cold so intense that not showering is an acceptable alternative.

I haven't mention this before for several reasons, several shamelessly self-serving. In our old house, we complained about how little hot water our heater produced for years before I noticed that it was set on the lowest temperature setting. We had plenty of hot water once we turned the magic knob up to a higher temperature. Genius, right? And it only took us (me) 3 years to figure that one out. So, before I complained about our situation, I though it might be a good idea to make sure I hadn't over looked anything obvious.

Also, in the run up to our appraisal this summer, I didn't want to publicly post something calling the integrity of a major household-system into question. The chances that our appraiser would find our blog were pretty slim, but I have no desire to tempt the Fates. If he had found it, he would be professionally and legally obligated to disclose that in the appraisal. And we all know how much bankers love a failing household-systems.

When we originally bought the Titan water heaters, we did our research on them. They seemed like perfect fit at the time with a few caveats. Unlike a traditional water heater, the Titan requires that the water flowing into the heater be at no less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. While I can not find a definitive source for the information, I have heard that the average soil temperature for my part of the world is roughly 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Given that Arkansas' official State Soil (yes, we have one), Stuttgart Soil, has an average temperature around 59 degrees, 57 degrees sounds about right considering we are further north and about 700 feet more above sea level.

Even with insulated pipes, I think our crawlspace may be the source of our problem. I know that slab construction is a fairly typical foundation for new construction. Maybe Titan assumes that this unit will be going into a home with a slab foundation? Perhaps entering directly from the ground and into the home with no basement or crawlspace in between insures the water stays above 50 degrees? Even if the water in the pipes comes into the crawl space at 50 degrees, it may loose just enough warmth to slip below that magical threshold?

Or, may be it is just the heater? We've using the highest setting on the heater, and we still end up with the shower faucet cranked all of the way over to hot. And it still doesn’t matter, the water is lukewarm at best.

Apparently, we are not the only folks who've had trouble achieving the elusive Nirvana of hot water. While they suggest that this configuration is for Northern States who have been historically been doomed to suffer cold water, I suspect that by "northern states" they mean to say any state north of Florida. Of course, the cultural and geographical implications of this are pretty staggering. Who knew a water heater could wreck the social fabric of our nation?

So, the Devil that you are, you may be thinking, "Okay, you have two Titan water heaters. Move one and piggy-back them like the diagram above. Problem solved." Well, not really. And don't think we haven't considered it either.

The problems are many fold. Basically, since the Devil Queen was built before in-door plumbing, it has a huge, sprawling water system. You could plumb two or three new-construction homes with the amount of pipe we've run in the Devil Queen. To conserve on pipe and since an individual Titan is meant to service only two bathrooms and a kitchen, the Devil Queen has two separate hot water systems. One services the master bathroom and the hall bathroom and the other the kitchen, a bathroom, and the laundry room.

Over the last nine months or so, we've toyed around with several possible solutions to our problem. There were two basic variations we narrowed it down to:

1) Buy two new Titan heaters and use them to piggy-back the two we already have.
2) Buy two small (10 to 20 gallon) point-of-source, "traditional" hot water heaters and install them in the crawlspace to pre-heat the water before it got to the Titans

We opted for #2. We bought two 18 gallon water heaters and called a plumber to install them because we're sick of plumbing and don't have the time to do it even if we did love plumbing.

Saturday morning the plumber came out to bid the job. His bid was reasonable, but there was one problem, power. The plumber looked at our breaker box and said, "There is no way I can make this work with your box. There just isn't enough power to run all these heaters. The best I can do is take out these [the Titans] and install two 30 or 40 gallon low-boys in the crawlspace."

What is so galling about our breaker box is that it was the largest one we could find at the time. That's right, 200 Amps is barely enough for our 100% electric house. Sigh.

So, last weekend, we took the two 18 gallon heaters back to Lowe's and traded them in for two 38 gallon low-boy heaters. Now we just have to set up a time for the plumber to come and install them. And, if we have any money left over, we're going to have him fix a few sinks too.

There is one good thing about this. By removing the Titans from the pantry and master bedroom closet and placing the new heaters in the crawlspace, we'll regain roughly 10 to 15 square feet of storage space. And, if the hot water heaters ever leak, it'll fill up the crawl space, not the Devil Queen and it's wood floors.

And, since the Titans work (even if they aren't adequate for the Devil Queen), we can put them in storage until we find a new home for them (don't think we haven't been considering this already).

If nothing else, it has definitely been a learning experience.

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Blogger Derek said...

Did you check the anti scald settings on the shower faucet? My brother had a problem with his shower being too cold, even when the conventional tank heater was cranked. It ended up being that the anti-scald wasn't adjusted right on the faucet. Probably not the problem, just a thought. We're hoping to switch to tankless eventually, we'll have to be careful which unit we choose.

2:17 PM  
Blogger John said...

Well, even with our experience, I'd still recommend an on-demand heater. I understand the natural gas models provide better heat, the only downside is that you have to vent them out of the house. The electric ones are good, and most of the newer models have been beefed up (basically two units in one casing). The definately save money in anycase.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous tarr said...

I recently put a single, electric tankless heater in my cabin, largely from reading about yours years ago on your blog. It makes an endless and huge amount of hot water. Which is the point.

The groundwater temperature is 57-58 degrees. (Just for grins, didja know the town of Fifty-six is named for the temperature of its groundwater?)

If you should you be driving up highway 21 to see Boxley, I'd be happy to let you look over the setup just in case, something was done differently. Mine's a Steibel-Eltron not a Titan.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Jason & Heather said...

We have a Titan also, it's fine in the summer but seriously sucks in the winter. We dont have any showers setup yet so we have to take baths, the flow rate is much higher for a bath faucet than for a shower head so the water is barely warm even with the cold all the way off. i'll be insulating the pipes in the crawlspace but dont expect much benefit from it.

I think the Titans are great for South Florida (where they're made) but not much place else...

11:30 AM  
Blogger John said...


I had no idea about 56. I've always wondered about that. Actually, I still do. Is the temperature of the ground water the most impressive feature of the town?


My thoughts exactly.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Tarr said...

Don't know if you would trust a site called ePodunk but this is what they say:

Fifty-six is a city in Stone County.

The community was named for School District No. 56
So either ePodunk or my dim fading memory is wrong. But if it was written on teh internets it must be right.

Fifty-six does have a big honking cave that is 56 degrees most of the time.


I haven't hooked up my whirlpool tub yet but will soon. You people are scaring me.

9:43 AM  
Blogger SmilingJudy said...

I was really jazzed about installing my (gas) on-demand heater. It ended up being nothing but headaches, so it was replaced with a traditional beast. (sigh) I think the plumbing layout is a big deal that people don't take into account.

Anybody wanna buy a top-o-the-line Bosch gas heater? ;)

9:03 AM  

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