The bane of my existence

One of the most frustrating things I\'ve encounteredYes, we’re talking about that white box you see on your left. I first encountered it in Chile, when I was studying abroad and living with a slightly eccentric Chilean family. If I didn’t remind them to turn on the calefont, I would have an ice cold shower. Or sometimes I would be surprised out of a mid-shower reverie by a blast of frigid water due to someone turning the apparatus off. [Yes, yes, I know millions of people all over the world survive without hot running water. But I had come from the U.S., where the water in my shower always ran hot if you waited long enough.]

So I wasn’t exactly surprised to find a calefont in my new home in Madrid. I was quickly corrected by my Spanish roommates that it was not a calefont but rather a calentador (heater). OK, whatever. The White Box That Heats Water made it known in a few short days that it was a royal pain in the culo, that the gas would turn off when it wanted to, and then it was all but impossible to turn it back on again. We finally devised a system whereby we’d take turns holding the pilot until enough gas was in the chamber (generally upwards of five minutes of pushing your thumb into a button) and the flame would stay lit.

But the problem persisted, the Box turned off and lighting the damn thing didn’t get any easier. We finally called servicio técnico, who sent a repair guy who proclaimed the Box very dirty and said we should do a better job of maintenance. Said repair guy (reported my German roommate Inga) was muy muy guapo. This was December 2005.

Fast forward to April 2008. In the more than two year interim, the guapo repair guy had returned at least once, the Box continued to turn itself off when it pleased, but the re-lighting process had become considerably shorter and easier. But in April of this year of economic crises, strange weather, and an incredibly drawn out primary season, the Box turned itself off, and none of the six residents in my flat could turn it on. We called servicio técnico, they would send someone that day (urgente) for 120 euros, or sometime in the next one to three days for 60.

I had already begun bathing myself in the old-fashioned style, that is heating water and pouring it over my head. (I had done this once before in early 2006 when I returned from Christmas holidays, the Box was turned off, and I, alone in the house, had no idea how to turn it on again, and desperately needed a pre-party shower.) It’s a slow system, but it works. Lucky for us, the guapo returned the following day (I again missed his lovely visage due to occupational obligations), fixed something, said the Box had been leaking, and we had a glorious 24 hours of hot showers before it turned off again Saturday afternoon and refused to turn on again.

And then water started to drip from the Box. A lot. We filled Tupperwares every few hours. So this week the guapo returned, inspected the Box in a rare moment it was not leaking at all, promptly lit the thing, and probably walked off muttering about what a bunch of nincompoops we were. My roommate who attended him was surely too embarrassed to insist that, no, it really had been leaking.

Well, I’ve got news for you, Sr. Guapo who I’ve never seen: the Box is still dripping several days later after you marched in and said it was fine. It started promptly after you left and hasn’t stopped. We still have our precious hot water, but I fear that at any moment it could turn itself off and be very ornery when we attempt to turn it on again.

And this is one thing that makes me miss home.

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8 Responses to “The bane of my existence”


  1. 1 Andrew Friday, 11 April, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Do you own the flat? Or do you rent?

    Did you pay for the repairs? Is this not the responsibility of the landlord? (I come from the UK, the landlord is responsible there)

    If it’s the landlords responsibility ask him for a NEW boiler!

  2. 2 Katie Friday, 11 April, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    We rent and don’t pay for the repairs. We should ask our landlord for a new water heater, but, I can’t really explain why we haven’t. She’s incredibly tight-fisted, and I think we all know it would mean a lot of wasted energy on our part. We’ll see what happens when we call again about the continued leak.

  3. 3 Andrew Sunday, 13 April, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    I had the same problem a couple of years ago. Tightest landlord imaginable. We faught over a new bathroom door (the old one had huge gaps in it, not much of a door) and then the boiler. Eventually he gave in about the boiler after badgering and badgering him. But at the end of the day he is legally responsible for the heating – I don’t know what it is like here.

  4. 4 Charisma Monday, 14 April, 2008 at 10:37 am

    I shuddered when I saw that picture. It [the calentador] had been the source of many disputes at my old apartment. Our landlord finally replaced the thing…3 months of cold showers later, and shortly before I left. It was like, “thanks, so, SO much for attending to it.”

  5. 5 Carl Monday, 14 April, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    My first experience with Spanish water heaters was with a very small electric one. At least it was sort of hot … for about four minutes of water. It sounds like that would be a luxury for you. I used to dream of a very big American-style water heater and plan how I was going to install it in the tiny apartment.

    How about pooling your money from the six roommates and buying a new one? Then send the bill to the landlady. I understand that you probably would not get reimbursed.

  6. 6 miamired Monday, 12 May, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Hearing you loud and clear from Córdoba. Oh, how I hate the calentador and the fact it seems to calentar solo de vez en cuando…

  7. 7 Ray Tibbitts Thursday, 12 June, 2008 at 3:51 am

    So true. “Always on” hot water – yeah, right!

    I am so glad that I finally moved into a place with a good old fashioned tank-style heater.


  1. 1 Friday Flooding … | Cosmos Trackback on Saturday, 12 April, 2008 at 11:04 pm
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