Now I Have to Worry about Midgets


Yesterday was busy at Sassafras Farm. There were so many people here! Two deliveries–I’ve started ordering some of the supplies and equipment for the workshop kitchen. Just a few. (I’m over-eager.)

One delivery was a new pressure canner. (The other delivery was actually something for Morgan.) The pressure canner I’ve been using is 50 years old. Nothing against older canners, as long as they still test accurate, but they’re not ideal for teaching purposes.

Then! A man from the electric company shows up. He said, “I’m here to turn off your electric.”

Me: “But I pay my bill!”

He said the studio was a separate meter and nobody had been paying it.

Me: “I didn’t know it was a separate meter!”

He said, “Good thing you were home.”

He told me to call the electric company and set up the separate account for the studio. He went away without turning off the electricity. Whew. It’s always a surprise around here!

And behold, the naked studio:

Everything has been torn out–walls and floors. The best part is that nothing will be wasted. I gave the carpeting to Debbie. (Those of you who were at the retreat will remember our retreat cook, Debbie. She has a room in her house that needs carpeted. The paneling materials will be repurposed for other projects, too.)

Dave and Matt have also been working on the studio plumbing.

Meanwhile, I spent several hours gardening. Remember this area that needed a hair cut and a clean-out?

I cleaned it all up, including tearing down some of the ivy from the cellar.

And I mulched. And mulched. AND MULCHED. And still didn’t finish mulching. There are some perennials in there, and I was careful to mulch around them.

Then Dave and Matt said they had to figure out where the water heater was in the house. I said, “There’s not a water heater in the house. The water heater is in the cellar.”

No, no, no, they were convinced there was another water heater–in the house.

This is not a big house! Where could a water heater hide? Then I remembered that I had suspected that there was an opening behind the little built-in shelves in the dining room. I’d suspected it when I’d been painting in there. I had stuff on the shelves, though, and was too lazy to take it all down to see.

So I took it all down so we could see.

And they pried the shelves out.

And whaddya know, there’s a water heater!

Debbie was still here. She said, “Suzanne, that’s where they’re going to hide if someone is lying in wait for you.”

I said, “You mean a midget????? NOBODY COULD FIT IN THERE!”

In fact, the water heater can barely fit in there and the wall was put up AFTER the water heater was put in there, apparently. The water heater is WALLED IN. It will NOT fit back out of that opening. (Remember all the stuff about the stairs? How the stairs were rearranged and the wall changed at some point in the past? It’s all related. See The Short and Incomplete History of the Stairs.)

Dave said, “If you ever wanted to replace that water heater, you’d have to take this wall down to get it out.”


Then he told me that if the water heater ever needed replaced he could bypass it and I could run the hot water from the water heater in the cellar. So I cancelled the heart attack I was about to have.

This house just love to play with me. It thinks it’s so amusing.


  1. Bev in CA says:

    There is always something when working a project. You might want to consider tearing out the wall now. If you are going to have a commercial enterprise you might just need a bigger hot water tank to keep up with the demand of using and needing lots of hot water.
    For all the cooking, canning, cheese making, etc., and all the cleaning up. Suzanne, I know you really wanted to hear that. Sometimes it is easier to go ahead now than wish you had done so later. Just a thought.

  2. easygoinglady says:

    Well likely the water heater in the cellar is the one for the studio. I would say they just needed to verify the existence of a separate one for the studio.
    Apparently you house likes to keep you on your toes…LOL.
    The progress is so exciting, isnt it?

  3. Blessings says:

    I call those kinds of “strange things” a “blessings in disguise”…better to know where the water heater is now , than if it would need repair later..I agree with Bev in CA..tackle it now with the whole project…50 gallon!!! ~~HUGS~~

  4. cincyjojo says:

    I, for one, have had a waterheater leak and needed to be replaced. If possible I would relocate the waterheater out of the walls and into an area that would not damage your floors and walls. They always leak when you aren’t home or you’re sleeping. If you do choose to leave it where it is…know where your water shutoff for the house is located or have them put shutoff valves on it if you decide to leave it where it is.

  5. bonita says:

    Im sort of with cincyjojo. My own preference would be to drain it and by-pass it now while work is being done. No need to rip it out, just wall up the empty water heater. (If you include a cask of Amontillado in the niche, you can call it literature in situ.) At least you won’t have to rip the wall out when it starts to leak in the middle of a below zero spell right after you’ve done work in the house. Make it inoperative now.

  6. Diane says:

    Funny what old house show you. If you are not going to replace the water heater I would put a hinge on that shelving and make it a door. Or put a door on there so you can get at it more easily.

  7. CindyP says:

    At least you have a nice electric man!!!

    What’s behind the rest of the wall? Is that the stair wall? Is your hot water in the house coming from there? Like others have said, I would have it moved or something while its still operating! But after the Studio! You don’t want Dave and Matt out there in the middle of winter figuring all that out.

  8. wildcat says:

    A secret hot water heater! I wonder what else you’ll find over time! Maybe you should look under the stairs! LOL

  9. BuckeyeGirl says:

    That is a crazy spot for a water heater!!! What the heck can you put on those shelves? It’s just… crazy!

  10. BuckeyeGirl says:

    Oh, and I meant to say that it is a good thing you were home, but it’s even BETTER that it’s a separate meter!

    Since it’s where you’ll be running your classes and clinics, and developing recipes and perfecting them for your cookbook (and your website!) and making soaps and who knows what all else. Where meetings will be held and where farmstead meals cooked etc etc, it’ll be part of your business expenses and easy to keep track of as such.

  11. City Kid says:

    For what it’s worth, I concur with cincyjo and bonita: A tank full of water behind a wall is a disaster waiting to happen. Empty that sucker and bypass it now, while you have construction types available to do it and before you get to find out just how far water can travel into walls and floors.

  12. JerseyMom says:

    So long as the water heater in the cellar can keep up with your needs I’d bypass now as well….as long as you have people with plumbing knowledge on sight you might as well be proactive. One less potential surprise lurking!

  13. brookdale says:

    Do you ever hear chuckling in the night? It’s the house laughing!
    Seriously, what people said about relocating or bypassing the tank is GOOD advice. We had a tank leak once, of course we didn’t know it for days, it ruined the dining room floor, and it was just a little drip.
    At least, my advice would be to put the shelf on hinges for better access. Oh, and is it a gas or an electric heater? I would think gas would be kinda dangerous closed in like that!
    By the way, the studio is lookin’ good! Glad you’re recycling the demolition materials.

  14. Cousin Sheryl says:

    I find that I am agreeing with everyone that says, “Drain the walled-in water heater and get one in the cellar that can serve both the house and the studio.” That water heater under the stairs in a catastrophe waiting to happen. I have had my water heater leak in my house and water ran under the wall and soaked my living room carpet. I think I would be tempted to bypass that thing while you have professional help available. Also, I would seriously think about getting a “tankless” hot water heater while you are doing it. The tankless heater only heats the water as you need it, thereby saving on energy costs. (Of course, you might have to limit teenagers to only half-hour showers – LOL). I will tell Cousin Mark about this and you can bounce ideas off him tomorrow on your way to Master Gardener class. Talk to you later – have a fun day!

  15. perry says:

    I think the lady who lived there before you knew it was going to take a very strong person to carry on the “wonderful” traditions of Sassafras Farm and especially a woman who could appreciate all of the vagaries of it. She was right, the house was just waiting for you to take care of it properly. 🙂

  16. TeaCup says:

    Well, your house DOES have character! What else would a fiction writer have?

    If you drain the water heater, could you move it? Would it be cheaper than bypassing it? I don’t like the idea of a water heater in the walls either particularly. So, more decisions on your part!

    If it becomes inoperable, you can always use it as a safe. if I remember correctly MEN had plans, although I can’t find them online. I have, of course, the old MEN index. If/when I locate that, I’ll see if I can find the issue for you!


  17. willsahna says:

    Okay I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’ve got to change that water heater arrangement! The first thing I thought when I saw the pic was that it is a disaster waiting to happen. It will have a problem and it will need to be replaced. It just a matter of time. They do not last forever. Every house I’ve ever lived in for any length of time has made me deal with a water heater in some way. They leak, coils need changing, they just quit, or something. It should have a date on it and that can give you some idea of how long you have, maybe, hahaha. If that one acts up and you have to get it out it’s gonna be an ugly mess. I’d either drain it and wall it up or take it out now and relocate it. At the least you need to make the opening bigger and put a door on it and make sure it is sitting in a deep drain pan. I reallybthinknyour best option is to replace it with an instant hot water heater. They are much smaller, just a box on the wall and you would get rid of all these risk issues. More expensive to start with, but more economical in the long run. I’d do it all now while you have the guys there and are having to deal with work being done. Then you’d know it’s one less thing to deal with later. And you really need to have the studio on a separate electric and water meter for your taxes, so the electric guy showing up was a blessing in disguise. And if you can get the water heaters separate that would be the best.

  18. Camille says:

    “God is happy, Msabu. He plays with us”. Quick! – what movie is that from? 😆

    I always think of that quote, especially when things go kaflooey, one after the other, at our house! Very good advice from everyone. So make sure you get that rascally water heater to a place that it can do no damage if it ever leaks. We’re still dealing with the results of one letting go in our finished basement a few months ago…arrghh!

  19. Murphala says:

    In my house, some brilliant person decided that it would be OK to install the furnace downstairs, immediately under the upstairs bathroom. Which had an outside pipe. Which froze. Which then burst. etc. etc. It’s still painful to think about. Move that water heater now, while you can! and use the space as your canning pantry!

  20. Sue, a Florida Farm Girl says:

    Ah, Camille. My very favorite movie of all time!!!! I can quote so much of the script by heart!!

    What a weird place for a water heater. I’d be inclined to move it, too, if I could. Perhaps before the boys leave the construction project. And, if a tankless water heater can be installed somewhere, all the better. We worked as volunteers one summer at a VERY busy large campground and they had installed the tankless water heaters in the bath houses. Worked like a charm!!!

  21. shirley T says:

    I agree with all the above. My water heater is located in the walls between the bathroom and the bedroom. I kept feeling the hallway carpet being wet~ the bathroom had no carpet so I didn’t notice it there. We had an elderly dog at the time and we kept thinking that it was her wetting the floor~ We would dry it up and in no time it was wet again~we knew then something else was wrong. The carpet on the bedroom closet floor was also wet. After checking everything else we could ~~discovered the water heater had sprung a leak. Could have done a lot more damage had we been gone for a while. ” A stitch in time saves nine.” good luck

  22. SanAntonioSue says:

    Oh, Suzanne! Please have the fellas drain that thing and get rid of any gas, water and electric lines running to it!! From your pic, it appears there may be some rust on the outside which indicates a possible tiny leak already?? Water heaters are notoriously fickle and repairs from water damage expensive. Peace of mind would be well worth the expense to purchase a new heavy duty heater and hoses and have it relocated to a safer location. We just replaced all hoses( sinks, washing machine, water heater, toilets, ice maker, dishwasher) and placed big dishpans under any area possible to catch future drips after discovering a tiny hot water drip under a seldom used bathroom sink. A friend was not so lucky. She came home after a week long trip to discover a toilet had sprung a small hose leak. It flooded her whole house. All of her beautiful wooden parquet floors warped, popped and had to be removed, the sheetrock soaked up quite a bit and some wood furniture was ruined. It took 2 months (spent living in a hotel) to have a professional company completely repair and dry her house out enough to be livable again.
    The mulched area looks sooo much better! I can already picture in my mind: flowers, butterflies, bees, birds and Clover skipping through with a bonnet on her head and an Easter basket around her neck saying “Eggs!! Where are the cookie-flavored eggs, Woman??!!” 😉

  23. SarahGrace says:

    What wonderful fun memories each step of the way!

  24. MousE says:

    Oh Suzanne. The surprises just. keep. coming. The Gods must be crazy. Anyway I vote with everyone else when I agree that the crazy water heater should be moved/bypassed. Jeepers. No more of THAT. =D Congratulations on your successful Kickstarter! And that garden looks wonderful. :snoopy:

  25. BuckeyeGirl says:

    Oh…. tankless in-line water heater. What a fantastic idea! Probably expensive initially, but in the long run, safer, more efficient and better in that small spot, possibly/probably paying for itself in the long run. Worth some thought!

  26. manlovea says:

    Suzanne…no one else is going to say it, but I am…what kind of idiot walls in a water heater!!! Oh my gosh! I really think it’s exciting that you found a space behind that shelf, but a water heater isn’t the best of ideas to be there! Don’t you just have to wonder about people some time? Wouldn’t a “good” carpenter have some major reservations about doing something like that and try to talk the homeowner out of it! Wow…that just blows my mind!

    I pray that any more suprises you find about your beautiful home are the good kind and not the kind that make you go “huh?” OR BROKE!!! 🙂

    ~Amy in WI

  27. bonita says:

    oh, and check out the feds. . . they may still be offering some $$ towards you putting in an energy-efficient H20 heater. In fact, keep track of an energy-efficient items you install, then when you have a minute (ha) you can research any rebate/tax break offers And…someone with a good sawsall® or similar can saw that sucker into pieces to get it out of the niche, that way you destroy no walls.

  28. dmcfarland says:

    Ditto on all the advice to remove or eliminate this potential disaster. AND insurance claims for water damage and/or possible mold are not something you want on your account. Perfect timing to discover this goof.

  29. whaledancer says:

    Another vote for bypassing that water heater now, from another person who had one fail and flood the floor. We had to replace the oak parquet. We no longer have the water heater in an inside closet.

    It would have been nice to know that the studio was on a separate electric meter. Too many surprises! But ultimately it will probably be a good thing, because it will make it easier to keep your business expenses separate from personal expenses when doing your taxes.

    Hmm, all that leftover paneling. I’m picturing a paneled chicken house. :heart:

  30. Ross says:

    I repair houses for a living. At the very least build a door with shelves to provide access to the water heater still have the storage space. The outer edge of the door may have to be supported by a caster wheel. I hate it when people don’t make access easy for replacing things that have predictable life expectancies.

  31. sunhurteyes says:

    I love your good-naturedness and how you take all things in stride.

  32. lavenderblue says:

    Okay, I can’t stand it! What is the movie reference? MousE said “The Gods Must Be Crazy” which was one of my Dad’s favorite movies but it seems as if I would remember that. Goodness knows I’ve seen it enough, but it was many, many years ago.

    It sounds like something from a Bogart movie. Whatever it is I think it will become a new favorite quote around here.

    Suzanne, I love the way you see a thing and do it. I am a procrastinator. I have to look at things from every angle and the repercussions of my actions 50 years hence. So stuff just doesn’t get done.

  33. birdog1381 says:

    The movie is “Out of Africa”. One of the best ever made.

  34. birdog1381 says:

    Also, and I hope this is helpful, I would totally get a tankless hot water heater installed and drain/ditch the one under the stairs. All hot water heaters fail, generally about one day to a few months after the warranty expires. I know this from sad multiple experiences. Sorry if this is stating the obvious, but when you tear into an older home you always find surprises, so I was glad you took in an extra few bucks from the Kickstarter project. I think a tankless HWH would be a great thing for a commercial kitchen on private property. They are about twice the price but I think they pay off in the long run, so if you plan on staying at your farm for the long haul, it would be worth it. Best to you. 🙂 Kate
    (Further, since I’m being wordy, I’m glad you got out of your crap situation. I have done that, too. Stayed for far too long.

  35. JeannieB says:

    Down south, a lot of folks are now putting the water heaters outside in a little shed rght near the house. I would get rid of the small water heater as others suggested. Check with your electric co-op, they replaced our water heater with a 80 gal and I pay a small monthly fee. They did not charge for the water heater, and the monthly fee covers free replacement and maintenance if needed.

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