Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Water vs. Electrons

I’ve been refining a heuristic for most of my adult life: Electrons scream in terror at my approach (I used to think this was just audio feedback) but water spits in my face.

It’s truly weird looking back across the 40 years that I’ve owned houses. Carol and I are now on our eighth house. At every turn, water was our adversary:

  • At our house in Chicago, we had ice dams in our gutters that caused significant interior leaks and paint damage, during that nasty winter of ’78-79. Also, I put a pipe wrench on a plugged fitting in the basement to replace it…and the fitting crushed into rust, forcing me to call a plumber to finish the job.
  • At our house in Rochester NY, we had water come up through cracks in the basement floor after every bad rain, and again when the snow melted in the spring. The upstairs shower drain leaked down onto the kitchen ceiling once, requiring some significant repair.
  • At our house in Baltimore, a weird combination hot water heater/furnace gave us relatively cool hot water, and not a lot of heat for the house. We only lived there for 23 months; sooner or later I suspect we’d have experienced much worse.
  • At our house in California, the World Series Earthquake in 1989 rocked our hot water heater against its pipes, breaking one of them and flooding the laundry room with hot water. The quake also opened the cabinets across from the hot water heater and dumped several cans of paint on the flooded floor. One can opened up, giving us a laundry room full of hot watery latex paint.
  • At our first house in Scottsdale, a chimney pipe installed upside down funnelled rain water into our bedroom ceiling, causing the wallboard to soften and collapse. Also, the water pressure there was so high that it broke the main water feed to the house, creating a sinkhole.
  • At our second house in Scottsdale, the water pipes under the slab were leaking, and our first monthly water bill was for 30,000 gallons that leaked into the dirt before we even moved into the house.
  • At our house in Colorado Springs, the drain run from the air conditioner plugged up, slowly leaking many gallons of condensate under the downstairs great room carpeting, forcing us to replace all the carpeting on that level. Earlier, after a bad rain the poorly compacted soil under our sidewalk settled, reducing the sidewalk to heaving slabs of rubble. The same thing happened (more slowly) to our driveway.
  • At our new house here in Phoenix, we have already had leaks from the water softener (which I simply bypassed) the reverse osmosis unit (which I replaced) and the continuous icemaker, which I junked. We have a kegerator that I’ve (mercifully) never tried. Mopping up water is bad enough. Mopping up beer–no thanks.

Which brings us to the current day. Yesterday morning Carol woke up to find that her side of the waterbed mattress cover was wet. QBit was sleeping at the corner of the bed, and since he’s about to turn 13, we thought he might have let go during the night. But no–this moisture smelled of plasticizers, not pee. After stripping the bed, we found a small puncture, a slit maybe 1/8″ long, oozing water. It may have been oozing water for a long time. Because it was a puncture, it wasn’t covered under the waterbed’s warranty. The bed is barely two years old. The puncture was on the side of the mattress, not the top, so it’s hard to blame on the dogs, or us, or in fact anything, beyond a sense that water really doesn’t like us.

We’ve had waterbeds for almost 35 years now. We’ve never had one fail. So I shrugged and attached a hose to siphon the remaining water out of the waveless mattress. The siphon got most of the water out. However, a waveless mattress has these fiber batts in it to damp water oscillation. The batts don’t let go of their water easily. A siphon won’t do it. What remains in the waterbed frame is a plastic bag full of saturated fiber batts, the whole California King-sized thing weighing so much that I can’t get it out of the frame to dump it.

Thanks to Amazon Prime, I will have a husky water pump tomorrow morning. Assuming that the pump does suck, I’ll be rid of the mattress by noon. Since the waterbed will soon be empty, we’re going to replace the cheap-ass carpeting in the master bedroom with super-duper pet-stain resistant berber. So there was a hint of silver lining inside that watery cloud.

And we will be ordering a 70s-style “full motion” waterbed mattress, without any damfool foam batting inside it. We had those for years before waveless mattresses were invented. They had their costs (rock’n’roll) and their benefits (guess!) but once the mattresses were empty, I could lift them with one hand.

Water remains my adversary, but I learn fast, and only make mistakes like that once.


  1. Dennis says:

    That’s the problem with water. No nice duality; just wave function. When it collapses, wetness becomes real and observable.

    We have one of those adjustable Sleep Number beds. I can raise the head up and make the dog and cat roll down to the foot and onto the floor. Sometimes I race them for fun.

    I probably need to get a hobby…

  2. Bob Fegert says:


    Water really does seem to hate you guys.

    Stay far away from Hoover dam!

  3. Tom Roderick says:

    Jeff, Stay with electronics. Electricity does NOT leak out of open circuit conductors unless the voltage is pretty high! Water leaks out of everything any chance it gets and into places it never belongs.

    I have never trusted myself to do much of my own plumbing for that (and many other) reasons.

  4. Jasony says:

    On the plus side, when Jeff uses the water analogy to describe electricity he speaks from experience.

  5. Chuck Roste says:

    Me and plumbing (other than changing out a faucet) do not get along! I definitely feel for you.

  6. Lee Hart says:

    I find it much harder to understand and cope with people than electrons. I’d much rather fight with a rebellious circuit than a rebellious toddler. Humans are 99% water; that probably explains the difficulties.

    1. Tom Roderick says:

      Maybe that explains why some of the people I know seem all wet..

  7. paul says:

    I bought my waterbed in ’85. With tax and delivery and “assembly” it was right at $950. Could have gone about $700 cheaper but I wanted a nice piece of furniture. Vanity? Yes.

    In ’14 I noticed a funny smell in the bedroom. Yeah, a pinhole leak soaking a corner of the sheets. I didn’t know you could buy a new mattress. I bought a 10″ thick memory foam mattress on eBay for $250 delivered.

    It’s ok but I’m not a fan. It’s cold when I go to bed, it soaks heat and then I’m burning up. I have 4 pins in one thigh near the hip and it sorta hurts laying on that side unless I have my leg just right.

    I miss my waterbed.

  8. Paul says:

    I can relate, water stresses me out. We had a rental house that I started to think was jinxed.

    First tenant decided to move in with her boyfriend, but kept the rental as she wasn’t sure it would work – we found out about this after the fact. The temperature here was unusually cold, in the high teens for a week or so, and when it warmed up we had calls about water coming from the walls of the house. She had turned off the heat to save money while she was living elsewhere. Her comment was “it’s obviously not insulated very well if the pipes froze.” I was speechless.

    Second episode, a different tenant was watering plants in the yard from their garden hose. They needed a little more length, and kept jerking on the hose until they pulled the hose bib out of the wall, shattering the cpvc (that stuff should be illegal) inside.

    I used to LOVE my waterbed, and I honestly didn’t know anyone still sold them. I remember we had to “burp” them occasionally to remove the bubbles that would slosh around inside.

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