Burned: The Steamed Vinegar Edition

Previously on Garbanzo Beans for Breakfast: Lynn used the internet to burn cheese. Meanwhile, plumbers are converging on the new house on Riverwalk Drive.

There are many decisions to make when having a house built, and we may have been the project that broke our contractor. In the aftermath of our house he thought that rather than just turning people loose on the internet or even in the confines of a big box store, he would suggest four or five choices and let clients choose among those.

I don’t know whether he has done that, but I also don’t think I struggled with as many decisions as he thought I did. A lot of our difficulties together stemmed from me knowing what I wanted, but not being able to find it. Neither Lynn nor I, for instance, was particularly interested in the acrylic insert shower/bathtub units he assumed we would want.

Or maybe I would have been, had I not gone to the internet — the same internet that told Lynn melting cheese in a toaster was a good idea — and fastened my eyes on a blingy self-contained steam shower unit. It looked very futuristic and spacelike. How could I possibly not want this?

Tracking an actual unit down was harder than the internet first made it appear, and the one I set my eyes on first was not up to code requirements. So it took a long time and made it look like I was being indecisive, but eventually we found our way to the Ariel Bath Company, a company I cannot in good conscience recommend to anyone.

While I was wending my way in this direction, Lynn found her soaker tub and a corner shower unit with lots of angles, because we like angles far more than Dusty does.

It may be that he has a point, although everyone who pokes their head into Lynn’s bathroom (not that anyone has for a year now) admires the zen look of it, aided I’m sure by the feng shui of the shower. And I didn’t hear a peep out of anyone, Dusty or Ben the plumber, while they were installing her shower. But it does not hold the water inside like it’s supposed to.

I knew Lynn was putting down a towel on the outside of the door, but it wasn’t until she required assistance with showering post-surgery that I learned it has also been leaking at a corner, staining the baseboard and leaving the drywall misshapen. Perhaps spilling lots of water into the wall, for all I know. The “towel” solution didn’t seem like a good one to me.

Then this being 2021, which so far isn’t any great shakes above 2020, and we all know how that went, the pipes in my bathroom started rattling every time water got turned off. And then my shower stopped steaming.

Here’s where the Ariel Bath Company goes awry: it pretends it designs its bath fixtures and then farms it out to a Chinese manufacturer. In reality, what happens is that it imports existing units as is, slaps a sticker with their name on it, and then takes no responsibility for any of it. There is no attempt to figure out how the unit works, no attempt to do a better job of translating the instructions from the absolutely awful Chinglish they come in, no attempt to help customers out whatsoever. They even go so far as to erase reviews with negative points in them. Like I said: I won’t be recommending the Ariel Bath Company to anyone.

However: I love my steam shower. I steam, then I use water spouts that come from three different directions; sometimes I take a bath with jets, and I do it all to classical music from Colorado Public Radio while basking under two LED lighting systems. If I really knew what I was doing, I think I could take phone calls in there and never leave.

It did take over a year to figure out all the controls (the ones that look like Klingon symbols nominally adjust the rate for running water through the assorted tub jets), and I have never located the “cleanser inlet.”

The “Dirt elimination device of steam house instructions” are no help whatsoever, showing drawings of a hand near a box that doesn’t appear to actually exist. Neither is the Ariel Bath Company helpful. Their response was to send me 10-second video clips showing hands holding assorted parts. I have yet to locate anything that looks like a “cleanser inlet” anywhere in the front or back of the unit. Nor has anyone else.

Which means my steam generator has not been cleaned since it first got used in August 2019. I keep looking, and asking, like when Mike came to service the boiler, but no one seems able to answer my questions as to how to go about this. And now my shower has stopped steaming.

So: leaky shower destroying the wall; pipes rattling in yet another wall doing who knows what damage; and a broken steam shower. Time to contact Alpha Mechanical yet again. By now I should just have them on speed dial.

This time Josh came out, a very experienced, knowledgeable fellow. He went into the crawlspace, then knelt by the bathroom wall. The only way to get to the rattle is to cut through the new drywall. But because it’s Pex and not copper pipe, there shouldn’t be any danger of anything rattling loose. For now I will live with the rattle and just grow more irritated at our original party boy plumber.

Josh shook his head at what he deemed an overabundance of caulking showing at the base of Lynn’s shower, then laid a fine bead around the interior seams. He purposely left the outside uncaulked for now to allow him to make sure that’s where the leakage is coming from, and inspected the wall and baseboard in the guest room to make sure it didn’t seem like water is sloshing around in the wall.

Then we got to the steam shower. It didn’t seem to flummox him as much as it has everyone else, although there still isn’t any obvious “cleanser inlet.” He separated a tube from the unit and immediately noticed the scale from our very hard water. I handed him a jug of white vinegar and he poured it in.

It bubbled bigger than a baking soda volcano, rising clear up into the tube he reattached. Eventually it subsided, and that’s when we learned what can stink up this house worse than cheese on a toaster: Vinegar catching fire in a steam generator.

I don’t know what we did, honestly, and Alpha cleans many steam generators with vinegar, but turning this one on after the bubbling subsided resulted in foul smoke billowing in the shower while some blackish-brown substance trickled out of the steam outlet down into the tub. It was a very Hollywood ending for my steam unit, which refused to turn back on even after Josh flushed it with pint upon pint of cold water.

Josh did some preliminary research from the office Friday afternoon, although it wasn’t going well, so I don’t know what this means for my steam shower. Maybe it has to become a blingy non-steam shower, and my sinuses and I will have to be sad about that. Not sad like when I hear the pipes rattle or see the water discoloration on Lynn’s baseboard, because Ben could have and should have done better, but he’s not around to care and no one else is going to.

But no one can figure out the steam shower, not even the company whose name is on it, which makes it hard to blame Ben no matter how much I want to. In the meantime, we can at least hope that Lynn and I have learned our lessons about the evils of smoking.

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