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NOVEMBER 24, 2007   More below: JUNK MAIL 

Saturday afternoon

Tools spread out on floor near water heaterDetail of manifold door assembly

A few months ago I talked about the water heater troubles I was having, basically a pilot light that would shut off for no apparent reason, sometimes once a day or more.

Long story short, it's a crappy product made by Whirlpool, sold at Lowe's, and now the object of a class-action lawsuit. The apparent problem is a defective thermocouple, although the cheery customer-service person I talked to said it was my fault for not cleaning under the tank once a month!

I bought a new thermocouple (about $12) long ago but avoided the job of replacing it—the instructions looked pretty intimidating. After several unexpected lukewarm baths and showers last week I decided it was time to bite the bullet and replace the darn thing.

I assembled all my open-end wrenches, hoping to find the two I needed, got out a 1/4 inch nut driver, screwdriver, toothbrush (don't ask), flashlight, and tore open the blister-pack that held the thermocouple. It's a tubular gizmo attached to a brass (?) rod that's bent in several places. In the big picture it's on the floor at lower left by the pencil; in the inset photo it forms a "Z" from top left to bottom center.

I'd mentally prepared myself for a 2-3 hours job, but miraculously it took just over an hour. Now the heater seems to be working fine, but since the problem has always been intermittent we won't know if it's fixed until several months go by. The water heater has a 9-year warranty; today is four years to the day since it was installed. I could rant on about both Whirlpool and Lowe's for how they've handled this, but for the time being I'm going to just keep my fingers crossed that I don't have to do this again. The class-action settlement calls for me to get reimbursed for up to three new thermocouples!

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Get less junk mail!

You know the drill—go to the mailbox around this time of the year and it's full of catalogs. If you're like me you throw most of them directly into the recycle bin, along with the envelopes holding "irresistable" offers of new credit cards. You've probably thought many times "if only I could get my name off these lists, like I can sign up for the Do-Not-Call Registry for telephone solicitations."

You can. There are a number of online services that will help, but many charge a fee. Here are two free services that should help reduce your junk mail dramatically. A third charges $1.

To stop getting credit-card offers, go to OptOutPrescreen.com:

...a centralized service to accept and process requests from consumers to "Opt-In" or “Opt-Out” of firm offers of credit or insurance. OptOutPrescreen.com is a joint venture among Equifax Information Services, LLC, Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Innovis Data Solutions, Inc., and TransUnion, LLC (collectively the "Consumer Credit Reporting Companies").

...Once you provide your information through this secure website, your name will be removed from inclusion on firm offer lists provided by all four companies.

To stop getting catalogs, go to CatalogChoice.com:

...a sponsored project of the Ecology Center. It is endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and funded by the Overbrook Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, and the Kendeda Fund.

The mission of Catalog Choice is to reduce the number of repeat and unsolicited catalog mailings, and to promote the adoption of sustainable industry best practices. We aim to accomplish this by freely providing the Catalog Choice services to both consumers and businesses. Consumers can indicate which catalogs they no longer wish to receive, and businesses can receive a list of consumers no longer wanting to receive their catalogs.

Catalog Choice logoThe Catalog Choice website couldn't be easier to use: fill out basic information (name, address, email address) to register, then go to an alphabetical list of about 1200 catalogs. Type in your customer number (if you have one) and click "Decline Catalog." That's it. And should you change your mind in the future you can always go to "My Choices" and ask to be put back on the list.

And finally, the Direct Marketing Association, the industry trade organization, offers their Mail Preference Service that puts your name and address on a "Do-not-mail" list that their members are required to use. There is a $1 fee to register.

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