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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summer Showers Bring Only Goose Bumps

A few things will lower your rent in this city. There are things perceived as prestigious, which you pay for, and things that are not. For one, living on the top floor is viewed as an unfavorable arrangement, as popular wisdom tells us the ceilings leak after a heavy rain. Conversely, the first floor is no more desirable -- consider the bars on your windows, the lack-of-balcony factor and the drawn shades. To chip further away at the price block add a kolonka -- a Soviet-era water heater -- to the equation. Kolonkas are standard in buildings that are not attached to the central water heating system.

Friends will laugh when you say you rented an apartment with a kolonka; they'll double over when you describe how each morning you have to fumble with a matchbox to light the thing so you can wash your face with warm water. But when summer rolls around you'll have the last laugh, when a long line of friends, acquaintances and people you met at a party last autumn forms at your front door, all begging you to let them take a shower when the central water heating is switched off in their areas for prophylactic maintenance.

As we've seen, kolonkas have their pluses and minuses, but we wouldn't even be discussing the outdated contraptions if the heating company could figure out a way to keep the hot water running year round. Unfortunately, this, according to experts, is impossible. Every year, Mosenergo thermal-network crews drain the city's pipes, sections at a time, to pressurize them, check for damage and make repairs. Typically this process takes 21 days.

You're not likely to know until a few days before your hot water is cut just which three weeks are to become your personal cold water purgatory. Schedules are inconsistent from summer to summer because maintenance depends largely on the condition of the pipes in your area in any given year.

Viktor Yermakov, head dispatcher at the Tverskaya area Mosgorteplo division responsible for carrying hot water from major pipes to homes in the city center, explained the situation. "If we had higher quality pipes, then they would last longer, and we wouldn't have to check them as often." He said Mosenergo, the city power company, coordinates a schedule for the shutdown of its major pipelines with Mosgorteplo.

Mosenergo operates 12 thermoelectric stations throughout the city, each with its own network of pipes to operate. All but one of these networks will be cutting hot water service for the standard 21 days. But Network No. 2 is trying a hot water experiment for the second year in a row and cutting the shutdown time by one-third.

"You can't hire more people to do the work faster because the machinery won't allow work to move quicker, so how do you cut the time it takes to maintain the pipes?" asked the deputy head of the area network, Oleg Kozlin. "There's only one way," he said in between signing a pile of documents: "Decrease the length of sections that you do work on and do more sections simultaneously."

This seemingly simple idea has cut five days of cold water out of the lives of everyone living in a southeastern district of Moscow. Network No. 2's head Alexander Ponomarenko came up with the idea of increasing the number of pumps his subdivision uses from two to four, making it possible to work on the same length of pipes as before but cutting the work into two shorter stages.

Any less time would lower the quality of maintenance, Kozlin said. "And then the pipes could burst in the middle of the winter, and no heat in the winter is much worse than no hot water in the summer," he said.

So less maintenance time is not something to look forward to. In fact, even Ponomarenko's experiment may not spread to the rest of the city. "These things just depend on the personal desires of the head of each area network. If he wants to make an improvement there are ways to do it, but most are happy to keep things as they are," Kozlin said.

Of course, you could also buy a water heater to turn on for those three weeks. Heaters cost $150 to $400, depending on the quantity of water they heat, and installation is an extra 1,000 to 1,500 rubles.

Kozlin concluded on a positive note: "When every meter of pipe from each building to the thermoelectric station is replaced, we'll be able to shorten maintenance time even further." He offered no information on the dynamics of that process.