Fixing the Hot Water. In Dec. ’04 or so, I had been living in the RV long enough that I’d noticed that the hot water was intermittent. I’d flick on the switch for the gas to start and sometimes nothing would happen. Flipping it off and on would often get it to fire but as time passed, that method became less and less effective. What’s supposed to happen when you switch on the water heater is a red light comes on, then if the burner lights and begins heating water, it shuts off the light. Confusing, I know. I’ll get to that later. Over several weeks, I ran many tests and found that one of the two thermostats, the ‘High Limit Switch’, was giving me odd readings.
The repair records for the RV didn’t show any work done on the water heater so I decided to replace some of the parts eventually but in the meantime, I just made up a jumper and shorted out the offending thermostat. My quick fix worked for several weeks and then the problem reappeared. It was still intermittent so I only missed having a hot shower while camping a couple of times. By August ’05, I’d grown tired of messing with the situation and did some searches on the web looking for repair parts. I compared replacing parts with just replacing the entire tank while I was searching. Repairing came out ahead as it was $300 less expensive than buying a new tank, even if I installed it myself. I also checked the tank to make sure that it wasn’t in too bad of shape and would give me a few more years of service if I repaired it. I found the best replacement parts I could at the best prices and since the supplier turned out to be in Forest Grove, Oregon, very near where I hang out in Gresham, Oregon, I just stopped by on my way to my stomping ground. While wandering around their facility, I discovered a reasonable price on an electrical heater element that installed directly into the drain of my gas-heated tank. Since it was only $70, I picked it up along with a new ESI module, and an ECO/TStat kit to replace the old thermostats. The whole group of parts came to just under $200. And no sales taxes in Oregon. I’d already replaced the weeping pressure relief valve ($12) months before so I didn’t need to deal with that. The ESI (Electronic Spark Ignition) module was smaller than the one I replaced so I had to drill a hole for a self tapping screw, that allowed two screws to hold the module. Then I replaced both the ECO (Emergency Cut Off) and TStat (Thermostat) devices. All these parts are easily accessible behind the water heater door. I tested everything and it all worked, didn’t cut out or anything so I was good to go. With everything working it was time to install the ‘Hot Rod’ branded heating element. I have a 6-gallon tank so I bought the 425-Watt, 4 Amp heater that comes with an Anode, a thermostat and an electrical cord with 3-prong plug. After cooling and draining the tank, it’s an easy job to select the correct sized collar for the rod, install it in the tank, zip tie the thermostat to the top of the relief valve, wire it up and tape everything in place. My model Bounder has a set of patio outlets within a few inches of the tank so I just plug in the heater whenever I park and have electric. Otherwise the cord is coiled up inside the water heater cover. Nothing attached to the hot rod overheats even if I’m using gas so it works out pretty well. Here are some shots of the water heater and it’s new parts, the gray device in the upper right is the new ESI module:
This shot is a little closer:
Take a look at the wires there. See that one white cover there with the bend in it? That covers the ‘thermal fuse’ device. I hate those things because they just go out for no reason, far too often. When I saw there was one there, I immediately checked it whenever I had a failure of the hot water. It was always good until one time…and I had already bought a package of a ‘nearby’ temp rating at Radio Shack so I had it in stock when if failed. But before I replaced it, I just shorted it out with a jumper wire so I could keep traveling. Then when I arrived at a park where I’d be hanging out for several days, I went ahead and replaced the jumper with a new thermal fuse.
If you have a ‘dead’ water heater, that’s the first device you should check. If it open circuits, the ESI won’t work, so you’ll not have flame, and so…no hot water.
When I’m parked, here’s where I plug in the electric ‘Hot Rod’:
It’s really convenient. And after a few hours, depending on ambient temps, I’ll have enough hot water to do dishes or take a Navy type shower. Not both mind you, one at a time with a delay between. When it’s fairly cold outside, I’ll switch on the propane to get it up to heat. If I do that, I can also take a longer, closer to normal length shower.
What I do is turn on the propane, it starts up with a easily heard whoosh, then I set my kitchen timer for 5 minutes, sometimes 10 if it’s cold outside or if I’ve just arrived and need a shower like now. When the timer goes off, I shut off the propane, and take my shower. After I finish that, I give the electrical ‘Hot Rod’ an hour and then I can do the dishes. Works out really well. Sometimes I run out of hot water, but I’ve got it worked out fairly well now so that’s rare. And the money I save from not leaving the heater on 24/7 wasting fuel makes it worth the tiny amount of extra trouble.
After a couple years of the heater working fine, I decided I’d had enough of the power light coming on to indicate I’d called for propane heating, then going off giving no indication that it was still on. I hated that design. So I removed the plate with the switch and light from the cabinet in the kitchen and discovered that, as I expected, there was 12V on one side of the ‘Water Heater’ switch and a ground nearby. So I pull a small LED assembly from my parts storage and add it to the switch plate.
If you look between the ‘Water Heater’ switch and the red light, you can see a small yellow device with a black surround. That’s the new LED light I added so I’d know when the water heater was turned on. Why the manufacturer didn’t put this in originally, I’ll never know.