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Old 10-10-2006, 01:38 PM   #1
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Unused furnace for 20 years, what now?

The furnace in my "new" '72 airstream literally hasn't been turned on in 20 years. We have small heaters (Catalytic?) mounted to the 'Stream, one in the bathroom and one by the door, but I would like to get the central heat working as well. I haven't even tried to fire the thing up yet in case there is something I should before that. Any thoughts?

Steve
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Old 10-10-2006, 02:01 PM   #2
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I would open it up, clean out the inside, look at the burner to see if its intact or rusted. Check all the parts in other words.
Then if it all seems like its where it is supposed to be, try to light it, with someone nearby to shut the gas off if it does not light up.
I rebuilt the burner in my old one ( an 82) and it worked well after not being used a long time.
They rusted due to moisture from condensation.
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Old 10-10-2006, 02:06 PM   #3
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Good question, Steve. I know Suburban furnaces had recalls in the mid-70s and that affects my '74. Take a look here. Peace of mind comes cheap when the alternative is a carbon monoxide problem. And a functioning furnace is the first answer for how to keep the pipes from freezing.

You could start researching a new furnace at www.campingworld.com or http://www.rvaddons.com/ -- only given as an example -- there are many other sources.
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Old 10-10-2006, 02:48 PM   #4
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If you're uneasy about it, I would take it out (not hard) and bring it to an authorized repair facility and have it bench tested/tuned up. Then you can decide how to proceed.
a replacement furnace is expensive, and takes up a whole bunch of space.
For 20 bucks, you could get a ceramic heater from the hardware store. My furnace is working ok at the moment, but I just got the ceramic, because my wife complains that the furnace is loud, and it cycles on and off quite often. So I decided to try the little ceramic heater this past weekend. we were in sub-freezing temps, too...(I don't know exactly how cold...but there was frost on the flamingo every morning...). Well, the ceramic worked like a champ. I had the furnace going, but at bedtime, I turned on the ceramic, and the furnace stopped coming on...basically, I let the ceramic take over, and it kept the trailer comfortable all night, quietly, and without over-cooking anyone. (like my catalytic heater does...works great, on 0 electricity...but the lowest setting is too hot! but for boondocking, its the only option.).

what's that? the furnace runs on 12v + gas? well...yeah, but it takes SO much of the 12v, the battery wouldn't likely last a whole night. So for all practical purposes, you can't use it without electric hookups anyhow. unless you have a huge array of batteries and/or solar cells, etc...which I don't.
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Old 10-10-2006, 03:38 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chuck
For 20 bucks, you could get a ceramic heater from the hardware store. My furnace is working ok at the moment, but I just got the ceramic, because my wife complains that the furnace is loud, and it cycles on and off quite often. So I decided to try the little ceramic heater this past weekend. we were in sub-freezing temps, too...(I don't know exactly how cold...but there was frost on the flamingo every morning...). Well, the ceramic worked like a champ. I had the furnace going, but at bedtime, I turned on the ceramic, and the furnace stopped coming on...basically, I let the ceramic take over, and it kept the trailer comfortable all night, quietly, and without over-cooking anyone. (like my catalytic heater does...works great, on 0 electricity...but the lowest setting is too hot! but for boondocking, its the only option.).
Chuck,
I agree about the ceramic heater. Just curious, where did you place during the night; forward or aft?
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Old 10-10-2006, 04:24 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by klevan
Chuck,
I agree about the ceramic heater. Just curious, where did you place during the night; forward or aft?
I put it in front of the galley, facing aft. pretty much in front of where the furnace is. I figured it wouldn't interfere w/ the furnace's thermostat that way. (thermostat is at the rear of the trailer...on the bedroom/bathroom partition wall). Since this was an "experiment"...if the electric wasn't keeping up, and it got really cold back there, the furnace would come on and even things out. But since it worked out ok, I suppose now I could put it at either end of the trailer.
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Old 10-10-2006, 08:53 PM   #7
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Honestly, they are relatively inexpensive, compared to everything else we put in our coaches. I would get a new one, and not have to worry about it for the next decade or two.
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Old 10-11-2006, 06:21 PM   #8
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what type ceramic do you have Chuck?? I have a small heater from Sharper Image or something like that its the little giant mini box thing they still sell...
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Old 10-12-2006, 08:49 AM   #9
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Furnace expert

If anyone anywhere has a question or problem with a Suburban furnace, call Neal Stultz at this number,423-775-0437. He checked our 35 year old furnace and advised us to not use it. Didn't charge anything. He is an expert, honest and reasonable with his work. He lives in Dayton, TN. Suburban furnaces are made in Dayton, TN.
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Old 10-12-2006, 10:15 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ALANSD
what type ceramic do you have Chuck??
http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?actio...1UM&lpage=none

I went with this one because it is cheap, small, square (easier to store) and "ceramic", which, from what I could find, means that it doesn't get as hot as coil type heaters, so it uses less energy and is less hazzardous than other types.
(plus, my Grandma had one like it that we used to heat her guest bedroom when we visited...for some unknown reason, the house's heating system didn't provide enough heat for that room. that little box kept it quite comfortable in that drafty old Vermont victorian...in the winter!).

I had a Suburban authorized tech tell me not to use my 35 year old furnace, too. Of course, this was after he spent $125 worth of labor to clean and tune it up and get it working perfectly . I dropped it off at the repair place, in the hands of a clueless clerk; "tune up, please. its dirty and its running rich". duh...ok. they hand it off to the tech who is hiding in the back, and does what he's told. So I went to pick it up, and the clerk says, "that'll be $125...and there's a note here that says you shouldn't use it".
"Why not?"
"don't know..."
I insist on talking to the tech for an explanation.
after finally getting face-to-face with the tech, I asked. all he could say was, "because its 35 years old".
"Is is working properly?", I asked.
"yes", he said.
"leaking CO? at risk of spontaneously bursting into flames?"
"no, its fine. Its just old".
"It was 35 years old before you spent 2 hours on it", I said. "if there was nothing you could do to it that would, in your opinion, make it safe to use, then why on earth would you proceed with the work??"

"The work order said to clean it/tune it up. so I did.".



I'm still dumbfounded by this, several years later.
but anyway...I took it home, re-installed it in the trailer, and it works fine. I won't run it without a CO detector. I wouldn't run a brand new one without a CO detector, either, for that matter.

next problem was re-installing it...I needed a new thing-a-ma-jiggy to attach the intake/exhaust port properly to the skin. The old one had rusted out and was unsalvageable. Replacements are no longer made. Called a bunch of places for "new-old stock"...anything I could get...nobody had anything. So I called Suburban tech support to see if a part from a newer model might work. They were very nice. But they said the same thing: "you shouldn't use a 35 year old furnace".
"why not?"
"because its 35 years old".


anyway, I got a used part from someone here on the forums, so I'm all set. but the point is, nobody thinks you should use a 35 year old furnace, but no one seems to have a good reason why. They seem to be scared to death of 'em...probably just liability concerns.
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Old 10-12-2006, 11:17 AM   #11
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We use a "Mr. Buddy" heater in the 310. It's a ceramic heater powered from one of the small bottles of propane like you use on a camp stove. It has a low oxygen cut off and a hi - low setting. On low a bottle of propane lasts about 6 hours and abut 3 hours on high.
The furnace still works in the motorhome but this is much quiter and works great down to about 40 deg.
I think I bought it at Tractor supply but I have seen them in the Campers World catalog also, around $80.00.
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Old 10-12-2006, 11:57 AM   #12
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Quote:
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We use a "Mr. Buddy" heater in the 310. It's a ceramic heater powered from one of the small bottles of propane like you use on a camp stove.
that is not a ceramic heater; it is a "catalytic" heater.
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Old 10-12-2006, 12:47 PM   #13
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The furnace in my "new" '72 airstream literally hasn't been turned on in 20 years. We have small heaters (Catalytic?) mounted to the 'Stream, one in the bathroom and one by the door, but I would like to get the central heat working as well. I haven't even tried to fire the thing up yet in case there is something I should before that. Any thoughts?

I would definitely replace it. The risk of "waking up dead" some morning is just too great. If you decide just to clean it up and use it, don't use it at night or any time while sleeping.

Also, a good carbon monoxide detector should be in EVERY travel trailer.

One thing I have alway done is to crack a window open near the bed, no matter how cold it is outside. More insurance that you don't
wake up dead.
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Old 10-12-2006, 12:54 PM   #14
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Chuck - I guess my terminology is wrong. I thought since the heater puts out heat thru a ceramic grid that is heated by a propane flame is would qualify as a ceramic heater.
What makes it a catalytic heater?
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