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Old 05-16-2014, 08:10 AM   #1
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Portland , Oregon
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Atwood LP/Electric Water Heater Problems (Electric Has Failed)

Last night the electric aspect of our Atwood LP/Electric water heater failed. I'm still trying to suss out the problem.

Our Airstream is a 1998 Excella and I suspect the water heater is the original.

Yesterday I had hot water all day but noticed that even though the electric heater was on there was no hot water late last night. I turned it off and checked the breakers--no problems. I didn't detect anything else yesterday or last night in the way of burning wires etc. It was a very hot day--could this have overheated some aspect of the system causing it to fail?

I tested the propane aspect this morning--seems to be working fine, but the electric is still out.

Where should I look for a problem? What should I look for? I'm kind of an amateur but willing to get my hands dirty...

Other information: we are on shore power right now and have been in one place for about 8 months (full-timing for the foreseeable future!). I've had the electric water heater on basically the whole time except during trips etc. Starting to think that was a bad idea but you live and you learn...

Thank you!
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Old 05-16-2014, 09:27 AM   #2
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Sounds like you've either got a wire burned loose are the element, or a connection that came loose, or, a burned out electric heating element....
Good luck
Larry
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Old 05-16-2014, 10:03 AM   #3
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The elements don't last forever. 15 years would be above average. They are cheap and easy to replace.
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Old 05-20-2014, 12:16 PM   #4
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Thanks for the feedback--looks like you guys are right. Does the replacement part 92249 sound right (for Atwood combo gas/electric)? This appears to be a screw in piece.

Would I just turn off gas and electricity to that part of the trailer, unscrew the old one, and screw the new one in? Sounds simple enough...

Thanks!
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Old 05-20-2014, 12:31 PM   #5
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I don't know about the part number. It's just an ordinary 120v element, and you can get them at most hardware stores, building centers, and amazon.com.

In addition to shutting off power and gas, you will have to drain the water heater.

If you do not already have one, you'll want a suitable socket wrench. There are cheap "water heater element wrenches" for sale at most places that sell the elements, or you can use a regular 1 1/2" socket if you have one that large.
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Old 05-20-2014, 02:59 PM   #6
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Jammer,

Thanks for the info. Will do--Grandpa's close and has every socket wrench under the Sun.

Here's a photo of the exterior compartment. I can't tell where the replacement element would go. The diagrams in my manual are a little unclear. Could it be that the element has to be replaced on the inside under the bathroom counter?

Thanks again--you guys are always so helpful.

G
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Old 05-20-2014, 03:01 PM   #7
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Photo didn't seem to work the first time. Here it is again and with the URL just in case:


20140520 134759 - Photo Gallery
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Old 05-20-2014, 03:18 PM   #8
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Your water heater does not have a factory electric element.

Instead, it has an aftermarket element in place of the drain plug. These kits are sold under the brand names "Hybrid Heat" and "Hott Rod." It appears to me that you have the "Hyrbid Heat" product. It does not appear to have been installed according to the instructions and is IMO not safe to use.

In any case, the element has two wires coming out of it, and is just behind and to the left of the gas valve, near the location where the copper gas line passes through the bulkhead.
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Old 05-21-2014, 10:56 AM   #9
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This makes sense--I was very confused why the drain plug would have wiring.

As you can see it is corroded or has deposition from the water. Perhaps this is why it failed.

Do you recommend replacing it with a regular drain plug or would a correctly installed system be safe to use?

I would feel reasonably confident correctly installing a new system assuming I had everything (power, gas) turned off.

What appears unsafe to you about this particular set up or why do you say it is installed improperly?

Thank you so much--I really appreciate your help.
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Old 05-21-2014, 11:48 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gquake View Post
Do you recommend replacing it with a regular drain plug or would a correctly installed system be safe to use?
In general I'm not a big fan of the aftermarket electric mods. They heat the water very slowly, you give up the drain plug, and they aren't tested to the safety standards that would apply to a factory installation. An Atwood water heater ordered from the factory with an electric element will have all the 120v electric wiring inside an enclosed junction box inside the coach, and there will be a high limit switch to prevent scalding.

I have a trailer and a truck camper. On the trailer I have an Atwood water heater with the factory electric. On the camper I have a gas-only water heater. I've run wiring for a future conversion to a gas-electric water heater, which I will do by replacing the whole thing. Which will cost $400, which is why I haven't done it yet. In my situation I'd rather run the gas than put in an aftermarket element.

If you're parked in the same spot for 8 months then your electric is metered, right? If you're going to stay there, you'd probably save money vs electric by getting a 100 gallon propane tank brought out (you can usually lease them for $1) and buying bulk propane. The break even point is around 20x, so if you're paying $0.15 per kwh for electricity, then if you can buy propane for less than $3 per gallon, you'll end up saving money. (I can share the math behind this if anyone cares)

The main advantage of electric is that it saves you the hassle and expense of filling the little propane tanks on the trailer tongue, which is all you can use if you're moving around a lot. And even if you find a good deal it's going to cost considerably more than the bulk rate. Well, that, and if you are getting unmetered electricity as part of the daily fee then the price is going to be zero.

If you're getting free electricity, or if bulk propane isn't an option for you, and you don't have the $$ to just replace the whole water heater, well, maybe a properly installed aftermarket element might make the most sense.

Quote:
What appears unsafe to you about this particular set up or why do you say it is installed improperly?
They're supposed to be installed with the thermostat and all the wiring connections inside the trailer. The thermostat is supposed to be fastened to the wall of the tank, not zip-tied to the relief valve. The exposed 120v connections pose an electric shock hazard, and the tank would overheat if the thermostat came loose. Further, some of the connections would get soaked if the relief valve were to open.

But it's quite a bit more work to do that, which is why people take shortcuts. To do it right you have to have good access to the water heater from inside the trailer, which may involve removing or disassembling some cabinetry or removing the water heater and then reinstalling it. You can look and see whether you can get to it in your situation.
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Old 06-29-2014, 03:02 PM   #11
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Water heater price

Hey Jammer, where are you getting the gas/electric hearted for $400? I'm in need of one.
Thanks
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