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Old 01-06-2003, 09:58 PM   #1
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Question Water heater and furnace need work?

O.k., now that we (first time RV owners . . .) have our 1976 Sovereign International Land Yacht 31' Airstream trailer close to home, we took it to an RV service center to have it checked out before we move it home where it will be for a long while (we'll be living in it while we remodel and then, who knows? It may be guest quarters.) We were especially interested in getting the propane system checked. It turned out fine, as did most of the other trailer components - except the furnace and the water heater.

The RV place said that the furnace won't light and that it will take them 2.5 hours to take it out and test it ($175). They don't know what it will take to repair it. We wondered how much it would cost to just replace it - they said they'd get back to us with that information, but that it would still take time to get it out. The guy who sold it to us had told us that the furnace worked until a little less than a year ago. He thought the thermocoupler might need to be replaced. Apparently the thing sparked when turned on, indicating to him that the gas was getting through the line, but not through the thermocoupler - not that that means much to me. Any advice? We'd like heat, but we're close to sea level in the Northwest so it doesn't get colder than 30 much and we have a Vornado space heater we could use - but it is a loooongg trailer.

The RV place also said that there is no burner assembly in the water heater. I called the owner and confirmed that they had used the water heater when they lived in it. He recalled being surprised when they first used the water heater that they didn't have to light a pilot light - they just filled the water heater tank, turned it on and it worked. Is it possible that it can run on electricity and not propane? or that it could run on either? The RV place said that it would take them an hour to replace the burner assembly, that the water heater is extremely old and that they think it could fail even after we have them replace the burner assembly. They said they couldn't tell me how much it would cost to replace the water heater altogether because they didn't know it's dimensions and that a replacement burner assembly might be very hard to find.

We hope to get any work wrapped up and bring home the trailer on Saturday. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 01-07-2003, 08:09 AM   #2
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Water heater and furnace need work?

Greetings goodgrey!

While it may be possible to repair the existing furnace and water heater, if they are original, at 27 years of age they are at or beyond their typical service life. I faced similar news when I purchased my Overlander about eight years ago. Since I am not fond of do-it-yourself projects that in any way involve propane or natural gas, I knew that it was a job that I would leave to the experts. Rather than tempting more than one labor charge to remove the questionable appliances, I went with new units and have no regrets.

My new Suburban furnace (now almost 7 years old) has electronic ignition so there is no need to crawl around on the floor to light the pilot, and it has performed flawlessly. The Overlander was my residence for several months while I waited to close on my current residence, and the furnace kept the trailer toasty warm even during the few nights when the thermometer dropped to the mid-20 degree range. {The replacement cost, now nearly seven years ago, was about $625.00.}

My water heater was replaced with a six-gallon Atwood with manual ignition. If I had this to do over again, I would choose the electronic ignition model as I do get tired of relighting the pilot. The new water heater is by far more efficient than the old unit and in addition is much quieter during operation. {The replacement cost, now nearly six years ago, was about $500.00 - - included modifying exterior opening to fit the new, smaller water heater.}

Kevin
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Old 01-07-2003, 08:10 AM   #3
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Interesting, I just replaced the furnace and water heater in a SOB motor home this weekend.

The cheapest furnaces I have seen are on ebay, search on 'rv furnace.' There is an outfit in Elkhart that I have purcheased from quite a bit in the past, they are legit and easy to deal with.

The best water heater prices I have seen are from Camper's Choice. The do make electric/gas water heaters and add on electric heating elements, could be what you have. The dealer should be able to look and tell you if this is so, the wiring is a giveaway.

A thermocouple is a safety device that works with a standing pilot, light (by hand) the pilot and the thermocouple tells the gas valve there is a flame present and it is safe to open.

John
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Old 01-07-2003, 08:13 AM   #4
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Exclamation Whoa Betsy!!

I suspect you will get some good advice on here.
In the meantime I would hold everything. Tell the RV center to suspend and wait til you get some feedback and can mull it over a bit.

I don't know the answer regarding furnace, but would hope and guess that most of the checkout should be possible without removal. I noticed that they did not give estimate for reinstalling. Is the center an Airstream dealer?

I am guessing that this weekend might be a little over ambitious for getting it all done correctly and with some time for comparison.
Slow down a little you might save a lot.

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Old 01-07-2003, 10:13 AM   #5
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Furnace Checkout

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

ATTEMPTING TO CHECK OUT "ANY" FURNACE, WITHOUT PULLING IT OUT, IS THE SAME THING AS PUTTING A LOADED PISTOL TO YOUR FOREHEAD, AND THEN PULLING THE TRIGGER, TO SEE HOW MUCH NOISE THE HAMMER MAKES.

FURNACES MUST BE REMOVED FROM THE TRAILER OR MOTORHOME AND BENCH TESTED.
TO SUGGEST OR GUESS, OR HOPING, AT ANYTHING LESS THAN THAT IS LIBELOUS TO THE nTH DEGREE, AND, COULD GET SOMEONE KILLED.

ADDITIONALLY, PART OF THE "CHECKOUT" IS TO MAKE SURE THE LPG PRESSURE IS "CORRECT." PROPER TEST EQUIPMENT IS A "MUST."

MISGUIDED ADVICE FROM AN AMATEUR OR INEXPERIENCED PERSON, NO MATTER WHO IT IS, WHEN IT COMES TO DEALING WITH AN EXPLOSIVE HAZARD, SUCH AS LPG, IS NOT FUNNY, NOR SHOULD IT BE CONSIDERED A WARPED SENSE OF HUMOR.

GUESS WORK, IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE, WHEN DEALING WITH ANYTHING, THAT COULD CAUSE PERSONAL INJURY.


IT CAN AND DOES KILL.


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Old 01-07-2003, 01:52 PM   #6
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Welcome back, Andy. We've been missing you.
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Old 01-07-2003, 06:19 PM   #7
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Hex

Congrats on your Excella. any chance we'll see some pics soon? hmmmm?
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Old 01-07-2003, 07:32 PM   #8
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"The RV place said that the furnace won't light and that it will take them 2.5 hours to take it out and test it ($175). "

Was anyone else bothered by the 2.5 hours estimate? I will be glad to admit ignorance about your particular unit, but the RV furnaces I have seen could be removed, disassembled, and reassembled in 2.5 hours by someone competent.

"FURNACES MUST BE REMOVED FROM THE TRAILER OR MOTORHOME AND BENCH TESTED. "

Well, yes, mostly. With the furnace in place I can pull the plug and see if it is getting 12V. I can also look to see if the gas valve is on or off. And gas pressure does not concern itself with the furnace being either in or out. To remove my furnace takes all of 10 minutes, if I'm not in a hurry, so there is little to be gained by trying to open it up to work on it in situ. And as Andy notes, amost everything inside the unit needs to be on a bench, both for safety and accurate testing. No, this is not the job for someone who "always wanted to work on one of those things."

Bottom line, though, it just does not make economic sense to pay a significant amount of money to "check out" a furnace that by any definition has to be at the end of its life.

The same is true for the water heater. Just get a new one. You will sleep better at night.

Mark
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Old 01-07-2003, 08:28 PM   #9
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detectors?

I sleep well at night.

Just spent the $150 plus on separate hardwired 12v propane and carbon monoxide detectors. The Lp detector is required on all new rv's and the monoxide is required on motorhomes, so why not just install the both of them on your A/S? Do furnaces just blow up or what? Andy is scaring the #%@! out of people and while I do appreciate his point, if you install items that are legally required in all new trailers wouldn't that make you sleep a little better as well?

Chas
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Old 01-07-2003, 09:23 PM   #10
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Thanks for your responses. We certainly don't want to do anything unsafe and have a healthy respect for propane. And I really appreciate the reminder about the detectors - we'll go get that taken care of.

But I do have concerns, even more after today's conversations with the RV place. Now they tell me that they have to completely pull all of the cabinetry to remove either the furnace or the water heater and that it will be at least 8 hours of labor - that's a rough estimate, it could be more. They said that Airstreams are put together like airplanes and are tough to take apart. So the deal is that it will cost at least $560 in labor alone for each appliance - the furnace and the water heater, plus $624.29 for the new furnace and $373.88 for the new water heater. I appreciated the referral to the camping supplies website - I checked prices for comparison and the furnaces were $412 - $448, and water heaters were $231- $320 - not installed, obviously, but still, the materials cost is less. I too was thinking it would be wiser to just replace, but they're saying it won't be any less expensive.

So, are these Airstreams so darned complicated to work on? Do they really need to remove so much cabinetry to access the furnace and water heater and does it take that long to do the job? I don't like the idea of signing up to an unknown labor bill. They did tell me, when I told them what the previous owner had told me about not having to light a pilot light, that the water heater had an after market electric element added, but they said that it isn't working either.

I may sound a bit suspicious of what I'm hearing and it's partly because several years ago we had this shop put a hitch in our truck and they tried to charge us two times the going retail price for the part, not labor. I was hesitant to go back, but thought we give them a chance given this is where two other Airstream owners told us to try.

By the way, they told me it would be $170 to replace the two propane tanks, related hoses and regulator to bring them up to current standards - I told them to proceed with that work.

I'll wait to hear from you. Thanks.
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Old 01-07-2003, 09:46 PM   #11
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Find an Airstream dealer or an rv place where the techs are familiar with Airstreams. Just because it is built like an airplane doesn't mean you pull out all the cabinetry to replace these. I did both of them in less than 6 hours and the furnace was a long way from a direct replacement.

I am guessing the replacement propane tanks will be steel. I just paid $75 for 2 new 30# ones, filled. It is probably smart to replace the regulators and hoses, you don't know the condition and age of the old ones. But I think for $170 you gave them a second chance; I would really find another place.

John
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Old 01-07-2003, 09:47 PM   #12
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I pulled the furnace on my 74 Overlander in about 30 minutes. It seemed to be impossible to get out, I was even contemplting removing the entire sink and cooktop cabinetry but found it will slide straight out the front. Had to tweak the framing a bit and jostle it around a tad more. The water heater should come straight out of the side without doing anything to the cabinetry. I have heard that the new ones require a resized opening so I am not 100% sure on the related labor costs. I think the Bowen units are obsolete? Maybe someone else knows more? Sound to me like your service shop is not really up to snuff on A/S repair but I am not totally familiar with the limitations of the various repair shops, i.e., A/S dealer vs. S.O.B.( some other brand), vs independent. I will try as much as I can to relate to your situation but I do all of my own work, why heck I have even disassembled, cleaned and adjusted my own furnace.

(thanks to Andy's posts I might add)

Chas

( the propane upgrade sounds reasonable enough to me)
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Old 01-07-2003, 09:51 PM   #13
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"Now they tell me that they have to completely pull all of the cabinetry to remove either the furnace or the water heater and that it will be at least 8 hours of labor - that's a rough estimate, it could be more. They said that Airstreams are put together like airplanes and are tough to take apart. So the deal is that it will cost at least $560 in labor alone for each appliance"

They cannot be taking apart the "Airstream". None were EVER made that requires disassembly of the shell to remove the furnace or water heater. And the shell is the part that is "made like an airplane." The interiors are made of plywood and wishful thinking.

Just where are these things? Has someone done a bunch of custom cabinet work to bury them? If you have stock Sovereign cabinetry total removal of BOTH appliances should be the work of minutes - an hour at the outside.

Could someone who knows this era of Sovereign help us out here?

Mark
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Old 01-07-2003, 09:59 PM   #14
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welcome back andy missed ya
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