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Old 05-03-2016, 09:24 AM   #1
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2017 19' Flying Cloud
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Water Heater Under Bed Question

It appears that most small to medium sized Airstream models/floorplans have the water heater placed under the bed. This is somewhat of a concern to us (we're newbies trying to find the right Airstream for us) because of the issues we perceive this to cause. Listed below are our concerns:

1. I would guess there is some amount of heat escape from the tank into the surrounding ambient air. This escaped heat "could" potentially cause formaldehyde outgassing from the plywood bed/cabinet frames and mattress platform. This is a concern to us as formaldehyde is classed as a carcinogen, is well known as a respiratory irritant, and it causes my wife to become very ill when exposed to very much of it - for even short periods of time.
2. Potential propane gas leaks may cause asphyxiation, or at least illness, to someone who is very sensitive to propane (while sleeping) before the propane leak detector alarm is actuated.
3. Potential water leaks could cause the space under the bed to get/stay damp thereby causing mold/mildew to form, causing not only damage to any of the wood/plywood structure but also significant allergy issues.

We are most concerned about these issues from under the bed as that is where at least 7-8 hours of each day will be spent (sleeping). During the day we would be in and out of the trailer, likely have more air venting throughout the trailer, etc. For the size range we are looking at, we would be limited to only the 20 and 23FB (if we decided we simply cannot have a unit with the water heater beneath the bed), but we were originally hopeful to start out with the little 19, until we thought more seriously about this potential issue.

We've looked at so many different brands and models of RVs and have found the Airstream to be the "least toxic" of all the brands out there. We know that no RV will be perfect, but Airstream just seems to be the best for the indoor air quality that we have found.

So, are these valid concerns? What do all of you experienced 'Streamers do about these issues? Any recommendations? Thanks so much!
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Old 05-03-2016, 09:36 AM   #2
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Answers

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Originally Posted by CanonFan View Post
1. I would guess there is some amount of heat escape from the tank into the surrounding ambient air. This escaped heat "could" potentially cause formaldehyde outgassing from the plywood bed/cabinet frames and mattress platform. This is a concern to us as formaldehyde is classed as a carcinogen, is well known as a respiratory irritant, and it causes my wife to become very ill when exposed to very much of it - for even short periods of time.
2. Potential propane gas leaks may cause asphyxiation, or at least illness, to someone who is very sensitive to propane (while sleeping) before the propane leak detector alarm is actuated.
3. Potential water leaks could cause the space under the bed to get/stay damp thereby causing mold/mildew to form, causing not only damage to any of the wood/plywood structure but also significant allergy issues.
1. Most heaters are well insulated (encased in Styrofoam). The vast majority of the heat goes out the vent as intended. The heater on our vintage AS is under the bed and I have detected no heat "leakage". The inverter on the other hand...
2. In my experience, LP detectors are VERY sensitive and are likely to actuate long before there is any danger.
3. Periodic inspection should ensure there are no water leaks.
I short, I do not think having a water heater under the bed is a big deal. Of course, YMMV.
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Old 05-03-2016, 09:48 AM   #3
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Our Avion has the hot water heater under the rear bed. It is wrapped well with insulation, so I don't expect that much heat will come through to the cavity under the bed.
Also, ours has electronic ignition, so it won't have a standing pilot flame. Of course there is a propane connection at the heater, and a tight connection is required. A spray with soapy water will display a leak, or you can get a detector and "sniff" the connections periodically. My nose works good, and is good at smelling the odor of propane.
Our water heater is controlled by an on/off switch at the control panel above the refrigerator. At night before going to bed, I always turn it off. It will hold heat well through the night, and gets turned on again when we get up (or at least several minutes before a shower is taken).
I like to turn it off during the day, also, when we are not needing hot water.

Yes, there are inherent risks as with any gas appliance, but proper installation, use, and maintenance can manage those risks quite well.


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Old 05-03-2016, 10:05 AM   #4
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Your concerns are valid. But thinking about it for a moment, I would guess there have been millions of RV's built with water heaters under the bed. If it were a problem, I think the issues would have been resolved by now.

Yes, there are occasional water leaks, but a leak can occur anywhere in the plumbing system. I've owned several (6 Airstreams and a few SOB's) camping trailers in the last 45 years. In those, I do not recall any issues with a water heater leaking into the interior. Pipes and/or pipe connections leaked, not the WH itself, to the interior.

As far as toxic gasses; Many people keep one window slightly open and one roof vent slightly open so that there is continuous ventilation. Generally this is done to remove moisture from people breathing/perspiring, bathing, cooking and washing dishes. Personally, I have never noticed any off gassing from materials in any trailer, even a brand new one.

The water heater is under the bed in our Safari that we own now. The water heater does not give off excessive heat to the interior. It is encase in insulation. The exposed pipes do get warm/hot when water is flowing, but not to the point that it affects us.

The propane connection to the water heater and all of the water heater's propane control components are on the exterior, not on the interior. Open the WH's access door and look. If there was a leak, I doubt it would be noticeable on the inside unless a window was open.
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Old 05-03-2016, 10:25 AM   #5
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We don't leave our water heater running all the time. It gets hot fast and stays hot for a long time. We just turn it on a while before we need to wash dishes or take a shower and then turn it back off. In between there is plenty of hot water to wash hands etc.
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Old 05-03-2016, 12:20 PM   #6
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We have a 2012 19' International Signature series with the water heater under our bed as you have described. The water heater appears to have good separation between the "working end" of the heater and the interior with the gas connections, relief valve, ignition system, etc. on the exterior of the camper. The access door is very well ventilated and this area is sealed from the interior extremely well. We always cut on the water heater immediately upon arrival to our destination and leave it on the entire time we are there. We have never experienced any odors or felt any ambient heat from around the enclosure or bed that could create any off gassing. Bottom line is that I would not let the location of the water heater determine which model you purchase. Base your decision on which floor plan suits your needs and no not worry about the water heater location; just my personal opinion based on experience!
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Old 05-03-2016, 01:15 PM   #7
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We have a 19' Bambi with the water heater located below the bed...and have never had an issue with the water heater causing a problem. We typically only fire it up when we need it and turn it off for the night (and still have warm water in the AM) ... but even if we forget to turn it off, it has never been an issue.
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Old 05-03-2016, 01:38 PM   #8
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I am also very sensitive to chemicals and formaldehyde is one of the worst. Our Airstream was the best choice, I have not had any problems in it and we have owned two new ones.

Our water heater is near the head of the bed next to me and the compartment gets very warm when the heater is on, but have no problems. We never leave the water heater on at night but for another reason, there is no need to.
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Old 05-03-2016, 04:54 PM   #9
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I second getting the floor plan you like most no matter where the water heater is. They are a little noisy so that is the biggest concern. There will someday be an issue with water leaking but you should be keeping an eye out for that all through the trailer.
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Old 05-03-2016, 07:10 PM   #10
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You folks have been really great and have helped me understand a bit more about the water heater and have answered all of my concerns about the water heater being beneath the bed. I realize now what I should have realized before (I'm such a newbie!) - just run the water heater when necessary and leave it off the rest of the time. That's great! Whatever floor plan we choose, I know we will do okay with it.

Thanks for all the input and help from all of you!

Dennis
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Old 05-03-2016, 07:27 PM   #11
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If the gas is still a concern, You can still get a tank that will run on both gas and Electric.
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Old 05-03-2016, 08:50 PM   #12
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Some ideas that might assist in reducing your concerns:
1. Line the area that the water heater is in with aluminum faced insulation - especially the bottom of the board that the bed sits on. That should help reduce any residual heat from migrating up through the bed.
2. Install an additional propane leakage sensor in the area that the water heater is in.
3. Install a water leakage detector in the area that the water heater is in.
4. Put inspection of the area that the water heater is in as part of your preflight prior to each trip. Also examine the plywood board that the bed rests on and the mattress itself for any signs of water or mold - which could occur due to moisture buildup because of the temperature differential between the outside and inside of the Airstream. Some folks have talked about fall and winter camping requiring them to place a bit of insulating material between the mattress and the board.
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Old 05-04-2016, 02:14 PM   #13
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noremark - While all trailers that I am looking at have the water heaters that run on either propane or electric, when boondocking I think my only option is propane. But thank you for the comment.

BoscoMN - Those are some bvery good suggestions. I especially like the idea of adding the insulation with the reflective barrier to keep the heat away from the bed's plywood platform. Thank you for the excellent suggestions!

Dennis
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