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Old 11-02-2016, 08:55 AM   #1
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1973 31' Sovereign
Atlanta , Georgia
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 36
Smell Propane with Water heater

Hey guys! So I have my water heater lit and the pilot seems to be working fine. I'm getting hot water, the thermocouple seems to be working fine, but when I use the shower or lots of hot water the main line opens and makes a big flame. This seems to be normal function, but I smell propane when this happens. Is something wrong or is this normal?

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Old 11-02-2016, 11:26 AM   #2
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2012 27' Flying Cloud
W , New England
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Smelling propane is not normal. Don't know your level of skill with things like this - mine is zero. I would shut off the water heater and all appliances and then apply soapy water at all connections from tank through to see where a leak might be. If I didn't find it quickly, I'd shut off the tanks and call a propane pro. Be careful.
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Old 11-02-2016, 12:42 PM   #3
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1971 25' Tradewind
1993 34' Excella
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Consider buying a propane alarm. Placement is important as propane is heavier than air. You could also get a propane "sniffer".
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Old 11-02-2016, 12:49 PM   #4
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2014 20' Flying Cloud
Sag Harbor , New York
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Sounds like you have a spider etc. nest in the burner flue. Check out these threads:

The big flame and propane smell is from incomplete combustion, due to the hot exhaust gases not having enough flue area available to go up as designed. Turn off the propane at the tanks for now, and turn off the electric to the heater.

You need to unscrew the screws holding the flue above the burner, which may be very rusty for an old unit. Carefully wiggle the flue out if possible and inspect it for debris/nests inside. Remove foreign objects and reinstall.

Not sure about your water heater of that vintage, but the burner etc. may be rusted and also part of the problem IMO, if incomplete combustion is happening.

If the above is beyond your skill set, please call an expert. If you remove nests/etc. from the flue, and the burner looks OK, your problem should be fixed right away. When you fire things up again, there should be no repeat of the problem. If there is, shut it down and turn the propane off at the tanks.

Good luck!


PS -- You need to check the entire flue for obstructions inside, and for blockages at the top of the tube. I am not familiar with your vintage heater. Any chance of posting photos of the layout?

PS2 -- You might also consider replacing the entire heater, as was advised in your old thread:

A 40-year old heater may be on its last legs, and very dangerous!
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Old 11-03-2016, 08:02 AM   #5
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1973 31' Sovereign
Atlanta , Georgia
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 36
I just ordered the new 6 GAL Atwood water heater. It's on sale for $280 with free shipping for anyone looking.

Anyone have advice on switching over from the old to the new?

Thanks for all your advice!
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Old 11-03-2016, 09:13 AM   #6
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Before you install a new heater lets find out where you are smelling propane. Is it out by the heater or inside the trailer.
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1991 34 ft. Excella +220,000 miles, new laminated flooring, new upholstery, new 3200 lbs axles

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Old 11-04-2016, 04:26 AM   #7
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2014 20' Flying Cloud
Sag Harbor , New York
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Great move to get a new water heater. Kudos!

In addition to HowieE's good suggestion -- to confirm that the water heater is the only source of the propane leak/smell -- I would recommend hiring a mobile RV expert to install the new heater, or taking your AS to a shop to have the work done.

Unless you have the combined skill sets for electrical, propane tubing, and possible wood/cabinet/aluminum modification skills, you will be in over your head with the swap IMO.

Could this be done at home by a skilled owner? Yes, but the dangers presented by propane would send me to an expert, personally.

Good luck!

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Old 11-04-2016, 06:03 AM   #8
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1977 23' Safari
Niagara on the Lake , Ontario
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I just recently did this on my '77.
The new water heater fit exactly in the opening, screw holes
Even lined up.
The propane line enters from a slightly different location so I had to rebend it. Definitely use a pipe bender for that.

Mine had to be removed/installed from the inside. Bend the flange on the old heater and push it in.

Good luck
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2022 Toyota 4Runner SR5
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