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Old 04-11-2020, 07:53 PM   #1
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Water heater misery

Spinning my wheels during the stay-at-home period leads me down some new paths of thought.

My 2014.5 AI had a propane/electric water heater. Since we are always on hookups at night, in two years it always was set to electric with the exception of a few brief periods when I wanted to shower soon after hooking up externally. It worked perfectly for us.

On the 2018 GT, the WH has been replaced by a Suburban tankless unit that has to be about the worst choice Airstream could have made. About the only plus is a 6" exhaust port rather than a large door on the side of the AI. The negative is that it goes through a 6-second check each time the faucet is turned on before it even starts to heat. Add the loooong run of PEX to get to the galley sink and a lot of water goes into the gray tank before a drop of hot water appears. The shower is just a bit quicker because it is closer to the heater, but when I turn off the water to soap down, (Navy shower, always) there is another stream of cold water.

I considered installing a Truma, but that is too many dollars and too much modification for what I need.

I have been looking at Bosch point-of-use WH with small tanks. These are electric only and pull 12 amps when heating. The smallest has a 2.7-gallon tank, which is more than plenty of a Navy shower and plenty for dishwashing and bathroom sink use. The next larger has a 4-gallon tank and is just a bit larger in one dimension. Either will easily fit where the Suburban sits now. The Bosch install would be less than $200 including all fittings.

I would cap off the exhaust port for the current WH, remove the Suburban, and store it for the potential use of whomever I may some-time sell the GT to. The Bosch units come with a floor-mount bracket, which will make installation pretty easy.

I would skip using an outlet and hardwire the WH with a switch in some unobtrusive location.

Has anyone else considered deep-sixing the Suburban?
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Old 04-11-2020, 08:03 PM   #2
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Heck, I’ve considered replacing my Atwood in my 2013 for a Bosch for cold weather camping purposes but I have the big door on the side of the van. In the juice can squeeze analysis(TM), I couldn’t justify it.
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Old 04-11-2020, 08:40 PM   #3
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Heck, Iíve considered replacing my Atwood in my 2013 for a Bosch for cold weather camping purposes but I have the big door on the side of the van. In the juice can squeeze analysis(TM), I couldnít justify it.
Juice vs Squeeze Analysis(TM) [damn autocorrect]
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Old 04-11-2020, 09:05 PM   #4
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Well, I can see how a tankless water heater might not be the best choice for boon docking.

I have been trying to think how a tankless system would ever be the best choice when camping where both water and power are in short supply, and I so far can not imagine such a scenario.

It seems to me that Airstream likely took a hard look at the majority of the buyers of the Interstate and saw that they were not, generally speaking, the type that go camping out in the boonies far away from amenities, but rather were more the type that preferred endless hot water and long showers over "roughing it" navy style. In other words, to an even greater degree than Airstream owners in general, most Interstate owners are Glampers, and probably LOVE the tankless WH.

And to be honest, aren't long hot showers the whole raison d'Ítre of tankless water heaters?
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Old 04-11-2020, 09:16 PM   #5
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I have seen a lot of gripes posted here and elsewhere about the Suburban tankless system, but I have never found a post where anyone says they like it.

Regardless of showers, just using the Suburban for the galley sink is a pain. When you turn on the faucet back on to rinse something, here comes the cold water again.
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Old 04-15-2020, 06:38 PM   #6
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I agree with you, I hate this water heater. My old RV had a 6 gallon tank model and it was great. Great for the Navy showers plus I had hot water most of the next day without using the propane heat.

I thought about going with a different electric/gas model but dropped it since I did not want to do all the venting modifications required. Your idea of going with just electric is a great one. I'll have to put that one on my list. Thanks for sharing the idea.
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Old 04-15-2020, 06:47 PM   #7
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I ran into one problem. The Bosch WH is just a bit too high to go under the twin bed where the Suburban is. All the alternatives are even taller.

I can put in an elbow to turn the pop-off valve on the top 90 degrees, which would help.

I am checking parts diagrams to see whether I can remove part of the plastic case at the bottom and possibly rearrange some of the innards. Since the WH is totally contained by partitions, cutting into the case would be of little consequence.

I would even consider putting in spacers to raise the bed an inch. That would just allow it to fit.

The Bosch WH is not being made anymore, but there seems to be plenty out there to buy.
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Old 04-15-2020, 07:07 PM   #8
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It seems to me that Airstream likely took a hard look at the majority of the buyers of the Interstate and saw that they were not, generally speaking, the type that go camping out in the boonies far away from amenities
Given that the Interstate has never been much of a boondocking vehicle without extensive and expensive aftermarket modifications, it's something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My 2012 Interstate doesn't have a tankless water heater, so this question may or may not have merit, but have you considered installing a small accumulator tank downstream of the water heater? It would provide a reservoir of water that has already been heated, so that you only get that burst of cold water the first time you turn on the tap. To find the size of the accumulator tank needed, measure the amount of cold water that comes out before the flow gets hot, and make sure the accumulator tank is at least that big.

It won't stop that initial burst of cold water, of course, but it might prevent subsequent bursts of cold water in the same Navy shower.
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Old 04-15-2020, 07:54 PM   #9
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My 2012 Interstate doesn't have a tankless water heater, so this question may or may not have merit, but have you considered installing a small accumulator tank downstream of the water heater? It would provide a reservoir of water that has already been heated, so that you only get that burst of cold water the first time you turn on the tap. To find the size of the accumulator tank needed, measure the amount of cold water that comes out before the flow gets hot, and make sure the accumulator tank is at least that big.
Unfortunately, the Suburban doesn't start heating until 7 seconds have expired since the faucet was opened. A tank in the line after the heater would just delay getting hot water to the faucets since the contents of that tank would have to be brought up to temperature after the 7 seconds.

The Suburban does not permit recycling hot water back through the unit.

It would help the rinsing-off part of navy showers, but at the cost of running an absolutely huge amount of water prior to wetting down in order to bring the tank up to temperature.

That said, I just checked the parts manual for my 2018. I had totally forgotten that the thick Airstream-added floor stopped at the partition at the front of the sofa. The WH sits on the Sprinter floor. This means I could add the thickness of the Airstream floor to the clearance under my twin beds. That gives me just enough space to install the Bosch. At the most, I might need a 1/2" shim under the roadside bed for clearance.

I immediately ordered the Bosch ES-2.5. The ES-4 would fit, but the 2.5 will be easier to install since there is more clearance for routing water lines. The new WH should be here next Tuesday.

I'll store the Suburban for someone who might buy my rig someday and want the tankless.

Things like this keep me sane while social distancing.
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Old 04-15-2020, 08:55 PM   #10
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Things like this keep me sane while social distancing.
Given the vast number of design decisions, quality of assembly and questionable engineering Airstream owners know so well, you should be able to stay sane until at least the vaccine has been formulated, tested, tweaked, approved, manufactured and distributed in quantity.
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Old 04-15-2020, 09:10 PM   #11
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I probably have about the most modified 2018 GT on this site already. Sometime, I will run out of things to improve it for the way we use it. I pretty much did that on my old 2014.5 AI.
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Old 04-21-2020, 06:39 PM   #12
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Water Heater replacement

The new Bosch water heater is in house. It is a tight fit vertically. Plenty of space in both horizontal directions. I already modified the bottom of the case to reduce height. The plastic case bottom was a bit convex. I cut around the bottom of the case with my Sonicrafter, removed the plastic bottom, and used a Surform to grind down the exposed insulation to make a flat bottom.

The projecting fittings on the WH top will require me to raise the bed by at least 3/4" for good clearance. No big problem. I'll raise both beds an inch.

I will need to bring the AI home to do the conversion. I'll need to pull the roadside bed plywood out the back and on to some sawhorses so that I can lift the old WH out and the new WH in. I'll pick up the last of the fittings at HD in the morning and bring it home.

I've been studying the piping diagrams in the manual. BTW, the 2019 manual has a lot better piping diagrams than the 2018 manual. Even at that, I can't really plan the PEX routing until the new WH is in place.

I'll be glad to get rid of the terrible tankless monster.
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Old 04-23-2020, 08:34 PM   #13
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The coach is home and the new water heater is plumbed in.

Turns out that after removing the drip pan under the Suburban water heater and cutting away the black fuzzy pad that was under the drip pan, the fittings on top of the new water heater only project about a quarter-inch above the bottom of the 3/4" plywood twin bed.

Tomorrow, I will do some careful measuring and then use a hole saw and a chisel to remove 1/2" from the plywood where the fittings are located. Except for the pilot holes from the hose saw, the top surface of the bed plywood will be unchanged.

I tested the new water heater this evening by showering in the coach. There was plenty of hot water for a leisurely navy shower. It now takes about 2 seconds to get hot water to the bathroom spigot. A lot better than the 12 or more seconds that the Suburban WH required. When I turned the water on to rinse, it was just as hot as it was initially.

It takes about 6 seconds to get hot water to the galley sink. That is because of the loooooong PEX lines to the galley spigot. The lines go cross-coach and then about 10' forward.

A couple of hours work tomorrow and all will be complete. I consider it a success.
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Old 04-24-2020, 06:13 PM   #14
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New Water Heater about complete

With the exception of a switch (should be here Tuesday,) the electric-only water heater is complete.

The original vent is modified to contain a 20-amp socket. The switch, when it arrives, will allow me to choose between using the 20-amp external socket and the internal AC power in the coach.

By using a separate extension cord to the 20-amp on the park pylon, in addition to the 30-amp cord, I can reduce the coach load so that I can use AC and microwave AND the water heater without the power manager cutting off the AC because of the high load. It will also help keep the voltage up for the AC compressor by reducing load.

I have for a long time recommended that folks wanting a second AC in an older coach make use of the 20-amp outlet on the pylon to power the extra AC separately. This is the same reasoning.

I would have had plenty of room for the 4-gallon Bosch, but the 2.7-gallon is plenty (as tested last evening) and I figure the 2.7-gallon will recover just that much faster.

I find that the photos show up a lot better if I don't forget to upload them!
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Old 04-24-2020, 07:44 PM   #15
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Cool project! I enjoy your out of the box thinking and creative approach.
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Old 04-29-2020, 11:29 AM   #16
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Post Try an ALDE

If you are handy, I would take a look at switching over to an ALDE system (https://www.alde.us/). You will need to order this before September because the US branch was acquired, and they said that they would stop selling directly to consumers.

My wife and I just completed a complete rebuild of 1976 Caravanner, and installed the 3020e with the Flow. We've been travelling in freezing temps and have stayed nice and toasty, but for really cold nights you're gonna have to use propane.

The install is pretty straight forward, and you can probably use your existing vent. I'm happy to share any info.
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Old 04-29-2020, 02:38 PM   #17
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If you are handy, I would take a look at switching over to an ALDE system (https://www.alde.us/).
It might be OK for a major floor-up rebuild, but it would be a nightmare to fit a Truma or Alde system in an existing 2018 Interstate. I looked seriously at the Truma, but there is no way I will cut a huge hole in the outside of the coach for their water heater. Providing proper vents ruled out their heating system with water-heater capacity.
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Old 04-29-2020, 06:03 PM   #18
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Make sure there is no stress on those PEX fittings!
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Old 05-15-2020, 09:20 AM   #19
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It might be OK for a major floor-up rebuild, but it would be a nightmare to fit a Truma or Alde system in an existing 2018 Interstate. I looked seriously at the Truma, but there is no way I will cut a huge hole in the outside of the coach for their water heater. Providing proper vents ruled out their heating system with water-heater capacity.
Like most information on this site, please do your own research before taking someone's advice. To clarify the Truma and Alde are completely different systems. You are correct that the Truma probably requires you to cut out a "huge hole", but with the Alde you can use the existing vent hole (see https://rvlifestyle.com/alde-hydronic-system-works/). However, you will have to install radiators and connect them, so as I mentioned before, if your handy, I would definitely recommend it.

The other reason why we installed the unit is space and efficiency. Instead of having two different units (furnace and water heater), we have a single compact and quiet unit. Our 1976 has a lot of windows, and we've never been cold, even when the outside temp was hovering around zero degree Fahrenheit.
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Old 05-15-2020, 12:04 PM   #20
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Unfortunately, there is just no reasonable way to install radiators and connect them in my Interstate GT without a massive rebuild. This is a very different ball field than a trailer. My first trip with my low-impact replacement went very well.
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