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Old 01-20-2016, 09:29 PM   #1
1 Rivet Member
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Prospect , Kentucky
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Posts: 17
Is there an aluminum exterior water heater louvred door

I am currently doing a shell-off restoration on my 1957 18' Wanderer. I am planning on installing an Atwood On-Demand water heater, but the only door available for such a unit, is a powder-coated steel door. Is there anyone that offers an aluminum door, or is there any way to fabricate one? I plan on polishing the exterior shell, and would really like the water heater door to match. Thanks for your input...much appreciated.
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Old 01-22-2016, 08:56 AM   #2

1968 20' Globetrotter
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 662
Mmmmm… LOUVERS!!

The original 9gal Bowen was gone and the factory cut “hole” that was left, appeared to have been hawged out with a front-tined rototiller. What a mess.

I made a louvered aluminum waterheater cover for a new six gallon Atwood dual fuel. Reason being, that the stainless steel door that can be purchased doesn't fit any better than than the painted steel door. If you study the fitment of waterheater “doors”, you'll find many cases where it's just plain bad. The Atwood hinge and latch is is less than ideal ( in real words, they're junk), and on many vintage Airstreams, like mine, the waterheater is installed in an area of slope or compound curvature so they cannot fit well. The perimeter flange on the heater casing that fastens to the trailer is thin and flexible enough to follow the contour of the trailer body, but the supplied “door” isn't.

I wanted an aluminum door that somewhat respected the 1968 0riginal door which had poorly designed louvers. You'd think that an internet search of Detroit would reveal a shop that presses louvers, but I had no luck. Certainly they're there, but hunting down “Louver Bob the Biker Guy” wasn't working. Subsequently, at Autorama, in the basement of COBO Hall, where all the rat-rods and unfinished projects are displayed (best part of the show), I met a metal shop vendor that would do it for a few hundred $s, but I had already solved the louver issue.

The first try was as always, “do it yourself”. The Hillbilly Louver Punch made from my scrapmetal pile did satiate my curiosity, yes indeed, it worked. The problem was indexing the next punch, and the 3/8” x 5” louver, while functional, didn't have the proud aesthetic of a fully bloomed 1/2” hot-rod louver. I again scoured the internet and found an aircraft shop in Wisconsin that understood what I wanted. I UPS'd them the door that I sheared and braked from .040 5052, paypal'd them $110, and had it back within the week. The louvers are beautifully crafted and precisely placed.

Now, it's up to me to find a junked trailer that I can remove the rear service door jambs from, so as to fabricate the bucked rivet 1968 vintage rivet flush access door look. VTS replicates the access door perimeter extrusion but not the mating door jamb extrusion. In the mean time, it attached well using 1/2” angle, and the little twist in the door to snugly fit isn't apparent. It aligns well with the beltline extrusion, but to my eye it's a little TOO NEAT, so I'll reconfigure it someday to better blend with the flush style of the other access doors with a perimeter of buck rivets. The unhinged door attaches with four socket head machine screws, which foil the “curious”. The stainless steel bug screen is fitted to the inside of the door by interference.

Rambling on…
When I was weighing water heating options for my camping trailer, five years ago, it seemed that the luxury of a continuous hot water supply did not outweigh the dual fuel 6gal. With the conventional water heater, parts, service, knowledgeable technicians are in immediate supply around most towns, but mine has never failed. I've never hooked up to a campground water supply. The added six gallons augments my smallish fresh water tank. I can heat a little dishwashing water in a few minutes in my teakettle. The extra six gallons of water is another day in the wild for boon-dockers. True, it adds forty pounds to the trailer weight, but it's forty pounds of water, the most vital trailer commodity. If you're doing shell-off work, then perhaps you've designed a modern water tank management system, so less concern. I figured that the on-demand heaters are best suited for large trailers with many people and full hook-ups, or folks that demand the luxury of long hot showers.

Pardon the over-detailed post, I'm suggesting is that you can easily make a door from .040 2024 T3 Alclad, and it'll polish, but 2024 may be too hard to punch without a little edge tear. I honestly don't know, but 5052 is soft enough, and if you keep at it it'll shine almost as much. I was born void of the polishing gene, so I'm no help with shine.

I love the little old trailers….
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Old 01-22-2016, 10:13 AM   #3
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Prospect , Kentucky
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Thank you so much for your input, Aluminuminum.....very much appreciated! I am going back and forth on the 6 gallon Atwood Gas/Electric model, and the On-Demand Atwood model. I haven't made a decision yet as to which one...we shall see. Thank you very much for your input on fashioning an aluminum door.
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Old 01-22-2016, 10:19 AM   #4
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1963 26' Overlander
Dallas , Texas
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 243
What was the name of the aircraft shop? I'm sure I'll be needing to do the same thing at some point.
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Old 01-23-2016, 10:41 AM   #5
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1961 24' Tradewind
1967 26' Overlander
1973 27' Overlander
Savannah , Georgia
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 152
Do you still have the original water heater cover? I adapted the Bowen cover on my 1961 Tradewinds for my new Atwood water heater. Took very little modification and works great. Also it is just very visually interesting as opposed to a louvered panel.
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Old 01-23-2016, 10:47 AM   #6
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Taos , New Mexico
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We had to fabricate a new door when we replaced our water heater. The mechanic who replaced the water heater also made a new door. He has the knowledge and the equipment to do this with, I would not have known where to start. But it looks like you have good info above from Alum -
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Old 01-24-2016, 11:02 AM   #7
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Prospect , Kentucky
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Hi Beatrix1,
My 1957 Wanderer never had a water heater in it. I just found a PrecisionTemp RV500 that can be vented out of the floor. I am interested in that model, as I don't want to have to cut into the exterior skin, if I don't have to. I would be interested to see your Bowen cover if you have a picture handy. Thanks so much for your suggestion.
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