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Old 05-15-2015, 01:44 PM   #1
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Suburban Water Heater Burned up wiring and melted door paint

We stayed for 2 weeks at one campground and then moved to another one 45 miles away. After setting up, noticed soot above the HWH door. The door latch broke upon turning and the paint on the door is melted. Did not melt the coach paint. Inside all of the exposed wiring covers were melted, soot on everything and seemed to be concentrated on the upper left side where the door vents are located. We must not have turned the heater off when leaving the previous campground but my spouse insists it was on electric, not gas. It looks as if the gas ignited and caught fire in the compartment. Checked breaker and it was okay. Could riding down the road and the wind entering the compartment have caught the gas flame and made a flash fire in the compartment? Still don't know if the gas switch was on but it must have been. I checked the gas switch in the panel and the red light was not on so I assumed it was off. Should have checked but after the fire, I'm sure it wouldn't work on gas again. It is off now, gas and electric switches and the HWH switch is off at the appliance.

We are thinking of just replacing the HWH since it is as old as our coach. Is it that big of a deal to change it out? We have three strong sons who could do it for us and one is in heating and air. Is there something else I should check before installing a new one that could have been damaged by the fire?

This is very frightening and we'll either have to buy another door to HWH or have this one painted. Surely is something that will go on my list of "to do's" before decamping.
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Old 05-15-2015, 01:51 PM   #2
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Hot water heater change out is the easiest , RV appliance repair, particularly when using the same brand.
I've heard of this type of damage before , even got a picture , but can't remember the cause.
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Old 05-16-2015, 11:48 AM   #3
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If the burn damage is similar to Skip's picture, I would suspect that the flue is blocked. The burning is just below the picture, and the round top of the flue is just visible in the picture. The flame shoots into that hole, passes through the flue inside the water heater, and then exits behind the baffle on the left side of the picture. Those baffles are easily removable, and I routinely run a flexible flue cleaning brush through the flue.

I don't often drive with the water heater turned on using propane, but I have in the past. Just driving with the heater on should not cause this kind of damage. I suppose it's possible that the flue is blocked, the gas burner turned on, and the flames backed up into the front compartment rather than going up the blocked flue?

Removing/replacing the water heater is not difficult, but it can be a little tedious. I just did it last spring to replace the electric heater element. (Yes, it's true that it will burn out quickly if you turn it on with no water in the tank! )

You need to drain the water then access to the back to remove the water lines and unplug the AC cord. Then from the front you need to disconnect the gas line. Then you can remove the many screws around the front frame which hold the heater in place. Once you break the sealant seal that is probably holding the heater to the outside coach wall, it should easily slide out. While sliding it out, make sure to guide the gas line through the rubber grommet. Once out, you can reach the small DC power connector and disconnect it. While it's a bit ungainly to hold onto, the heater is not heavy: it's an easy one man lift.
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Old 05-17-2015, 06:51 AM   #4
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Water Heater Burned Up

Thank you, Skip. The picture looks like ours only ours is worse. It worries me that it could happen again. Could it catch the coach on fire of is it contained in the heater compartment. Seems that everything that could burn did. Thanks again. We have already ordered a replacement.
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Old 05-17-2015, 07:00 AM   #5
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Thank you, Shapeshifter. Especially needed procedure for disconnecting everything. We have to get into the bay to find those connectons. Is turning off the gas supply with panel switch sufficient or is there another shutoff on the LP tank that we should shut down. Didn't realize the gas connection is in the front. Good to know. Will be attempting replacement as soon as new one arrives. Thanks again. Will post our results.
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Old 05-17-2015, 07:08 AM   #6
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Op stated he had a Suburban HWH and burn out picture is of an Atwood. Atwood has added a overtemp fuseable link in line with the thermostat wiring so when the burner flames go straight up it will shut off the gas valve. Hopefully anyone with an Atwood heater will check their older units for the addition of this easy to add wiring addition. Known problem with a fix for Atwood. Not heard much of from Suburban.
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Old 05-17-2015, 08:15 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roadstar99 View Post
Is turning off the gas supply with panel switch sufficient or is there another shutoff on the LP tank that we should shut down.
No, turning off the switch is NOT sufficient! That just controls a valve on the water heater that is after the connection to the heater. You must turn off the gas at the propane tank. (Sometimes there may be a gas valve at the heater itself - this is common in homes, but I have not yet seen one in an RV. If you have a shutoff valve behind the heater, that would be sufficient, but turning off the valve on the tank itself will always work.)

Quote:
Didn't realize the gas connection is in the front.
I was keying off of the picture that Skip posted, which is clearly an Atwood, same as mine. I didn't pay enough attention to realize yours is a Suburban. While the general procedure should be the same, the details (including the gas line connection point) may be different.

The hardest part will be getting to the connections in the back. This will vary widely between coaches. On some, they are very easy to access through a cabinet in the coach. In mine, the water heater is next to a basement compartment, and I have to climb into the compartment and reach through a small hatch in the side wall to get to the back of the water heater. Hopefully yours is easier to reach than mine. (By the time I got my arm in there, the whole hatch was filled up and I couldn't see what I was doing - I had to do everything by feel.)
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