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Old 11-01-2016, 07:59 AM   #1
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Fire in the night Water Heater

I posted this on another forum and feel it is important to get this message out to as many as possible.

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We were sleeping and at 3:00am we woke to choking smoke and the smell of burning electrical wires. The smoke alarm, which I test before each trip, did not warn us. The circuit breaker did not trip.

After dropping the main breaker and waiting for the smoke to clear, our noses took us to cabinet entry area at the back of the water heater. When I opened the access area, I found the source. The black plastic electrical box was melted and the electrical burnt smell was very strong.

Back at home in the driveway I made a more thorough investigation, this is what I found.

The black plastic electrical box containing the 110v wiring and the 12v relay was so badly melted that I had to cut it out with snips. The white (hot) 110v wire and what was left of the wire nut had fused itself to the inside of the electrical box. The white wire had melted insulation for about 3 from the tip. All other wires were undamaged, although I had to cut some to remove the melted box.

I removed the wire nut on the neutral (black) wire and found what I think contributed to the problem. The black wire had only about 1/8 of insulation stripped from the end and was jammed in the wire nut without twisting the wires together first. The connection was not very secure. I suspect the white nut was the same. I suspect vibration caused the connection to loosen and arch. I also think the wire nut technician needs some remedial training, probably pulled him off the caulking line to fill in for the regular electrical guy.

Anyhow, the relay still functioned so I rewired everything using butt connectors and new wire where necessary. I tested both electric operation and gas operation. The water heater cycled as it should. Im off to buy two good smoke alarms to replace the original $1.98 one that did not work for me when needed.

As a final note, I know there are many novice and first time rv owners out there, let me just say to you, just because you have a different RV than I do, doesnt mean this does not apply to you. Its about safe practices in the manufacturing process and things that can go wrong along the way and remain unnoticed.
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Old 11-01-2016, 08:18 AM   #2
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Thanks so much for the heads up! People don't do a lot of thinking about the fact that their "house" is rattling down bumpy roads, and things have to be periodically inspected for "tightness"! The screws on the back of the circuit breakers are another area that requires periodic attention.

Glad that your were awakened before anything more serious occurred!

The fact that the CB's didn't trip and the smoke alarm didn't activate are almost more concerning to me than the original problem!
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Old 11-01-2016, 08:19 AM   #3
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Even though they are used in many RV's, twist-on wire nuts are NOT approved for vehicle use. They are to be used in house wiring ONLY.

The only wire connector approved for use in vehicles is the crimp wire connector with a plastic covering.

See Photos.

I have removed ALL twist-on wire connectors in my coach and replaced them with the crimp style.

Dr4Film ----- Richard
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Old 11-01-2016, 08:22 AM   #4
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I had a similar situation with our Winnebago motorhome, only with the generator output. When they built it in 2005, they just wire nutted the 120vac generator output pigtail to the coach connection in a junction box under the bed. They did not even tape the wire nuts. Eleven years and 87,000 miles later, the wire nuts loosened from vibration, arced and burned up the wiring. Fortunately, there was no fire.
I was surprised and somewhat shocked Winnebago would use this method to connect a 120v line. At the very least, they should have used a terminal box with screw connectors and locktite to prevent loosening. My respect for Winnebago's engineering just dropped a notch.
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Old 11-01-2016, 08:42 AM   #5
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We had the same type of problem with our transfer switch. The neutral wire had become loose in the strip connecting the feed to the switch creating and arc. Burned out many of our appliances.

BTW the white wire should be the neutral and black the hot. You can test this by checking for voltage to a ground on both. The black should have voltage. I remember this by "black death" the one that can kill you.
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Old 11-01-2016, 09:07 AM   #6
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I have had two Wire Nut connections fail in this RV, Both of them Stranded to solid copper.. When I repair them they DO NOT FAIL, cause I have a big .... Soldering gun (I left a word out) and some really good Electrical grade solder .. And some other products I use to repair the connection, It does not fail after that.. of course you need wire cutters if you ever have to "Break" the connection, but it does not fail.
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Old 11-01-2016, 09:24 AM   #7
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I suggest that the white wire connection, typically the neutral, was what failed. This would explain why the breaker did not trip. The heat generated at the loose connection is what melted things.


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Old 11-01-2016, 09:35 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr4Film View Post
Even though they are used in many RV's, twist-on wire nuts are NOT approved for vehicle use. They are to be used in house wiring ONLY.

The only wire connector approved for use in vehicles is the crimp wire connector with a plastic covering.

See Photos.

I have removed ALL twist-on wire connectors in my coach and replaced them with the crimp style.

Dr4Film ----- Richard
Good advice Richard!
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Old 11-01-2016, 09:38 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nosticks View Post
I posted this on another forum and feel it is important to get this message out to as many as possible.

Attachment 143228

We were sleeping and at 3:00am we woke to choking smoke and the smell of burning electrical wires. The smoke alarm, which I test before each trip, did not warn us. The circuit breaker did not trip.

After dropping the main breaker and waiting for the smoke to clear, our noses took us to cabinet entry area at the back of the water heater. When I opened the access area, I found the source. The black plastic electrical box was melted and the electrical burnt smell was very strong.

Back at home in the driveway I made a more thorough investigation, this is what I found.

The black plastic electrical box containing the 110v wiring and the 12v relay was so badly melted that I had to cut it out with snips. The white (hot) 110v wire and what was left of the wire nut had fused itself to the inside of the electrical box. The white wire had melted insulation for about 3 from the tip. All other wires were undamaged, although I had to cut some to remove the melted box.

I removed the wire nut on the neutral (black) wire and found what I think contributed to the problem. The black wire had only about 1/8 of insulation stripped from the end and was jammed in the wire nut without twisting the wires together first. The connection was not very secure. I suspect the white nut was the same. I suspect vibration caused the connection to loosen and arch. I also think the wire nut technician needs some remedial training, probably pulled him off the caulking line to fill in for the regular electrical guy.

Anyhow, the relay still functioned so I rewired everything using butt connectors and new wire where necessary. I tested both electric operation and gas operation. The water heater cycled as it should. Im off to buy two good smoke alarms to replace the original $1.98 one that did not work for me when needed.

As a final note, I know there are many novice and first time rv owners out there, let me just say to you, just because you have a different RV than I do, doesnt mean this does not apply to you. Its about safe practices in the manufacturing process and things that can go wrong along the way and remain unnoticed.
I think it would be an electrical code violation anywhere to have 120VAC and 12VDC in the same junction box!
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Old 11-01-2016, 10:06 PM   #10
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Regarding your smoke detector not activating - I would highly recommend installing a dual-sensor detector, one with both ionization and photo-electric technology. Most detectors in RV's (and stick&brick dwellings...) are the ionization chamber type (less costly). These are the ones that activate from food in the oven or steam from the shower. They work best on a fast-burning/less smoke fire. A photo-electric detector is best with a slow-burning/smoky fire (like what you experienced). I simply added a battery-powered one closer to the sleeping area. Cost about $30. Can't say whether it is "RV-rated", but really don't care, either. The added protection beats any sticker in my opinion... ST
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Old 11-02-2016, 01:30 AM   #11
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The two electrical connector is my preferred connector. When maintenance needs to performed you crush the insulator and remove. You can then use a pair of diagonal pliers to cut off the crimped copper connector. This avoids losing any wire length in the wires. Nothing is worse than a short wire in the junction box. The crimper for this connection is a special tool do not use electrical crimping pliers. Buy the correct tool. Try electrical supply place that services electrical contractors.
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Old 11-02-2016, 05:32 AM   #12
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Valuable post!! Thanks for sharing. I was having intermittent issues with my Fleetwood when using shore power.. was so frustrating because I kept blaming the campgrounds until I did some digging and found similar problems with the main twist-on wire nuts connecting my shore cord to the rv. I can't locate the photos anymore, but when I twisted off the wire nuts, only one or two strands of the twisted wire were still connected. Apparently the twisting-on motion was so aggressive that it snapped the wires, and over time they vibrated away.

I replaced them with the bolt-down type and haven't had an elec issue since.
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Old 11-02-2016, 05:55 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Statgeek View Post

I replaced them with the bolt-down type and haven't had an elec issue since.
The electrical clamp/bolt devices are great for large gauge wires versus the crimp-on one.

Once the wire gets to a certain gauge it is more difficult to use the crimp ones unless you use a hydraulic crimper.

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Old 11-02-2016, 06:33 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dampoo View Post
The two electrical connector is my preferred connector.
Can you provide pictures, or model and part numbers, for these 120V removable crimps and their tools? A quick Google search turned up nothing different than Richard posted (the "Ideal" cap type). Thanks!
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