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Old 02-25-2018, 11:19 AM   #1
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Gas water heater problem

The gas water heater in our 2016, 21 runs erratically. We turn on the hot tap and it is Luke warm. Turn the heater switch off than back on and it starts up and runs maybe a minute and a half, than there is a rapid clicking noise and it goes out. About 15 seconds it starts agin for maybe 30 seconds, than clicking noise and out.
Now if i leave the outside door to the heater compartment open it runs fine. Its almost as if its not getting enough air. The screen is not blocked. This ones got me stumped. We are in Desert Trails in Tucson at this time, going to be here 5 more weeks. Before i call RV repair I thought Id ask if anyone has any ideas.
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Old 02-25-2018, 02:48 PM   #2
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The clicking noise would presumably be the ignitor sparking, unsuccessfully trying to light the burner. The cycle is likely the controls trying to relight the flame, with a delay to allow excess propane to clear. After a couple of tries it gives up (to avoid building up a dangerous amount of unburned propane) until you reset it by turning the switch off and back on.

You probably already realize that, and I can't think of a solution at this point. I've never heard of a water heater starving for combustion air to the point of not working, although that does fit the symptoms.
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Old 02-25-2018, 02:57 PM   #3
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Reace, at an Escape rally, fixed my problem, similarly described, with a pair of pliers. I couldn't see exactly what he was doing ( his hands were in the way ), but I believe he bent something so that the igniter spark was a little closer to the fuel source. Took him a minute to fix.
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Old 02-25-2018, 03:25 PM   #4
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Reace, at an Escape rally, fixed my problem, similarly described, with a pair of pliers. I couldn't see exactly what he was doing ( his hands were in the way ), but I believe he bent something so that the igniter spark was a little closer to the fuel source.
That makes sense for appliance having an ignition problem, but (to me) doesn't immediately explain why having the heater door open would help.

Also, if it is clicking the spark is being created; moving the electrode would be to move that spark closer to where the propane-air mixture is coming out of the burner tube holes. Hey, maybe that's the door connection: more air movement gets air-propane mixture to the spark?
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Old 02-25-2018, 03:41 PM   #5
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I think you've figured it out Brian.
The answer, my friend, was blowing in the wind.
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Old 02-25-2018, 03:47 PM   #6
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The answer, my friend, was blowing in the wind.

If this is really the solution, it means that the fix will probably involve a few cycles of trial-and-error: adjusting the electrode, closing the door to test, and repeating.
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Old 02-25-2018, 07:07 PM   #7
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That makes sense for appliance having an ignition problem, but (to me) doesn't immediately explain why having the heater door open would help.

Also, if it is clicking the spark is being created; moving the electrode would be to move that spark closer to where the propane-air mixture is coming out of the burner tube holes. Hey, maybe that's the door connection: more air movement gets air-propane mixture to the spark?
Ok the clicking noise is the starter, I kind of figured that was it. But once the flame is lit the electrode is no longer needed, right or am I wrong? With the compartment door open, it has a nice strong blue flame. When I close the door you can hear the flame strength get lower and lower until click, click.... and out. Than it restarts for 15 sec. than click, click..... and out.
I can see the 2 electrodes when it’s running, they are like right in the flame and red glowing hot.
Thanks for all the reply’s, keep them coming. If we still feel it’s the electrode position by tomorrow, Than I’ll try to adjust them.
Something that just popped into my head. Could it be a bad thermostat or some kind of sensor. And when the door is closed the compartment gets to hot and it cuts out?.
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Old 02-25-2018, 07:35 PM   #8
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Did you check to see if there is any obstruction in the flame tube, spider webs or bees nest?
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Old 02-25-2018, 08:26 PM   #9
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Ok the clicking noise is the starter, I kind of figured that was it. But once the flame is lit the electrode is no longer needed, right or am I wrong?
Right. The sparking stops as soon as the control circuit determines that the flame is burning. It is starting again because the flame is going out... or at least that it thinks the flame is going out.

Since you say that the flame strength gets lower and lower, it sounds like it is actually going out - that's a new piece of information. Poor electrode placement would not explain this, because the burner is supposed to be just fully on or completely off (in this type of heater). Once it is burning, it should burn with the same size of flame until the target water temperature is reached, then it should turn completely off instantaneously.

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Something that just popped into my head. Could it be a bad thermostat or some kind of sensor. And when the door is closed the compartment gets to hot and it cuts out?.
In modern direct spark ignition (DSI) appliances, the same electrode which is used to spark the flame is also used to detect the flame, so there is no separate sensing device for the presence of a flame.

A protective shutoff would not turn down the burner, so that doesn't match with the flame getting lower. If the water in the heater gets too hot there is a safety switch which should shut off the burner, but since the heater is only running briefly it can't be water temperature. I suppose that this high-temperature shutdown could be triggered by the compartment getting hot, but why would that happen?

Is the tube which carries the flame and hot air through the heater tank (partially) blocked? It would certainly be a problem if the flamethrower of this thing is not blasting where is supposed to be.
EDIT: Chotch already caught this possibility, about possible flame tube blockage.
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Old 02-25-2018, 08:29 PM   #10
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Did you check to see if there is any obstruction in the flame tube, spider webs or bees nest?
Yes I did. Even blew things out with some canned air, thinking there might be and obstruction. But we have been on the road since last November 20th. So it has been in continuous use since than. Plan on getting home the last of April.
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Old 02-25-2018, 08:53 PM   #11
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Right. The sparking stops as soon as the control circuit determines that the flame is burning. It is starting again because the flame is going out... or at least that it thinks the flame is going out.

Since you say that the flame strength gets lower and lower, it sounds like it is actually going out - that's a new piece of information. Poor electrode placement would not explain this, because the burner is supposed to be just fully on or completely off (in this type of heater). Once it is burning, it should burn with the same size of flame until the target water temperature is reached, then it should turn completely off instantaneously.


In modern direct spark ignition (DSI) appliances, the same electrode which is used to spark the flame is also used to detect the flame, so there is no separate sensing device for the presence of a flame.

A protective shutoff would not turn down the burner, so that doesn't match with the flame getting lower. If the water in the heater gets too hot there is a safety switch which should shut off the burner, but since the heater is only running briefly it can't be water temperature. I suppose that this high-temperature shutdown could be triggered by the compartment getting hot, but why would that happen?

Is the tube which carries the flame and hot air through the heater tank (partially) blocked? It would certainly be a problem if the flamethrower of this thing is not blasting where is supposed to be.
EDIT: Chotch already caught this possibility, about possible flame tube blockage.
Ok, so now I have an idea of how this thing works. Thank you for that. So maybe tomorrow I need to revisit the blocked tube Idea. How bout the orfice where the gas comes out before the tube. Should I take that out and make sure that is not partially blocked. Looks like you can get a wrench on it, I think, its dark right now. Ill look agin in the morning. Right now I have the compartment door open. We have washed the supper dishes and washing up for bed, and it is cycling the way it should.
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Old 02-25-2018, 09:31 PM   #12
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Still trying to understand the problem, but where does the flame normally draw air (oxygen) for combustion when the compartment door is closed? Do you have an air flow blockage starving the flame of oxygen when the door is closed? Our home water heater stopped working once because lint (it sits near the trash can where we empty our clothes dryer lint screen) had clogged the water heater air inlet screen. Cleaned the screen, all was well again.
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Old 02-25-2018, 09:39 PM   #13
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Low propane pressure? Maybe tank is near empty or regulator is acting up?

Maybe with low propane pressure the fuel/air ratio is disturbed just enough with the door closed that the flame goes out.
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Old 02-25-2018, 10:05 PM   #14
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Have the exact problem with my gas spa heater. Instead of it just firing up and running to temp, it goes off and then comes back on after a few minutes. LSS- tech moved electrode a little towards burner- and it helped, however didn't fix. He did not have the part on his truck and said if it kept going off prior to reaching temp I should replace the electrode..which am going to do. If that doesn't work am thinking high limit switch.
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Old 02-25-2018, 11:11 PM   #15
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... If that doesn't work am thinking high limit switch.
Maybe worth checking... A faulty high (temperature) limit switch would turn the burner off, but would it turn back on? And how would that explain the flame going down, rather than just flicking off?
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Old 02-25-2018, 11:27 PM   #16
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Still trying to understand the problem, but where does the flame normally draw air (oxygen) for combustion when the compartment door is closed?
It could come in through the vent louvers on the left side of the door (so the air would go in, then down to the burner), but I think the primary path is through the lower part of the big vent on the right side vent (which is the exhaust on the top). The Airxcel Suburban SW6D is a variant of the old American Appliance RV-6, which has only the big vent on the right side; the left-side louvers may have been added just to cool the control board of newer electronic models.
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Old 02-25-2018, 11:29 PM   #17
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At the risk of posting the stupidest possibility, what's the chances of the flame adjustment being out of wack, burning in a way that generates excess CO. With the cover open the CO can dissipate, with the cover closed it smothers the flame.

Just a random idea.

Ron
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Old 02-25-2018, 11:54 PM   #18
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At the risk of posting the stupidest possibility, what's the chances of the flame adjustment being out of wack, burning in a way that generates excess CO. With the cover open the CO can dissipate, with the cover closed it smothers the flame.

Just a random idea.

Ron
Interesting, but carbon monoxide (CO) won't smother the flame (just kills living things). Too much carbon dioxide (CO2) would smother (by displacing oxygen), but there's no way to produce more carbon dioxide than a perfectly burning flame.

But since Ron brings up the air-fuel mixture...
If the air shutter of the burner is set for too little air, you get a rich yellow flame and extra soot, which should be quite visible. Too much air (too lean) and it doesn't light properly... not a carbon monoxide issue, but maybe that's the problem?
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Old 02-26-2018, 12:10 AM   #19
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Maybe worth checking... A faulty high (temperature) limit switch would turn the burner off, but would it turn back on? And how would that explain the flame going down, rather than just flicking off?
Ditto Brian's points. I thought high temperature limit switches were to prevent catastrophic accidents by completely shutting off the gas supply. If true (and that's a big "if"), then a design that allows it to keep re-lighting itself after a protective shut-down seems self-defeating.
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Old 02-26-2018, 12:16 AM   #20
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... I suppose that this high-temperature shutdown could be triggered by the compartment getting hot, but why would that happen?
If the hot exhaust gases aren't being vented out of the burn chamber fast enough, limiting the inflow of cooler air to feed the flame, wouldn't that cause heat to build up in the burn chamber and possibly trigger a high-temp shutdown (if such a safeguard is built into this heater)?
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