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Old 04-03-2018, 11:02 AM   #1
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Suburban Gas/Elec Water Heater Works 1/2 the Time

I have a 27' FR Rainier (northwest version of the Vibe) with a Suburban Gas/Electric water heater. On our last trip out, the electric part of the heater is only working about half of the time. Sometimes it works great and the water is hot and all is well. But about as often, it doesn't work, and either the water is just warm, or it is hot, but then doesn't seem to re-heat.

The gas side works great, so in a pinch I can just turn it on and the water is hot again. Now I am just trying to troubleshoot where the problem may be. In reading, I see it could be the hot side thermostat, or possibly a problem with the electric element. I have been checking on previous issues, but so far I cannot find where some has had this intermittent issue.

First thing I plan to check and replace is the anode. WH is 2 years old, and it gets modest use. We use the trailer about 4 months per year (actual months not just weekends) in all temps and climates, and the outside of the plug is already looking rusty. I also almost always use the electric side of the WH, and hardly run it on gas.

Lastly, I did notice the first full night we were out the the WH was making a whining noise, it was just after doing dishes and using hot water. Hoped it was just "WH is heating the water sound" but I do not think I had ever heard that before.

If you have an suggestions, I'd be thrilled to hear them before I tear too far into this, or worse take it in for service.
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Old 04-03-2018, 11:12 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by camminich View Post
I have a 27' FR Rainier (northwest version of the Vibe) with a Suburban Gas/Electric water heater. On our last trip out, the electric part of the heater is only working about half of the time. Sometimes it works great and the water is hot and all is well. But about as often, it doesn't work, and either the water is just warm, or it is hot, but then doesn't seem to re-heat.

The gas side works great, so in a pinch I can just turn it on and the water is hot again. Now I am just trying to troubleshoot where the problem may be. In reading, I see it could be the hot side thermostat, or possibly a problem with the electric element. I have been checking on previous issues, but so far I cannot find where some has had this intermittent issue.

First thing I plan to check and replace is the anode. WH is 2 years old, and it gets modest use. We use the trailer about 4 months per year (actual months not just weekends) in all temps and climates, and the outside of the plug is already looking rusty. I also almost always use the electric side of the WH, and hardly run it on gas.

Lastly, I did notice the first full night we were out the the WH was making a whining noise, it was just after doing dishes and using hot water. Hoped it was just "WH is heating the water sound" but I do not think I had ever heard that before.

If you have an suggestions, I'd be thrilled to hear them before I tear too far into this, or worse take it in for service.
The anode rod will have no effect on WH operation. The temperature is controlled by Limit switches. One for electric and one for gas. I'll bet someone will jump in here and show you a picture of the switches on your water heater and how to fix. They are on the outside behind the vented grill cover. Black buttons.
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Old 04-03-2018, 11:25 AM   #3
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By all means, check the Anode, but I highly doubt that would impact the electric element.

Instead, I'd be looking at:

1) Do you have sufficient power, or are you possibly getting low voltage situations? If you're using an EMS, this should have informed you if that's the case.

2) Is it just not recovering fast enough, or have you let it sit and it's still not hot after time? If it's just a recovery thing, it might have to do with the incoming temperature of the water, (colder it is, longer to heat), or low water pressure possibly.

3) Maybe a bypass is open somewhere, allowing cold to mix with hot? That should affect the Gas as well as Electric, but since Gas recovers faster, it might just be more noticeably with the slower recovery of electric?

4) Check the thermostat resets, make sure one of them hasn't popped.

And then, finally, yes, elements can go bad, so I suppose it could be checked too, but being only 2 years old I doubt that's an issue. I've seen seasonals run electric constant all season for years without issues. Still doesn't hurt to check it.
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Old 04-03-2018, 12:02 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Kaadk View Post
By all means, check the Anode, but I highly doubt that would impact the electric element.

Instead, I'd be looking at:

1) Do you have sufficient power, or are you possibly getting low voltage situations? If you're using an EMS, this should have informed you if that's the case.

2) Is it just not recovering fast enough, or have you let it sit and it's still not hot after time? If it's just a recovery thing, it might have to do with the incoming temperature of the water, (colder it is, longer to heat), or low water pressure possibly.

3) Maybe a bypass is open somewhere, allowing cold to mix with hot? That should affect the Gas as well as Electric, but since Gas recovers faster, it might just be more noticeably with the slower recovery of electric?

4) Check the thermostat resets, make sure one of them hasn't popped.

And then, finally, yes, elements can go bad, so I suppose it could be checked too, but being only 2 years old I doubt that's an issue. I've seen seasonals run electric constant all season for years without issues. Still doesn't hurt to check it.
I forgot about #3. check your showers. Both valves must be off. If not, all the water in the trailer will mix.
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Old 04-03-2018, 07:58 PM   #5
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Thank you all for the suggestions. I too am starting to think it's either voltage or just interrupted power.

I've checked all of my external and internal taps. They are all closed and when opened hot runs hot and cold runs cold with no issue or lack of pressure.

Yesterday morning after sitting all night woke up to a ton of hot water and no troubles. Today though it was just luke warm again. I think we may have been drawing a little more power over night though. Also more people in campground last night, so it could be we are fighting for power.

How about the switch itself? Has anyone heard of just it going bad or not staying on? The on/Off rocker doesn't seem have the same tension it once did.
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Old 04-03-2018, 08:15 PM   #6
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The wining noise is normal it is just the water immediately around the element heating rapidly. The limit switches ( behind the black buttons) are simple snap switches that are there to protect from overheating. The do not reset automatically so I doubt they are involved. Check the wiring to the heating element. Be careful if RV is connected to shore power. It is possible there is loose connection to the heating element. Also check the inside and outside showers. If valves are on water could mix.
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Old 04-04-2018, 01:06 PM   #7
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Just a thought

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Originally Posted by camminich View Post
Yesterday morning after sitting all night woke up to a ton of hot water and no troubles. Today though it was just luke warm again.
Just a thought. The thermostat has "hysteresis." That means the there are a few degrees difference between the point it starts heating and the point where it stops. For example, it might start heating when the water gets down to 115 degrees and stop when it gets up to 120. When the water cools back down to 115 it will start again. If it didn't do that, it would be cycling on and off continuously.

If your thermostat isn't working right, it could be starting at 90 degrees and cutting off at 120. Depending on where it is in the cycle when you draw water, you could get 90 or 120 or somewhere in between. The hysteresis in a water heater thermostat isn't adjustable. You would replace the thermostat if this were the problem.

Digression warning
Interestingly, the hysteresis on a furnace thermostat IS adjustable. It's called the "anticipator" adjustment, and it's inside the wall thermostat or on it's backside. It works by slightly preheating the thermostat when the furnace is off and not heating it while the furnace is operating.

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Old 04-04-2018, 01:49 PM   #8
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Those pesky little switches are a known weak point. Leave it on all the time and instead turn the WH breaker off. Outside, take the cover off, near the top left you will see a rubber cover with little button like spots. These are resets. One for 12VDC one for 120VAC. 4 screws and the cover comes off. Check the wiring. There are spade connectors, and its quite possible one or more are loose. If so, either push them back to seat them or if there loose, take a pair of plyers and gently squeeze the terminal to make the connection tight.
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Old 04-04-2018, 02:28 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by camminich View Post
Thank you all for the suggestions. I too am starting to think it's either voltage or just interrupted power.

I've checked all of my external and internal taps. They are all closed and when opened hot runs hot and cold runs cold with no issue or lack of pressure.

Yesterday morning after sitting all night woke up to a ton of hot water and no troubles. Today though it was just luke warm again. I think we may have been drawing a little more power over night though. Also more people in campground last night, so it could be we are fighting for power.

How about the switch itself? Has anyone heard of just it going bad or not staying on? The on/Off rocker doesn't seem have the same tension it once did.
You've received several good suggestions into looking at the wiring and reset switches.

I'll address your question I've made bold in red above...

Yes, those switches often go bad. We've had many reports of such here. They do not carry the current required very well and will often melt in the on position. If your switch seems to be binding or working improperly, it is very likely it is going bad.
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Old 04-04-2018, 10:02 PM   #10
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Yes, those switches often go bad. We've had many reports of such here. They do not carry the current required very well and will often melt in the on position. If your switch seems to be binding or working improperly, it is very likely it is going bad.
I have a light switch that gets warm and is hard to flip on and off.

I've been wondering about something like that and thinking of replacing it.
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