Hot Water

Or the lack thereof. Funny how something that is so basic and normal to your life is a minor cause for alarm when it goes missing.

A few weeks back our Rheem tankless water heater decided to take a dive on us. I had installed the unit about 8-9 years ago and other than routine cleaning it was the perfect appliance. All of a sudden there was zero hot water and the control panel was indicating a code 11, which according the troubleshooting chart told us that the flame detector rods were not working, there was not enough gas pressure or the circuit board had gone kaput. After talking to their technical support people, the number one culprit was normally the flame detector rods. There are three of them and they cost a fantastic $6.00 each but with overnight shipping, the tab came to $50. I was also told that the old ones could be cleaned but I decided that maybe it would be better to have the spare parts just in case the cleaning did not work.

Taking the unit apart is aggravating. There are about 30 screws that have to be removed from the burn chamber cover plate to get access to the burners and the flame detector rods. There are also three gas pipes that have to be removed and they made sure that these were also in the way of removing the cover plate. There is nothing overly difficult here, just aggravating. So with the plate out of the way, I decided that I would just try to clean up everything and save the parts for a later time. Plus having to remove the entire burner assembly did not look to be like any fun. I rigged up a paint stick with a small piece of 3m pad and proceeded to clean the ends of the flame detectors. I also tried using the vacuum cleaner to clear out the burnt, leftover fine ash from the chamber. That did not work very well, so I thought that blowing it out with compressed air would take care of it. Warning – if you ever have to do something like this, put on a dust mask at least. I didn’t and paid a price for about 4 hours coughing and hacking, feeling like I couldn’t take a deep breath ever again. So with the mess that I made cleaned up and the unit reassembled I was happy to see that the code was gone and we had hot water again -another well done job!

As I said that was a few weeks ago. Tonight right around dinner time, we discover that once again we do not have hot water and the same code 11 has come back. Oh boy, now I am really panicked a bit. Having just cleaned it, it could be some of the other issues they mentioned and none of those were looking real good to me. But I still had those new parts and at the very least I was going to try those to see if they would resolve the issue. From what I had read, the rods acquire a coating on them that prevents them from detecting the burner flame correctly. Maybe my cleaning with the 3m pad had not been aggressive enough. I was also going to have to remove the entire burner unit this time as two of the rods are located on the back of the burner and there is no other way to remove them. So, once again the unit was disassembled, wires were marked, unplugged and disconnected. The gas tubes actually cooperated a little bit by swinging slightly to one side allowing the burner to be removed. Once it was out, I realized that my cleaning job had not been as good as I had thought. The burner itself had about half of its area coated in left over ash deposits but a soft cleaning brush and some more compressed air made quick work of it. I also wore a dust mask this time. The rods themselves are held in place with a few more screws and brackets so swapping them out wasn’t too bad a job. Putting everything back together went smoothly and again we were delighted to see that the code had gone and that the unit was heating water again. Some other members of the family have already taken showers and the unit appears to be operating normally. I suppose for $50 the repair cost is reasonable. I will probably order another set of rods in the near future just to have the spare parts available but at least they will not have to be overnighted this time.

When I installed this unit, the claim was that it would take about 4-5 years to actually recover the investment. These units at the time ran roughly about double what a standard 50 gallon gas hot water heater cost. Based on the number of times we have to fill our propane tank now compared to before the tankless unit, I can tell you that I recovered the extra cost in about 2 years. The fact that you are not heating water over and over again makes a significant difference in the amount of fuel you are using. If you are handy and have the knowledge to replace a gas water heater, then I recommend making the change to tankless – I don’t think you will regret it and of course the newer units are said to be even more efficient than the one I am using now.


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