Thursday, May 24, 2012

Replacing gas fired water heater

After raising and dispersing successful, non-dependent, self-reliant sons in our 'Traditional Family' home for many years, the house infrastructure is gradually cycling through periodic decline, requiring periodic renewal. I lie awake some nights thinking of what is due for attention. We have a sprinkler system to water the lawn. It is set to 'auto-on' at 5am.

 As it opens the valves, the natural gas fired water heater, in a hall utility closet containing the gas fired furnace, voices it's condition with a loud rumble due to the rapid decline in water pressure. Over the years after repeating the replacement cycle, we have noted that sound usually indicates the heater tank is accumulating hard, thick mineral deposits that cover it's heat transfer element, as well as the inside tank surfaces. Replacement is imminent.

Of course being a procrastinator, I pay little attention as possible to the repeated 'grumbling' warnings. I opened the closet doors to switch the furnace system off, closing the diverter doors over the furnace heat exchanger for the summer season. We have a unique evaporative cooling system in the dry deserts of the Southwestern USA. It must be enabled by duct opening, to the evap unit mounted on the roof. While the utility closet doors were open, I noted an amount of water in the safety capture pan below the old grumbling water heater tank.

Past experience told me it finally failed. The process to locate a replacement was begun. The first tank after ten years in our home, leaked, and the raised floor of the closet suffered the fate of water logged plywood. Only the final puddle of water noted by wife in bare feet, brought attention to the problem. I was working a full time job at the time and had no such time for a 'Do It Myself' project of such magnitude. My pay allowed us to call for a replacement water heater after 10 years of hard use. The tank chosen by wife was by frugal necessity, a low priced model professionally installed.

At the five year point, it Rumbled. I had some time available, and lots of energy at that point in my life, so she and I physically removed the tank to inspect it. Draining is recommended, seeing as water is one US pound a Pint and the tank contains 40 US gallons. Turning OFF the water heater gas flame long before draining, reduces the temperature. A long garden hose from the drain valve, carries the water to the front lawn.

Upon removing the external water line fittings of that heater tank, we noted the 'stalactites' and sediment clinging to every surface inside the tank. Forming a wand from 1/4" copper tubing fastened to our garden hose, made a forced water jet that knocked loose the mineral deposits, which drained away out of the drain pipe hole and other fitting orifices, as we rolled the tank around in the grass lawn.

That experience taught us lessons for the future. The economy tank had a cheap plastic drain device that leaked and clogged, as the periodic drain-off of sediment was performed. I replaced it with a better quality brass faucet made for the purpose. I noted the 'Dip' cold water inlet tube had been cheap clear plastic and cooked away in the 120 degree environment of the tank. I replaced it with a heat resistant type that swirls the water upon entry, supposedly self cleaning? The process on that second water heater, took all day for the two of us to accomplish. The refurbished economy tank lasted for over ten years.

That memory was distant in my mind, as I contemplated the task now at hand once again. Locating a new replacement was begun with a few phone calls to find approximate pricing. Samon's, a local distributor of plumbing and electrical items, was first on the list with a State
  • select brand at US $344.99. 'Lowe's and 'Home Depot' were somewhat comparable in price. 'Sears' was a bit higher.

    Lowe's was the first stop to orient myself to the project. The plumbing dept representative was very informative on all models of 'Whirlpool' brand. He told of the various features and advantages. I went from the cheapest model to a mid level type, eventually choosing the economy model. Taking it home in the back of the SUV (why we own one) and calling 'heavy duty' son for assistance, I looked forward to the task on the next day.

    During the middle of the night I reviewed my new purchase in my mind, after awakening (hate it when that happens). The man at Lowe's mentioned a source of information 'On Line'. I awoke in the middle of the night and did my search on-line. The Whirlpool 'complaints' stood out on the search list. Disturbed about the list of  the year 2012 complaints against Whirlpool, I returned the unopened box early the next morning. I noted the weight of the unit at 118 US pounds. The return desk clerk immediately cut open the unopened New box to inspect the heater? I asked why. Seems that there are a number of 'customers' that buy new devices, opening the box with great care and re-boxing their Old unit for return and cash back. Those type of 'humanity' do not deserve to Exist in this world.

    Now shopping again, I went to Samon's. Questions were answered to my satisfaction. The first note was the quality brass drain valve. Asking about the cold water 'Dip' tube revealed a special high temperature type similar to the one I had installed in the other heater many years ago. A lower mesh wrapped filter material around the very substantial circular base frame,  provided enhanced protection from igniting stray vapors. The sealed combustion chamber with little square glass observation port,  provided even more safety.

     The factory warranty was 6 years on the unit I selected. Another model that cost substantially more, was listed ten years warranty. The only perceptible difference was a larger diameter wrap case, with thicker insulation for colder ambient installation. The weight of the model I chose (this is important) was 20 US pounds 'More' than the economy Whirlpool brand. Satisfied with the 'State Select' brand and the attractive price, I returned home to prepare to install the new appliance.

    Son arrived and we began to remove the old unit. I had previously shut down the city water supply and drained the leaking unit, disconnecting all pipes after shutting OFF the gas valve. I apparently forgot how difficult and heavy the tank was to remove from the utility closet in the tight hallway. It took us a couple of hours total, using rudimentary jacks and straps to raise the tank above the safety pan I had installed years ago.

    The safety pan was installed under our second unit to capture any leakage, which it did. I found out that a major cause of 'in home' fires, is a gas fired water heater tank, that quietly leaks, rots the wood support structure and falls gradually, igniting the surroundings while emitting deadly carbon monoxide. Hence the reason for the 4 inch deep safety pan under the tank.

    Always helpful son, loaded the old rusted unit into his truck for disposal. We worked and sweated through the lifting and installation of the new unit. If not assisted by a strong and resourceful helper and having some degree of technology in your background, I would strongly suggest having a professional install these appliances.

    After carefully monitoring the pressure test and tightening fittings, exhausted son left for the day, I finished the process of connecting and testing, making sure to use code compliant gas line Yellow Teflon sealant tape on the gas inlet fittings. Attaching the flue involved a bit of adjustment, as the location somewhat shifted for the unit.

     A soapy water solution tested for leaks. No bubbles. Following the instructions for igniting, resulted in the flame appearing in the little glass window. Darkness is required to observe the flame color. Blue is perfect. A yellow flame was apparent for a short duration while settling in. The impulse button Piezio ignition is a pleasant upgrade from the old 'match lit' systems of the past. The process indicated pressing the button 90 times while the gas line purged any air from the regulator to the little 'pilot' flame.

    The water is now hot, 120 degrees and no leaks. The system 'circulating' hot water from the 'Grundfoss' Pump is on a small electronic timer (mechanical integral timer failed) so we have warm water as soon as we open the faucets. We are ready for hopefully at the least, ten more years of service.

     Our city water wells are of a medium mineral content, so collecting deposits is always a problem shortening the life of even the 'glass lined' tanks. I did pull out and note the far more substantial heat deflector core inserted down the central flame chamber. The new 'State Select' unit presumably has a smoother whirling pattern of flame than the old economy unit. Maybe with the improvements, we can expect longer life and more efficiency?

    There are many new technologies to consider today. Computer boards with system displays are now in several controllers. 'Flash' boilers that heat water On demand. Hybrids that use a compressor heat pump as well as electric types that have computerized 'rate peak' times co-ordinated with the power generating companies. Propane burning for Mobile Homes, solar heating systems for 'Off-Grid' remote locations are another direction on the market. The cost variation is wide, from thousands of US dollars, to the low hundreds.

    Every system has it's advantages and disadvantages, depending on each individual's installation, lifestyle and requirements. "The more complex, the costlier, the more maintenance intensive"... is my rule. Serving as a technician for my lifetime career, alerted my experience based on complexity. I usually settle for basic simplicity in my life.

    Such is everyday life in the Greatest Nation the world has ever known. The United States of America. "One Nation Under GOD"
  • Thursday, May 10, 2012

    "Motor House" lifestyle USA

    Why we justify our periodic nomadic lifestyle.

    Without the Motor Home, Co-pilot using her Garmin, maps and various camping catalogs, could never 'See' the USA she dutifully paid taxes for all of our lives to build. Especially up close and personal :>)
    Our 'total' traveling costs... per day, 'have been' previously in the realm of $150 max, due to frequent free nights while in transit at the beckoning of gracious Walmart and various other attractive 'pastures?

    Several large 'big box' parking lots, that we frequent regularly, are quiet and treesy, with lush green grassy areas just outside our door. Re-stocking of provisions is within walking distance into the store. Often we notice a small 'circling of wagons' in the evening. Especially during infrequent wind and rain storms. Dodging Tornadoes is an exciting bit of weather watching and planning that adds to the satisfaction.... so long as we do it right.. Tannehill Georgia was pretty exciting.

  •  We avoid the states that discourage by restriction, Walmart Camping. We avoid like a plague, the few obsessed 'Gun Control' states, because we are Always well armed, 2nd Amendment style, as well as Certified Concealed Carry. The fate of fellow RV travelers, Gary and Linda Hass from Oklahoma
  • is still fresh in our minds. New Mexico alone has had it's share of Career Repeat Offenders, 'Changing' the lives of innocent 'Victims'
  • The police are very efficient. Dial 911, they arrive in time to wrap the yellow tape around the crime scene and collect evidence...After the violence and carnage.

    The Freedom loving 'Republic of Texas' is one of our favorites. The massive state offers so much variation in landscape, it is like traveling across several states. The Southwest Desert has left it's mark on the Western edge. The Hill country and it's Ranching with German influence. Fredricksberg has that ambiance, Quaint International type Cafes as well as the Museum of the Pacific Theater to enjoy. 
  • Gulf Coast water environment and 70 mile natural beach of North Padre Island barrier offers a far different experience of Sea Turtles, Sharks and surf fishing. Texas offers free fishing while staying in it's over 100 various themed State Parks. Swamps and Bayous of the lower Eastern Louisiana influence bring campers back in time to a slower pace still enjoyed by many. Eastern farming with the industrial activity spread across most of Texas around the well known urban areas, that offer employment to anyone looking for a 'Work' oriented lifestyle.  
  • We enjoy the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Prosperous Port Townsend shipyards and surrounding area keep us interested for days. If you have a US Passport, the excellent Washington State and British Columbia Ferry System beckons. Anacortes Washington is home and manufacturing port of many commercial fishing boats (A boats) seen on Deadliest Catch. Oregon coastline camping being our favorite scenic Pacific Ocean ambiance
  • The always beautiful mountainous Western states that surround it, are fine touring. World Class. :>)

    Co-pilot's disability forgoes Any Motel or Hotel.
    Her extreme allergies associated, cause her intense and lasting (days past original exposure) discomfort and fatigue. Any 'smells', volatiles, sanitizers, de-odorizers, smoker's odors,.... anything and Everything, cause unbearable joint pain (akin to extreme, progressively crippling arthritis) accompanied by deep respiratory problems. Our well 'stabilized' base home and the fact that the Motor House is now vintage, well used and odor free , create the useable and enjoyable living space she, by necessity requires. New units, like New cars, are smelly, toxic boxes of fresh chemistry.

    By controlling her environment and meal regimen, (both of which also control and limit her discomfort) she can remain in the Motor House for days at a time. Sitting in her comfortable front seat, looking out the big windshield, as we tour and see the USA, is an experience to remember.

    Not encumbered with periodic requirements to step outside, if not desired,.... or having a Severe, progressively crippling 'day' (each severe attack leaves her more disabled). Being thrifty by necessity, she carries and acquires at thrift stores, numerous books to read inside her rolling house, while I hike and explore the areas we camp..

    Hopefully, knee replacements, though risky for sufferers, will allow her to again climb the stairs, like she once was able, rather than crawl up and down like a dog, as she is barely able to do now. In San Antonio KOA, we met a man traveling with his Blind wife in a vintage Winnebago. He described the sights and vistas in detail as they toured the nation. She knew every crevice of the small Winnebago, and prepared their meals, while he maintained and drove the vintage Winnebago.

     One pleasant evening in Greensberg Kansas
  • before it was destroyed by a Tornado 04 May 2007, we met a Coleman tent camping family of very funny, heavy older folks, that laughingly described others as 'morbidly' obese, joking that 'they' themselves were just 'over' weight.... for their height. Said that if they were a foot taller, they would be just fine. :>) Fun evening discussions, no matter where we travel and who we meet.

    'Fun Valley' RV Campground in Southern Colorado is an adventure in itself. So many things to keep campers busy, we took our grand kids on occasion. They remember the trips to this day, even though now teens with their own lifestyles. Ruidoso New Mexico is another camping destination they enjoyed.

    We also do not particularly relish the city life, where the hotels and motels are located, other than to visit some historic sites. We eschew the urbanized settings, in exchange for the National forests, State Parks, Lakes, Rivers, even semi-arid deserts... if scenic and inhabited by natures always interesting Wildlife :>)

    We enjoy the freedom from 'reservations' dictating our travel whims (Being 'Free' spirits, we Never plan for any night's stay). In popular tourist destinations, even the camping lifestyle is now requiring reservations. Only off the beaten path, do we still find secluded little campgrounds, that are happy to see us pull in for the evening. Some of our most enjoyable camping has been in those little, somewhat forgotten places. :>)

    Since the economy 'CHANGE', it appears that people are being 'forced' into Camping far more than before. We see more of the Traditional families in tents, than ever. They are far more abundant in the parks in these 'Changed' later years. Small camping trailers are now considered a step up from the fun and exciting 'roughing it' tents..

    We enjoy watching the small families having fun together, while out in the natural settings. The kids are so excited and active during the daylight, they hit their sacks soon after darkness. I remember being in Boy Scouts and the same warm secure feeling, crawling into the sleeping bag for the night.

    In Tennessee we watched a small happy Traditional  Family, camping in tents around their little camp fire. The brothers were wearing Davy Crockett/Dan'l Boone Coonskin caps, as they hid among the trees, while we carefully wedged the rig into our chosen site.

    They were carrying well constructed toy 'Brown Bess' cap fire muskets with green wooden stocks, and what appeared to be a cap fire Pirate pistol. They had proudly bought them, while visiting Disney Land in Anaheim Cal.... they told us the whole story. :>)

    The 'forest frontier' boys, crawled through the grass and 'surrounded' our camp, as we set up for the evening :>)
    I told the family that I was impressed, that in this 'PC indoctrinated' day, the 'lost boys' were still Allowed to be Armed :>)

    The very intelligent Mother told us that their kids were 'Home Schooled' during their cross country 'Education'. Seeing and learning about America and her History, is the goal of their camping travels. They are intensely studying... 'Every'.... aspect of the America our ancestors so proudly built.

    We were proud of her and her husband, and told them so. Gave them my copy of 'American Rifleman'. :>) That National Campground in Tennessee, is the birthplace of Davy Crockett (very Independent, interesting guy).  The young boys showed me their weaponry and were anxiously awaiting the opening of the Crockett museum on Monday. :>)

    The last opportunities (we are not getting younger, the USA is gradually becoming more restrictive, less Free)  for seeing the Greatest nation the world has ever known,  meeting the fantastic LEGAL Citizens that keep it functioning and maintaining FREEDOM.

    As long as we are able, we will forgo other pleasures. Saving the costs that others justify expendable, to instead periodically spend to relish our FREE USA.
    We still continue to love our amazing, unique nation and the travel opportunities to see it's wonders, even in our rapidly dwindling active years. God willing, we will somehow find the resources and energy to 'keep on Rollin' on'. :>)
     Enjoy life and touring in The United States of America, The Greatest Nation the World has Ever known, "One Nation Under GOD"
  • Friday, May 04, 2012

    Holiday Rambler motor home maintenance

    Since the nice spring weather is finally here in New Mexico, I have started repairing minor issues with the 34' Holiday Rambler MH on the workhorse 8.1 liter chassis, readying it for 'whenever or whatever'. The possibility of requiring rapid mobility in case of a major disruption of 'Rule of Law', or any major problem associated with remaining in one vulnerable location, is now becoming more based on 'possible or likelihood'. The financial problems facing the now historically unprecedented, debt beleaguered USA, could remotely prove to be, problematic? Our present 'leadership' desires the USA to be "More like Europe"... 'in debt' and dependency addicted.

    When I filled and pressurized the water system, it sprayed water from a fitting in the 'wet' connection bay. The 'freeze cracked' PVC fitting had expanded and broke during the below freezing winter storage. A small puddle had apparently remained in the low point, after draining and blowing out the system's water lines last Fall. A 3/4" to 1/2" PVC adapter is below where I had installed an air pressurized reservoir, to prevent the 'on demand' pump from running every time a faucet was turned on. I used a small 'Lowe's, home model, diaphragm air ballast tank installed at, pump line 'out' to solve the incessant pump motor run cycles.

    The air reservoir tank had apparently bounced low enough over the thousands of miles since initial install, to cause the puddling in the low PVC fitting. Picked up a new plastic fitting, installed and all was good. Raise of the tank with a restraining strap to prevent recurrence, finished the project. Pressure tested, no problem holding pressure for last few days now. Filled the 60 gallon freshwater tank, adding one cup of Chlorine bleach for purification. It naturally diminishes in slight taste, after a week. There is no reason to waste so much fresh water to rinse out 'taste'.

    We seldom drink from the reservoir tank water anyway. MH is usually stocked with a sufficient number of drinking water in gallon jugs from Dollar Tree. Dollar Tree gallon drinking water jugs, with little strap handles, are thicker clear plastic and withstand the repeated mountain passes, associated with flexing of pressure in the jugs. The common 1 gallon milky jugs of drinking water, All crack and leak, after a series of high altitude passes. Because of the durability, we regularly refill the empty gallon jugs at each fresh water camp.

    Located a couple sets of bright 'single LED' swivel lamps. Putting them all around the seating areas and bedroom. They are AA battery powered and brighter than regular lights. The main House batteries that power all conventional lighting, will last even longer on a charge now, when off grid 'Boon Docking'. The flat screen LCD TV's are another improvement. Being much lighter, they reduce the overall GVW and the front end bounce was reduced substantially after removal of the heavy CRT, mounted high above the driver's cab. Due to low current draw while on the inverter, the 'house' batteries register full charge in the morning, even after hours of watching TV on the inverter at night. Need for the Onan 5500 generator is seldom now. Microwave, toaster and coffee maker is still high amperage load, above capability of inverter for any extended duration.

     I replaced all of the small incandescent 'indicator' lamps scattered around the coach, with individual LED's. I also installed bright outside security indicator LED's, to let me glance at the coach from across the yard, to determine if it needs a charge, or has been disturbed in any way. The battery bank rarely shows parasitic discharge now, even after a week or more of disconnect. The two 'Smart' chargers (one smaller for chassis, one larger, for the coach 4 'golf cart' battery bank) maintain the batteries during long periods of storage.

     I leave the 'built in' system disconnected and Off, during storage. Although somewhat sophisticated in adjustable charge rates, the factory Xantrak unit is not a really 'Smart' Maintainer', and will gradually boil the battery bank, drastically shortening their life.

     I had installed a set of 3 'cheap' amorphous solar panels from Harbor Freight. They put out a small charge advertised (falsely) at 45 watts, but not enough to really maintain the four coach batteries. Plan is to order one big Polycrystalline Solar Panel, to replace the cheap (and weak) HF units.

    The plastic cover on the front AC unit is cracking at the mount screws. I found some Epoxy mix that actually bonds to plastic. Repaired and re-enforced the cover, and adjusted the fan compressor motor to let blower squirrel cage, clear the housing (it was rattling when it ran) All is now well on the roof after the storage, just needs a wax job on the fiberglass. NM sun is brutally high in degrading UV.

    The roof transition aluminum curve from front to rear, was separating from the sidewall at front driver corner. Found that HR had skimped, in using cheap 1/8" pop rivets, spaced very far apart, to fasten the roof transition to the wall, they broke. Found some large 1/4" pop rivets, 3/4" long, that require a long handled 'pull tool'. HR only had the little ones spaced out a foot apart. New Bigger ones are only 6" apart. Now the roof will stay fastened down, at least at that weakest part ;}

    Resealed the seams to ensure waterproof. Gradually getting it ready for next trip...after mates knee is replaced and she can walk again. Hopefully she can then climb the steps without 'Dog Crawling' into and out of the coach. :}

    Fuel is always a concern when time is calculated. Marvel Mystery Oil seems to act as a stabilizer during storage. Periodic starting and operation of the engine and generator is advised. The auxiliary containers if/when carried, boost the distance between fuel stops. 75 gallons is in the main tank. 8 miles per gallon is expected, with substantial  improvement during flat land and low wind conditions.

    The 4,300# Jeep Grand Cherokee, although easy to shift into 'flat' tow, is history, having been replaced with a much lighter Honda CRV. Mountain passes will be much easier with Honda in tow, as will fuel economy on both units. Late model Jeep was yet another victim of unrealistic federal EPA regulations, because of their restrictions figured 'per gallon', rather than the common sense 'per mile', the Jeep got barely 12.6 mpg around town. Honda CRV easily gets over 20 mpg in same city conditions.

    After 7 months storage in the yard, decided to start up the Motor Home for system testing. The regular gasoline fuel is not formulated for storage longevity. Before putting away after last Fall trip, we filled the 75 gallon tank and added a quart of Marvel Mystery Oil, along with a bottle of CD-2 fuel system cleaner. The drive home from Costco did the mixing and circulating.

    The 8.1 liter Workhorse engine fired up as if it was just run yesterday. Fuel injection is far better than a carburetor. The 5500 watt auxiliary Onan generator started after two tries. The electric water heater had been filled, then pressurized by the 12 V pump. It's auxiliary heat coil drew about 10 amps, so it was functioning.

     120 AC heat coil in the Norcold refrigerator drew 4 amps, which indicated the heating coil in the exchanger was working. Sometimes there is a ground fault after prolonged storage, preventing the shore power from heating the Norcold unit, without kicking out the GFCI. Running the generator to stabilize the unit's power system, seems to fix that.

    The slow reacting, gravity fed Refrigerant takes hours to notice any change. The front and rear roof AC units, both blew cold after zone set on control panel, so that was a successful test. The rear unit needs a little checking for a ticking sound. Next roof trip, will pull cover and check it out as I did for front unit. Suspect is 'squirrel fan to housing' clearance. The Propane units still require a test before everything is acceptable.

    The chassis AC blew cold from the dash vents and all systems were stable. Engine run up brought the computer controlled RPM to 3,000 max revs. A half hour run seemed to show satisfactory results throughout coach with no problems. All systems appear good to go. 'When' and of course 'Where'? are the questions to be pondered over the next few months while co-pilot recuperates..