I’ve learned way too much about RV water heaters

rv_water-heaterIn preparation for showers at our first camping trip, I pushed the button to ignite our hot water heater, set my timer for 30 minutes to check the water, and went back to playing with the kids.  The timer went off, and when I checked the hot water, it was still cold.

I should have checked that the fire had ignited in the water heater, but we were having so much fun at the time, I decided to just trust it, which was obviously a mistake I won’t make again.

I went out to check on it, and nothing looked obviously wrong with a cursory glance.  I checked all the connections and fuses, banged on the solenoid, and disconnected the pipe to the solenoid to confirm I smelled gas.

The temperature out was still in the 50s, so hot water was a must.  Since it was late, we began to think of alternatives with the only real options being no shower, or go to the camp’s showers.  Since it was getting pretty late, the wife and kids opted for no shower.  I opted for a really, really cold shower in the camper, which was a horrible decision.

The next morning I began to investigate a little deeper, and one of my fellow campers lent a hand in troubleshooting.  Lent a hand is putting it lightly, this guy was one of those “I’m going to help you by doing it all for you” types, which is not preferred.  The guy was helpful, but not exactly a team player.  The troubleshooting was limited anyway because we did not have a multimeter.  This job would have to wait until home.

Over the next couple of weeks, I dug all over the internet looking for troubleshooting information.  I discovered that there are two primary brands of RV water heaters: Suburban and Atwood.  I have an Atwood, model number: G6A-8E. A few youtube and google searches revealed some basic info, but the Atwood Owner’s Manual also provided good part number and schematic info.

The primary parts in question were the solenoid (93870) and the circuit board (93851).

The hope was that it was just a fuze on the circuit board, but after successfully checking both of them with a multimeter, it was obvious this project would not be an easy (and cheap) fix.  It could have also been the E.C.O. (Emergency Cut Off) switch, and the T-Stat (Thermostat) switches, but I was able to bypass them with some alligator clips, proving they were not the issue (in addition to checking them with the meter).

After looking up the solenoid and circuit board online and noticing that they were not cheap (about $250 combined), I checked to see what a new one would cost and that would have set me back about $500. There is also a tool that will test your Atwood circuit board, but it is about $300.  Not very cost-efficient for this one project.

After buying my first camper I found a guy, who works on campers/RVs out of his garage, to perform an inspection on it. I felt like he did a thorough job, so I decided to give him a call.  He was very helpful and gave me some pointers on troubleshooting before bringing it to him (mainly stuff listed above).  After the suggestions failed to narrow down the issue, he said he had an old solenoid and circuit board for the model I have (G6A-8E) that I could buy for $125 total.  He also gave me a money back guarantee that the parts would work for a while.

This sounded like the best option, so I met him at a local Home Depot, confirmed that his parts matched-up with mine, and bought the parts.

We went home, connected it all up, and it ignited like a champ. This project was a few months ago (lazy posting on my part), and the water heater is going strong.

We bought a camper

kids_with_camper_first_picsWe recently bought a 2006 22′ Pioneer Raptor camper.  We had been saving for a while, and motivating our kids to help save money.  Their primary responsibility being to ensure that all lights are turned out “so we can buy a camper”.  The kids were so invested that one of our friends came out of the bathroom and forgot to turn out the light, so my 4 year-old son said “Katy, turn out the light so we can buy a camper”.

While this was a pretty big purchase, it is in camp-ready shape, and we hope it will help us save money on vacations over the next few years, as well as motivate us to get out of the house on a regular basis, especially lazy weekends.  There will be scheduling conflicts (tball, softball, etc.) on weekends that might make trips more difficult, but we still hope to take it out on a regular basis, even if it’s just for one night at a park close to home.

A couple of years ago we had a 1994 24′ Mallard bumper pull camper, which was a piece of junk that required a great deal of TLC before it was camp ready.  Most of that TLC was done by Mrs. Octo, and she spent an exorbitant amount of time cleaning, painting, and preparing that camper for its maiden voyage.  At the time, we did not realize that this camper’s primary deficiency would be so annoying: it did not have a bed.  It had a dinette bed, couch bed, and a bunk and a half: the previous owner cut one bunk in half for some reason, which worked out for us because we put up a baby gate and turned it into a crib.  After a few months, we decided to sell this one and buy another one with a bed, but after selling it, we decided to hold off on buying another one.

Growing up, Mrs. Octo’s family had a Class-C motor home (one with the bed above the cab), so convincing her to get one was not difficult.  The difficult part was trying to decide which kind: Class-C motor home vs. 5th wheel vs. bumper pull.

A Class-C motor home is awesome for lots of activities: going to weekend baseball tournaments, tailgating, etc.  You can take it out and as long as you have enough gas in the generator, everything is good to go in a parking lot or a camp site.  The downside is that it requires insurance, and it’s another vehicle to maintain, which could become expensive, especially given our desire to retire early.  So we had to pass on the Class-C.

A 5th wheel is what we want, but we are not in a position to have one just yet.  The truck I drive could probably handle a small 5th wheel, but it would be pushing the GVWR of the vehicle.  So unfortunately, we had to pass on a 5th wheel for now, but it’ll be the one we save for in the future (along with an appropriate truck).

That brought us to the bumper-pull that we have now.  It was a little cheaper than the others, and will fit our young family just fine.  However, if we continue to be a camping family, we will grow out of it in the next 5 years, if not sooner.

We hope that the camper will be a better ROI for taking the kids on more frequent adventures instead of only one or two big vacations a year.  After our initial investment plus a few things to get the camper ready, our adventures should incur relatively minimal costs: gas, food, site fees, etc.