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.

Kayak & Camping trip down the Brazos

2014-05-05_kayak_setupIt has been about 5 years since I last slept in a tent, and before that it was probably when I was 10 years old.  All of my outdoor activities as of late have included a camper.  So when my bro-in-law (BB) invited me to go camp with him and some of his buddies, I was pumped, but his friends were not as excited.  The day before we were to leave, it was down to just BB and me.

I have done a great deal of kayak fishing over the last 5 years, and know what is needed and not needed for a day in the yak fishing.  Since I have no camping & kayaking experience, and neither did BB, we both compensated by bringing anything and everything that would fit in our kayaks.  When we started to put everything in the kayaks before entering the water, floating safety became a serious concern.

We put in at the Whitney dam, and the original plan was to paddle all the way to Gholson, but late afternoon it occurred to us that this was a horrible idea.  We had a late start to the day, and did a lot more fishing than paddling the first half of the day.  Even when we realized we needed to pick up the pace, we still did not make it nearly as far as needed.

We made it past the primary day-trip exit point, and were headed for a predetermined campsite until acknowledging this locale was already preoccupied by other campers.  The next known campsites were a few miles down the river, and due to sunlight, we elected to paddle back up stream and find a spot.  We were lucky and after a few turns we found a lot that was being cleared for a new home that already had a hole dug for a fire and a handy folding-chair.


After a chilly night of sleep, we awoke, fished, and made it back to the first exit-point without major issue.  Paddling upstream is not fun.  We had to get out and pull our yaks twice, and were very lucky a stiff wind was at our backs.

Much like the first sprint in an agile project, we treated this as a learning trip.  We way over prepared in most areas, and the only places we really under-prepared was in river knowledge and fishing tackle.

Things I should not have taken for just me:

  • flask – on a more relaxing trip, not trying to paddle 20 miles, possibly
  • 2 propane stoves – I had a tiny one as a backup, but the backup stove is a match and wood
  • 4 pairs of shoes – this was not intentional, and the last time I went kayaking on the Brazos it was very early Spring and still quite cold, so it made sense to bring extra shoes.  The high recently was 90+ degrees; 2 pairs would have been fine
  • gourmet dinner plans – I brought full 1 gallon bags of frozen: pulled pork, brown rice, and  veggies.  This was wayyyyy too much food for a 2 person trip
  • Drinks – I brought 8 bottles of water, and that turned out to be fairly accurate.  However, in addition, I also brought 8 small bottles of Gatorade.  That is way too much, especially when Gatorade is pretty gross when hot
  • Snacks – there are so many opportunities (and desires) to eat a snack when fishing/paddling all day.  2 bags of sunflower seeds, 8 pack of combo peanut butter or cheese crackers, and 5 sticks of beef jerky.  I should have done some math on this beforehand (e.g. use how often I snack at work as a baseline, instead of just guessing)
  • 3 fishing poles – I usually take 3 poles on simple day-trips, but on a camping trip there is just not room for a third pole

2014-05-05_fishThings that I am very glad I brought:

  • My fishing bandana by Hoo-rag – this significantly reduced my need for sunscreen on my face, neck, and ears.  It is also very thin, preventing my head/neck from overheating
  • fleece balaclava  – the morning was pretty cold and windy, especially in the shade, and this provided great comfort
  • head lamp – everything is easier in the dark when your light is on your head and you have two hands free to do things
  • fire starting kit – we keep all of our dryer lent and lots of old toilet paper rolls
  • extra blanket – I knew my sleeping bag was probably not truly rated for 40 degrees even though it said so, and I was glad to have a blanket and a fleece pullover near me at night
  • tarp – it was nice to have a clean place at the campsite to organize things
  • water proof bags – I only had 2, but they were very easy to use and store
  • compression bag – I had a change of clothes and my pillow easily stored and compressed in the one bag I brought
  • lotion – not very manly, but your handles get incredibly dry on the water, and digging in dirt (sunscreen can also be used)

Things I want for my next trip:

  • good sleeping bag – due to space restrictions on the kayak, I had to buy a little sleeping bag (the one I had took up way too much volume).  The Wal-Mart one I bought was rated at 40 degrees, but it was freezing at 50 degrees
  • paddling gloves – got a couple of blisters on my hands from paddling so much, these would be a “nice-to-have”, and not necessary, but handy
  • good hatchet – I brought a hatchet I have had for years, but it needs a new handle, so I should either get a new handle, or a one-piece version
  • mini shovel – before we realized someone had already dug a fire pit, I started using my hatchet to dig one up.  Would have been much easier with a simple shovel
  • campsite chair – if I reduce the quantity of items brought, a regular pop-out chair would be easy to put on/in the kayak
  • machete – we were lucky and found a good camping spot, but with a machete, we could have hacked our way to a decent spot if we had to

I’m very glad that I have this new memory with BB.  I hope that this is not the last kayak/camp trip I take this year.  The wife is unlikely to take an over-night trip like this (if there are more women, she might go she says), but at a minimum, she said she would definitely want to take a day-trip down the river, so hopefully that can be done before it gets too hot down here.