I did it!!! Hot Water Heater Repair.

One of the amazing things about my Airstream is that the Atwood hot water heater puts out really hot water. Well, that is, it did put out really hot water until about May of this past year, when it suddenly stopped working.

My Atwood hot water heater had always worked silently, and in mid-May, it was still operating, but for some reason, it was louder than usual. I had recently replaced the LP gas canister, and I wondered if I had somehow gotten a “bad” can of gas. I kept using the hot water heater and though the flame wasn’t its usual steady self, I figured that I couldn’t do much harm if it was still putting out hot water. Increasingly, the hot water heater seemed to have to work more and more diligently to produce even just warm water. And then it stopped. The flame would come on, struggle, and no hot or even warm water would come out.

This was the precise fear I had when I bought my Airstream: that some mechanical calamity would occur, and I wouldn’t know how to fix it, or that the repair would be hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix.

So I procrastinated, which, when I don’t know how to do something, is my default. I didn’t want to face a costly repair, and thought: eventually, it will either work on its own, or it won’t. So I browsed Amazon for a complete replacement. I mean, surely, replacing the entire hot water tank and heater with a hot water on demand system would be preferable to troubleshooting and figuring out what’s really wrong with mine, right? In the meanwhile, I can live for a few days without hot water. Well, as those days turned in to months (I’m writing this in late September…), and eventually I decided enough was enough.

A tempting new electric hot water on demand unit from Amazon.

I got brave and hit up YouTube, where I found this helpful video:

The man in the video, Donald Adams (according to YouTube) was thorough in his explanation, and showed a number of troubleshooting and other tips to help me tackle the problem.

So, about a week after watching the video, I ordered a little $16 part from Amazon called a thermocouple. It’s essentially a fuse that prevents the water heater from burning down your entire Airstream when something is wrong with the flame. That’s what happened to mine. By keeping the water heater running, I was (unknowingly) creating an unsafe condition where the flame was actually licking up out of the burner tube… and the thermocouple melted. Luckily, the good folks at Atwood must know people like me, and they designed a safety feature to insure against stupidity. Thanks Atwood!

The scary $16 part that stood between me and hot water for months. Two of the three pieces aren’t even used!

I waited another week for it to arrive, and then procrastinated another week or so before “finding the time” to tackle the installation.

Well, after three months of procrastinating, it took about 5 minutes to change out the thermocouple, brush out the pilot tube, and put everything back together.

Easy. I snapped the old thermocouple off, and put the new one on. It really didn’t even require tools (but I did use a pair of needle nosed pliers because I was leary of the wires that were in there… I figured it was easier to stick in a tool rather than my fingers.)

My burned out thermocouple (top) and the new replacement (bottom.)

So, as I write this, I am enjoying the dull sound of a consistent flame and the sound of hot water being made on demand for me to do dishes later tonight!

$16 and 5 minutes. Probably not worth three months of worry and procrastination.