For the last several weeks I’ve been living the inconvenience of no hot water on my boat/my home. Not to worry, I still found a way to get my daily shower. I would shower at work or at our clubhouse in the marina but not nearly as convenient as showering in your own home!
My water is heater has worked flawlessly for the last 15 years (and it’s been on my boat much longer than that!). It is a Paloma (Legacy -as in old) Ph5 propane tankless/on-demand water heater. The last time I changed my propane tank out, in later December, I noticed that the water was just not as hot as usual! The situation quickly worsened. Luke warm at best showers and the research began. The flame in the heater would light but the water wouldn’t get very warm and then wouldn’t stay even luke warm.
There are a lot of newer version on demand heaters out there but the main thing I love about this one is the compact size and the fact that it completely mechanical. No electronic control board -a simple piezo ignition so no battery or power required. The first thing I checked for in the troubleshooting process was a propane leak. I soaked all my lines with leak detector and could find no flaws. The Tankless Water experts at Low Energy Systems have a great website for the purpose of parts and even troubleshooting on a unit as old as mine. They have a section that addresses common problems, complete with pictures and parts. For the problem of water not getting hot enough the first suspect on their troubleshooting list is the water valve and this same company sells the water valve rebuild kit for $60. the part that troubled me with this was the fact that the problem hadn’t occurred until I had changed the propane tank. My inclination was consider a gas leak. I have a propane detector in my boat (alarm that would go off it sensed propane) and I had checked all my lines for leaks. My propane heater on the boat also worked fine. As far as I was concerned it could be anything!
As luck would have it there was the exact model of propane heater available on Craigslist and the person selling it had terrific pictures and said to the best of his knowledge it looked virtually unused. It was in Santa Cruz, a couple of hours away from me and he was willing to ship it for a reasonable fee. I bought it sight unseen hoping for the best. My reasoning on this was, yes I could buy a water valve rebuild kit which could fix the problem but what if it was a gas valve
In the process of my water heater repair troubleshooting research a common thread was along the lines of flushing the system out for lime deposits and such. After I received the new water heater I rigged up a means to flush the water heater out using a submersible utility pump, washing machine hoses and a 5 gallon bucket full of white vinegar. I did this outside on the dock so as to not stink up my boat. I flushed both water heaters thoroughly and went ahead and installed the water heater I had just received back into my boat.
I have to admit I was excited at the prospect of having a nice hot shower in the comfort of my own boat. Water lines & gas line back in place I was ready to go for it. Time to light the pilot light and test it all out. What a disappointment! The new (used heater) had a faulty ignition valve.
As I would try to turn the valve to ignite the heater it felt like it was hitting a mechanical stop within the valve and I could not budge it past a certain point. I had to take the new heater back out. Back out on the dock I laid a couple of towels down over the boards because the only thing left to do was to try and disassemble the ignition valve and see if there was some way to get this heater going. Everything about it looked shiny and I could only hope that it was the lack of use that had rendered the ignition valve frozen! With the towels laid on the dock (so I wouldn’t take the chance of losing parts in the tear-down) I proceeded to disassemble the heater.
This is what the valve looks like after I got everything out of the way. I wound up soaking the valve in a penetrating oil for a good 10 minutes. After the soak I used a screw a large screwdriver in one of the notches pointed to on my picture to push the valve down and attempt to turn it. I kept adding the penetrating oil and working the valve. It must have been a good 20-30 minutes of letting i soak alternating with trying to move the valve. Finally, success! I could feel the ignition valve starting to work at last.
I mounted the first (bad heater) outside and with all safety precautions in place (fire extinguisher hose etc) I rigged up the propane and the input hose to the first heater to see how hot the water would get. Initially the water came out of my first heater with decent heat -better than luke warm but not hot. I then rigged up this new heater (new to me not new mind you) and though it took a couple of tries to get the ignition to actually light off I soon had a full on flame going in the water heater just as it should be. The best news of all: the water coming out of the water heater was now scalding hot. In the 15 years of using the previous water heater I have never had water so hot!
It took me a while to finish this post. Basically around Christmas 2015 is when my water heater started acting up and then I was fortunate enough to find this replacement one about 3 weeks later. A long weekend was spent in all the troubleshooting and repairs but by about the middle of January I was able to take hot showers on my own boat again as opposed to having to take all my showers at work or in our marina clubhouse. I have to say my first hot water shower on my own boat after several weeks of showering at work was absolutely awesome. One of the longest and most relaxing showers ever. Thanks James (the man I bought the water heater from) for being willing to ship it to me. I know that part was a headache too but you were very kind to get it on my way so quickly. I also want to mention that Seth at TanklessWaterHeaters.com was very helpful in my call to them. He was the one who said it would be ok to use the penetrating oil on the valve and her also diagnosed my problem in the old water heater to be the water valve. I am quite sure it is the vale and when finances allow I will buy their rebuild kit for that valve and get that water heater going too. I had been looking for this model heater for a while to put on my other boat so once I get the old one fixed I’ll have a source of hot water for my Gibson boat as I continue it’s remodel process.