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Noisy Water Heater Element - Odd


Bob Jones
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Hi Guys!

Over the last few days I noticed my water heater was creaky when it came on. I shut the electric off and the noise goes away. Turn it back on, noise comes on. I looked into it and it seems if the element is submerged in scale they can make noise. 

Flushing the Atwood is, largely useless. I found out a long time ago that the wand won't get it all, flushing through the blow off valve hole won't do it, so I pulled after a two hour wand session. Amazing how many rocks of scale came out. Anyway, now it's as clean as it can get so I put it back in, bled the air off and fired it up. 

Exact same noise. Turn off the electric, noise goes away. It's a 2000 watt element but I see that it typically is using 1821 watts. Never heard of that before (an element being noisy) but I ordered a new one, this time NOT a Camco, a Dernord, which is 3 or 4x as much but it looks like it's longer too. So we shall see. 

It literally sounds like the tank is expanding and ready to blow! But it IS the element. So go figure. 

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I kind of doubt it but I couldn't say for sure. It is, for all intents and purposes, just a solid steel loop. But it is definitely the element. It makes more noise when it starts up when the tank is cold. When it's fully hot it's silent again. Go figure. I could find nothing about it on the Internet other than if it's submerged in scale then it will do that. The new one I have coming is considerably longer and it's much higher quality. It may give the tank a more uniform temperature due to it's length. I just thought someone might have run into this before? I'd like to know what causes it. It will be interesting to see how much power the new one draws though. This one seems to be about 180 watts short of it's rating. 

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20 minutes ago, gdroberson said:

element probably has a pen hole in it they make a noise when it is shorting out when the hole gets big enough it will kick the breaker

A pin hole/shorting makes a lot of sense. My gut said it's on the way out since it seems to be getting more noisy. It's not lasted even a full year but I do recall that when I bought it I had the choice of buying one that was $10 or one that was $29.99 - I went with the Camco one for $10...I had a feeling at the time I should have bucked up! The good news is I found the one I *should* have bought the first time. 

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17 minutes ago, gdroberson said:

get what you pay for probably could get it at Hd or lowes amazon just google the part no  nothing special about it just a 120 volt element

I upgraded this one, so it's a 2,000 watt 120v unit. It seems to be a little harder to find so I got the first one off Amazon. But it was very weird because it took forever to show up and it seemed to come from India! So I don't know what the scoop was. Wrong one to buy, obviously. 

I pulled the water tank last summer and upended it after flushing it with the wand. I was shocked how much scale came out! The other day I wanded it again and then made up couplers so I could attach the garden hose to the boss where the blow-off valve is installed. I had high hopes for that but it also turned out to be a waste of time. 

The conclusion I've come down to is it's just better to pull the tank annually and remove the element and do it with a garden hose and then upend the tank and shake it as the water comes out the element hole (it's much bigger). With the element out I can look inside and see exactly how clean it is. I wish the engineers at Atwood would redesign the tanks so they have a plug in the bottom and the tank slopes toward the plug. If they did that, flushing would be a 5 minute job. Pull the plug and turn the water back on for about a minute and it would be clean. 

This is what came out of it. I pulled and flushed it last summer so it's been about 6 months....the pics don't really do it justice. I should have put a dime in there so you can see the size of the rocks!

20220218_163717.jpg

20220218_163726.jpg

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They're actually scale. It's caused by the water being a bit hard (well water). Apparently when the hard water goes into the tank and gets heated they appear. From what I've read it's much more prevalent on boilers, ie, the higher the tank temperature the worse the scale problem. This is probably why I have to deal with it annually. But when I got the unit from my Dad, after he had it for 30 years, it was way worse. We had never known you needed to flush the tank so it had 20 years of scale buildup in it !!

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Bob,

I think you are right on the boiler issue, the temps you are running on your water heater will result in more scale.  How often do you have to clean the strainer you put in.  At least with your tank most of the scale settles to the bottom.

I installed a tankless hot water heater in the new S&B we built and after a short while my wife was complaining about all the faucet screens/aerators getting stopped up.  So I installed a 200 mesh strainer, I have to empty it about every 3 weeks.  The tanksless pretty much just flushes them through.  I run vinegar through it about every 6 months to clean the scale.   

 

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As I recall when doing the boiler upgrade with the mixer valve installation I opted for the higher wattage element as well. With a strong light I could see the heavy build up as mentioned and was surprised at the amount. 

I do not remember clearly if I tried to flush it from inside the RV but do remember making a new wand myself by smashing the end of a copper tube soldered to a fitting. The tiny hole in the new wand really made a water pic out of it and cleared out the tank. I used a bore scope for inspection. 

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5 hours ago, jacwjames said:

Bob,

I think you are right on the boiler issue, the temps you are running on your water heater will result in more scale.  How often do you have to clean the strainer you put in.  At least with your tank most of the scale settles to the bottom.

I installed a tankless hot water heater in the new S&B we built and after a short while my wife was complaining about all the faucet screens/aerators getting stopped up.  So I installed a 200 mesh strainer, I have to empty it about every 3 weeks.  The tanksless pretty much just flushes them through.  I run vinegar through it about every 6 months to clean the scale.   

 

I put a 50 micron strainer on the hot water discharge side of the water tank (pretty sure you put me on to that - and that was huge!) and for all intents and purposes, I never empty it. It doesn't get a lot of build up in it. When I put the new washer in I was right there so I emptied it and there was some in it. But that strainer has stopped me from having to clean my fixtures - period. Where it's invaluable is at the shower head. I have a shower head with a metal screen with extremely small laser cut holes in it. They are smaller than a pin head. What that does is increase the pressure. It works like a top, best shower head ever, and $20 CAD. But without the 50 micron strainer cleaning it was a weekly event. Now it's a non-issue. Like I said, that 50 micron strainer was a really big deal. AFAIC, they should be mandatory. 

I looked at tankless heaters the other day, just for fun and entertained the idea. I have read several reports from people that installed the Capacitive Electronic Water Descaler System before the tankless heater and they reported not having to clean it all the time with vinegar. 

With respect to limescale buildup, my theory is that well water is worse for it (this actually seems to be more fact than theory) and my personal theory is that incoming water temperature probably plays a big role. I'm up in Canada and I would not be surprised if the majority of scale gets created in the winter. My gut says if very cold water enters an already hot tank it shocks the incoming water somehow with the rapid rise in temperature and that this is the process that creates the scale.

It's just a theory, but I bet if a guy was in Arizona or California they would see less scale due to much hotter inlet temperatures. In Canada in the winter the inlet water temperature is just above freezing. So if you picture the tank being at 180f (full hot) and then you use some water causing fresh to come into the tank, that water gets instantly super-heated. I think that's exactly where the scale comes from. It gets 'shocked' into existence. Of course, that's made worse depending on how hard the water is to begin with. 

4 hours ago, myrontruex said:

As I recall when doing the boiler upgrade with the mixer valve installation I opted for the higher wattage element as well. With a strong light I could see the heavy build up as mentioned and was surprised at the amount. 

I do not remember clearly if I tried to flush it from inside the RV but do remember making a new wand myself by smashing the end of a copper tube soldered to a fitting. The tiny hole in the new wand really made a water pic out of it and cleared out the tank. I used a bore scope for inspection. 

I was thinking along the same lines except if I had a shop vac with a good small flexible hose, then I could drain the tank from the outside, pull the element from the inside (in my case) and then suck up the puddle of water at the bottom of the tank and probably 90% of the scale. 

What I find remarkable is that, as the tank operates, it seems to create a 'dead spot' in the bottom of the tank and you end up with a puddle of very gross water. It's discolored, it can even smell, and it's dark in color. When I flush the tank with the wand you get nothing but spotlessly clean water until the tank drains out. At that point you are left with the puddle on the bottom and as soon as you stick the wand in there and stir it up, the gross water comes out. Now I understand why you are never supposed to use hot water for cooking.....

ALL of that could easily be solved by Atwood making the bottom of the tank sloped down to a drain plug. In fact, you could get 99% of all sediment out of the tank just by removing the plug. The only sediment that would be left would be what is on the walls of the tank. A quick blast with the wand would wash that down to the plug and you would have it all out in 5 minutes. 

I actually have some pieces of aluminum in my tank that are lose! If you look at one of the pictures above you can see that I got one out. There's still one left in there that has not dissolved enough yet to fit through the heater element hole 😞 Ideally, I would replace the tank because the inside is pretty pock-marked from the fact that we never knew you had to flush it so it was never flushed for 20 years.....

My guess is that if a person did their maintenance the inside of the tank would be kept clean and probably result in less scale. My theory is that because the inside of my tank is rough, it helps create scale. Literally that a lot of the scale gets it's start on the sides of the tank and then eventually drops to the bottom. BTW, you are never supposed to use CLR on aluminum tanks. I also think it may be poisonous. I did try it, it took weeks to get cleaned out. Not recommended. I also tried filling it with vinegar, also a waste of time. If a person really wants it clean, so far, the only way I see to do it is pull the tank annually (I'm full timing so it's used 24x7) fill it on on the ground with the element removed, and then shake as you drain it. You can get it all very quickly that way. 

Btw, here's a new pic with the wiring all cleaned up

20220219_111059.jpg

Edited by Bob Jones
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As I begin to remember slowly, the new wand I built I believe I took it inside with the element removed and blasted things loose. Then screwed it back in tight enough to let me flush that out. It took some time but based on my bore scope it came out very clean. 

 

I am about to embark on our first real trip in almost two years, even though we live in it full time. Health and Covid has kept us down but out for a three week adventure in a couple of days.

When I get back it is time to check my tank. I have not cleaned it since putting the new element, mixer, and thermostats.

My wife says this is about the best "modification" I have ever done. She can take a long shower now with almost enough water. If I kick the propane on to help it about keeps up. Why it takes her that long mystifies me. She doesn't play in the dirt like I do then needing two or three showers a day in the Summer. 

Of course as a Gi and growing up with lots of brothers we learned to shower quickly.

She can take all the time she needs because she comes out beautiful as always. 

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Hi Myron - I'm in the same boat. I like to take off to Hawaii every once in a while and not being able to do that is really annoying. I would also have liked to spent some time in the US, but same thing - they've made it very difficult to do anything or go anywhere. Up here (Canada) you can't even go to a restaurant without a mask AND a vaccine passport. It's ridiculous and I haven't been to one in about 1.5 years. At one point they were stopping people from leaving the province and even trying to keep people in their own towns....I don't know if you've been seeing on the news what's been going on up here but suffice to say we're actually in a full-blown dictatorship now. Only FOX will show what is really going on.

I had the 'rona back in October or November of 2019 - before anyone even knew what it was. Really shallow breathing for about a week, I had to actually concentrate on breathing. After that passed I had about a solid month of being incredibly weak. Weaker than I've ever been before. From my couch to the washroom is what? 15 feet? When I got back to the couch I dropped....from exhaustion !! I still remember going outside and then coming back in and being wiped out from the trip. I also had coughing until I saw spots. I didn't go the doctor or anything but since I had it I did not want to get vaccinated. So now I've been ostracized and cannot go to a restaurant or take public transit or a flight or anything. Today the elders in my family got together from all over Canada and some from the US for a lunch at a restaurant. I could not go because I'm not vaccinated. On top of that, My uncle and aunt from the US apparently got very rough treatment at the border.....they didn't even want to talk about it....

As far as I know, you're the only other person to do the modification. I always run gas and electric and up here, with an ambient of about 35.6 on the cold mornings, I can usually get 30 minutes out of the shower at ~117f the whole way through from start to finish. I can't even shower for 30 minutes anymore unless I'm shaving too. Even then, I bet it's more like 20 minutes. When I get out, the tank is usually right at 120f, so just above the 117 set point of the mixing valve. I just love not having to use the cold water tap at all and especially not having to adjust the hot. I just reach in, turn it to full hot, wait a few seconds and jump in. Perfect temperature from start to finish. I used to have to adjust the hot water temperature as the tank cooled down - no longer. And the most amazing thing is that it has been, basically, 100% trouble-free. And it still operates like stock with the vanity switches. I don't know if you saw but I added a WiFi controller to it. So that means I can turn the tank on and off with my phone. It also allows me to schedule the tank to turn on and off at different times. So I have it set now so that it turns on before I get out of bed and brings the tank up to temperature and then shuts off later. It also monitors exactly how much power the tank is drawing and calculates the cost per day. So I can schedule it so that the tank comes on in the morning, gets up to temp, shuts off and then comes back on at lunch, comes up to temp, and then shuts off and comes back on at dinner, comes up to temp and shuts off. I think that feature was about $50 CAD.....

My dehumidifier works the same way. I can turn it on/off with the phone and adjust the settings and fan speeds. What I'm aiming for is total control of everything off the phone. The last big one will be the furnace and AC but that one is a bit costly. I did have to put a new high pressure/temperature blow off valve on the tank. I got 23 years out of the last one but here's the thing, because the new one is tight I am certain I can raise the tank temp to 185F if I like 🙂 the other one started weeping right at 180f 😞

 

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I don't now why it escaped my notice. It was Dad's motorhome at the time. I installed the new heating element today and pleased to say, it addressed the issue. It's also longer so perhaps more even heating in the tank. 

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