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Old 04-01-2012, 05:08 PM   #1
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Water Heater Constantly Failing/Replaced


Good Afternoon Everyone! I hope we can get some advice, it's kind of a long story. I'll try to start from the beginning but may be off by a month or two.

Last May 2011, the water heater that came with the house shut off and would not light. This old model was before the "sealed combustion chambers". We had a plumber come in and he described it as when he was able to create an ignition there was a big flame and believe he mentioned deterioration. Well, solution was a brand new water heater. It was purchased and installed by Home Depot and everything was fine again...till about three weeks later.

Late May 2011 - Found ourselves with no water and when we checked the water heater the pilot light was completely out. We couldn't even get it to light again, but could vaguely see the "lighter" charge up. Also, the window of the chamber was completely fogged up. So we contacted Home Depot and eventually a replacement water heater was provided and installed, with modifications to the vent.

Here's where it really sucks...we went through this round three times. Three brand new water heaters. The new one would last, then die a few weeks later. We've had the gas supply tested, was good. Contacted the manufacturer which had little thought, but did recommended a "separate plumber" from Home Depot contracted.

August 2011 - A symptom we did notice pretty consistently prior to a water heater dieing was "the window would fog up". Once the water heater died, it would be completely fogged up. When we noticed slight fogging, we contacted a new plumber to assist us. He opened the chamber and found tons of white powder on the burning plate and up inside the water heater where it vents. He wasn't sure what it was. But he cleaned it out and wiped the window cleaned. He re-did the vent stack towards the top - *didn't like how the previous person had done it* and checked for suction or draft from the vent opening. Also, the burner is sometimes a sporadic violent rotation between blue and orange/yellow.

April 2012 - Almost a year since the original water heater died.
So anyway, it started to fog ever so slightly, but it never died these past several months. However, today I noticed the window was much foggier and I'm starting to worry. Anyway, I've been searching about this "white powder" and "venting" and noticed the following forum post:

Rheem white powder near exhaust vent?

Then it dawned on me, shortly before the original water heater died...our roof along with three neighboring units was replaced. Could something they have done be the whole cause of the water heaters failing? And what can we do to get this fixed permanently. We were going to contact the plumber again, but is this powder the key to our issue and if it is...how we explain to them what this is or even how to identify it? Any help is greatly appreciated, thank you for everyone's time!

White Powder -

Fogged Window - Scorch-marks on right-side

Fogged Window -

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Old 04-01-2012, 05:48 PM   #2
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Water Heater Constantly Failing/Replaced


How big is the inside of your chimney, is it lined? What size was the old water heater(BTU wise), and what BTU is the furnace. Looks like they may both vent to the same chimney. Also, whee does the combustion air come fro for them?

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Old 04-01-2012, 06:22 PM   #3
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Water Heater Constantly Failing/Replaced


Hot water tanks have turned from a once every 11 year install & forget em into what the manufactures are now calling a high maintenance appliance.
My sympathies.


White powder and moisture in the HWT is a sign that either the combustion or the venting is too cool. This can be because your gas system is not equiped to handle all your appliances, the tank or venting is in an uninsulated enviornment, the venting is over sized or you have negative house air pressure pulling the products of combustion back down the vent when the main burners turn off.
Since you've had multiple tanks & plumbers not finding out what the problem is...
Get a manometer test done on the gas for the HWT for 20 minutes while the other house gas appliances are also firing. Do this test with all the doors and windows closed and the clothes dryer or exhaust fans running.
Watch for a change to the main HWT burner flame color or shape towards the end of the test.
Nobody's going to want to do a 20 Minute manometer full fire test but unless he can find an alternative problem that he's prepared to stand behind...
This will show your guy if the system is under fired or if the house has a negative air pressure issue.

Last edited by how; 04-01-2012 at 06:31 PM.
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Old 04-02-2012, 05:17 PM   #4
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Water Heater Constantly Failing/Replaced


You didn't state where you live in your profile but if you're in a cooler climate part of the problem could be your chimney. It appears that all of your failures have been during the warmer months when your furnace would not be operating so the chimney would be cooler than it is in the winter when the furnace is running. Even though the draft of the water heater was tested that was only one time in one set of conditions. Based on everything else I certainly think your chimney should be where you start looking!
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Old 04-11-2012, 12:58 PM   #5
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Water Heater Constantly Failing/Replaced


Thank you for all the replies, sorry have been busy last several days. Actually, after seeing the first reply I did record all the BTUs from the furnace, water heaters, and dryer...but then lost the paper. I'll have to record it all again.

Quote:
How big is the inside of your chimney, is it lined? What size was the old water heater(BTU wise), and what BTU is the furnace. Looks like they may both vent to the same chimney. Also, whee does the combustion air come fro for them?
I'll have to check the size. But the Furnace and Water Heater do share the same vent. I'll try and find the old BTU as well. Combustion Air is, not sure what term would be, from the house. It's NOT pulling fresh air from outside.

Quote:
Hot water tanks have turned from a once every 11 year install & forget em into what the manufactures are now calling a high maintenance appliance.
My sympathies.


White powder and moisture in the HWT is a sign that either the combustion or the venting is too cool. This can be because your gas system is not equiped to handle all your appliances, the tank or venting is in an uninsulated enviornment, the venting is over sized or you have negative house air pressure pulling the products of combustion back down the vent when the main burners turn off.
Since you've had multiple tanks & plumbers not finding out what the problem is...
Get a manometer test done on the gas for the HWT for 20 minutes while the other house gas appliances are also firing. Do this test with all the doors and windows closed and the clothes dryer or exhaust fans running.
Watch for a change to the main HWT burner flame color or shape towards the end of the test.
Nobody's going to want to do a 20 Minute manometer full fire test but unless he can find an alternative problem that he's prepared to stand behind...
This will show your guy if the system is under fired or if the house has a negative air pressure issue.
Thanks for your ideas. Will look into this. I feel terrible since it's my room mate's town home and I'm trying to get this problem sorted out. Yeah, really brings out that "Sure don't make them how they used to."

Quote:
You didn't state where you live in your profile but if you're in a cooler climate part of the problem could be your chimney. It appears that all of your failures have been during the warmer months when your furnace would not be operating so the chimney would be cooler than it is in the winter when the furnace is running. Even though the draft of the water heater was tested that was only one time in one set of conditions. Based on everything else I certainly think your chimney should be where you start looking!
We live in Central Illinois. Which how bout that...We had a a fire and frost weather warning in Central Illinois in the same day.

Again, thank you for all of your responses. I feel better that might actually be able to help my room mate get this taken care of. Will check back after I check out the chimney size, lining, etc.
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Old 04-11-2012, 02:43 PM   #6
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Water Heater Constantly Failing/Replaced


Quote:
How big is the inside of your chimney, is it lined? What size was the old water heater(BTU wise), and what BTU is the furnace. Looks like they may both vent to the same chimney. Also, whee does the combustion air come fro for them?
This is what I've gathered so far.

Furnace -> Input: 75,000 BTU
Water Header -> Input: 36,000 BTU
Dryer -> Input: 22,000B BTU

Furance/Water Heater Vents Combine:



Furnace/Water Heater Vent Basement/1st Floor:


Combined Vent coming up in wall - The wall in the back belongs to the next town home unit. Think this goes as far down as the divided between 1st/2nd floor.



Combined Vent in Attic - comes away from shared wall horizontally at an upward angle about 5 feet - then goes vertical again



Combined Vent in Attic - A bit of white crusty stuff along the vertical seam:

Last edited by DroidGuard12; 04-11-2012 at 02:56 PM. Reason: Forgot to add a picture
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Old 04-11-2012, 03:41 PM   #7
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Water Heater Constantly Failing/Replaced


Probably have a draft problem. Could be too much draft, pulling the flame away from the burner too far, causing it too burn cool, and then moisture drips back into the water heater, an d steams/vaporizes, and eventually corrodes over the pilot and or burner. may need a barometeric damper installed.

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