Replacing the electric element in my Atwood GCH6A-10E water heater

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Gorf

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Howdy all! A couple months ago, while dry camping with shore power, I accidentally let the electric element run in my ho****er tank (Atwood GCH6A-10E) while the water pump was off.  I've discovered since that I can't get hot water from electric source anymore. I'm quite positive that the water level evaporated down and exposed the element and blew it. So it works fine on gas for now. I'm pondering how hard of a job this is.  Everything I'm reading says that it's quite the job. But is it? The element appears to be on the back side of the unit so it definitely has to come all the way out to get access to it.  Can anyone share any thoughts or concerns with just jumping into this?
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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First of all, the pump does not need to be on to avoid damage to the element - you only need to be sure there is water in the tank. Water won't evaporate from the heater tank - it is an entirely enclosed system.  Maybe you have a burned out element, but maybe not. Check the wiring carefully before diving into a replacement.  If you want to have the element on hand for the job, I suggest buying at a local home or hardware store so you can return it easily if not needed.  It's a standard 120v heater element rated at 1400 watts, but a 1500 watt element will work fine as well (the 1500W element draws 0.8A more electric, though).

The element is on the back in an Atwood, but once you can get at it, the only potential problem is that the threads are seized. Since the tank is soft aluminum, you need to be cautious using a big wrench to break it loose. Penetrating oil applied liberally and well in advance helps a lot. Use the proper size wrench so you don't turn the corners off the hex nut.  A 6-point socket or fixed size open end wrench is a tighter fit than an adjustable wrench.
 

8Muddypaws

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The bigest problem is that the element is in the rear and there probably isn?t enough room to pull the element out unless you remove the water heater.

I had my WH out a couple of years ago to replace the mixing valve.  I replaced the heating element just because I had it out.

I also used the opportunity to clean out the inside of the tank.  You?ll be amazed at how much scale comes out.  The WH when empty doesn?t weigh much so you can shake it and tip it any way you want.
 

Gorf

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8Muddypaws said:
I also used the opportunity to clean out the inside of the tank.  You?ll be amazed at how much scale comes out.  The WH when empty doesn?t weigh much so you can shake it and tip it any way you want.

Did you use anything particular to clean it out?
 

SpencerPJ

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Before you try and pull it out, maybe you can test it.  Pretty simple.  Here is a link to testing a Residential Water Heater Element, same logic applies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q34HJtH30Vs

 

grashley

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My 2 bits worth:

To clean the heater, and there is crud inside, BEFORE you pull it out, fill with ? white vinegar and ?  water. Heat to temp and turn heat off.

Once you have the element out, use a water heater flushing tool to thoroughly rinse the inside.  You will be amazed at what comes out, even if you thought it was clean!

https://www.rvupgradestore.com/Water-Heater-Flushing-Tool-p/88-8710.htm
 

8Muddypaws

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Gorf said:
Did you use anything particular to clean it out?

I used one of these.  https://www.amazon.com/Camco-Rinser-Cleanses-Sediment-Collects-11691/dp/B002XL2IBS/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1546579395&sr=8-2&keywords=water+heater+cleaning+wand.  Being able to shake it and pour the chunks out made a big difference.

Last I read Atwood does not recommend putting any kind of acid in the tank to remove scale.  Maybe they?ve changed that in the last couple of years?
 

Rene T

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It is real simple to change out the element. The worst part maybe gaining access.
Before doing that, I would let the water cool down. Then turn on the switch for the electric element. On the back of the heater, there is a 110 volt AC junction box. See if you have power there. If you have power then it's most likely a bad element.
Go to Home Depot or Lowe's and pick up a new element. They cost around $10.00. They also sell the wrench to remove the element. I believe it's a 1-1/2" socket wrench. It looks like a big spark plug wrench with a hole through the side for a screwdriver to be used as a handle. Then just unscrew it and install the new one. It has a rubber gasket so no need to use any pipe dope.

Fill the tank back up. The quick way to find out if it's full is by opening the pressure/temperature relief valve at the upper right hand corner of the heater (outside). If you get water out of it, the tank is full. Then turn on the switch.
 

wackymac

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Rene T said:
Fill the tank back up. The quick way to find out if it's full is by opening the pressure/temperature relief valve at the upper right hand corner of the heater (outside). If you get water out of it, the tank is full. Then turn on the switch.

Another way is to turn on any hot water faucet in the RV.  When it stops sputtering and a  solid stream of water comes out the tank is full.
 

Rene T

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wackymac said:
Another way is to turn on any hot water faucet in the RV.  When it stops sputtering and a  solid stream of water comes out the tank is full.

Mac, I wouldn't totally depend on that for purging the air out of the system. Now in this case, that would probably work, but if you're filling the tank while de-winterizing, the bypass valves could be in the wrong position and the tank would not be filling.
 

John From Detroit

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Not all that hard but a lot depends on access...

The easy version
On the back side (Inside the RV side) of the heater is a black box.. the ELement is eithe rjust above or behind that box. box contains relay and electrical connection... IF YOU CAN ACCESS it than all you need is to remove a bit of insulation (Use taper to re-attach later) and the right size wrench...

Option 2: Pull the water heater out.. NOTE this too is easier. start by disconnercting the 120 volt leads (Turn off breaker and tape ro cap off) from the aforementioned box  NOTE it may ber taped shut in wehich cade you will have to cut the taper.. NOTE 2 YOu may also find it easier to pull the heater first (2 person job if done that wey or one person and support)

Remove a whole bunch of screws then using a wide flat tool work behind the caulking The technician I hired for the 2nd pull used a sp reader I used a paint scraper about 4" as I recall)  work it out till you can pull it out you will ahve to disconnect the Propane line first and the water lined on ther back.

THen again it' an easy job. NOTE THis shounds way harder than it is.

Suggestion
When I replaced my tank I took the 1500 watt element and put it in storage. replaced with a 1500 watt 240 volt (375 watt at 120 volt) so not it take about 4-5 time longer to re-heat on ELectric... but I do not often have to go out and re-set a park's 30 amp breaker when on a 30 amp site.
 
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