Water heater problem

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by dx, Jul 11, 2007.

  1. dx

    dx General Contractor

    Messages:
    156
    Location:
    Michigan
    I have an AO Smith FPS-75 series 230. This is a gas-fired 75 gal heater with spark ignition and induced draft, about 15 years old.

    The problem is that it occasionally (once every few days)fails to ignite. If I reset the power, it starts up and works normally for a few days.

    I can't troubleshoot it because once I turn it off and back on everything is normal. If I understand it correctly, it tries to ignite 3 times before it locks out permanently.

    I had the same problem last year and found the spark gap to be too large. Closing it solved the problem. This time the spark gap is fine.

    Any suggestions?

    dg
  2. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    Maybe a weak coil or capacitor or something, resulting in a weak spark?
  3. dx

    dx General Contractor

    Messages:
    156
    Location:
    Michigan
    Yes, that's one of the possibilities.

    What I'm asking the seasoned pros is this: if a customer had this complaint, how would you go about troubleshooting it? The AO Smith tech manual procedure does not work (obviously) unless something is failed permanently.

    Replacing parts at random until it works better is not an option.

    dx
  4. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    Well, as my auto mechanic is fond of reminding me, problems which do not manifest themselves at time of service...cannot be guaranteed to be fixed.

    You mentioned this is an induced draft....the first thing I might do is check and probably replace the draft pressure switch.
  5. dubldare

    dubldare Plumber/Gasfitter

    Messages:
    286
    Location:
    MN/ND
    Off the top of my head, here goes...


    Sequence of normal operation will be something like this.

    A)thermostat closes, sending 120v to draft fan; fan starts
    B)draft proving switch closes, sending 24v to ignition control
    C)ignitor begins to spark
    D)gas valve opens
    E)~5 seconds for flame stabilization
    F)flame rectification looks for microvolt signal from flame rod
    G)unit runs until thermostat opens

    Some units with pilots are slightly different:

    A)thermostat closes, sending 120v to draft fan; fan starts
    B)draft proving switch closes, sending 24v to ignition control
    C)ignitor begins to spark
    D)pilot valve opens
    E)~5 seconds for flame stabilization
    F)flame rectification looks for microvolt signal from flame rod
    G)ignition control recieves flame rod signal, opens main burner valve
    H)unit runs until thermostat opens


    Cheapest thing to do first is clean the flame rod and ensure the pilot assy ground is intact and not corroded. The ground is very important as the flame rectification signal/voltage is actually the electrical difference between the pilot housing and the flame. Flame rod systems are nothing like a thermocouple or powerpile, as the later generate voltage, the flame rod is a voltage sensor. Any slight ash or corrosion will insulate it. To clean a flame rod, sanding with a crisp dollar bill is recommended, although I have used a wire brush everso carefully. Do not use sandpaper or sandcloth as any residual adhesive or sand can insulate the rod when heated.
    Symptoms of a dirty flame rod would be...ignition of pilot and failure within ~5 seconds.

    A restricted pilot burner orfice and poor gas supply can also be a possibility. Looking at the pilot and how it changes when the burner is on is what to look for here. If the pilot dwindles down to next to nothing when the burner is running clean/replace it.

    If the burner runs a bit and then fails, chances are the inducer motor may be suspect. Motor can loose a bit of rpm performance as they age. Hot air is denser than cold, and when combined with a weak motor, burners can fail on the draft proving switch opening. A usual symptom of this is lack of capacity of hot water/lukewarm and frequent, short cycles of heater.

    Thermostat... well the draft fan would never start.

    Coil/s in gas valve are a possiblity for failing, although more remote of a problem.

    Weak spark, replace ignition control/spark wire. You should have a pretty good gap that the spark covers. Also, if spark color is yellow/orange its weak. You want to see a white and a bit of blue. Sparking sound that is irregular in rhythm usually indicates a faulty wire.

    Check all spade connectors. Make sure they are tight and mating surfaces are not corroded.

    Also check venting for any backpitch/sags or blockage.


    Good luck. Now you see why most guys just sell 'em a new one.
  6. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    I would strongly consider replacing a 15 year old A.O. Smith.

    I wouldn't be surprised if you can't find replacement parts.
  7. GrumpyPlumber

    GrumpyPlumber Licensed Grump

    Messages:
    1,404
    Location:
    Licensed Grump
    And heres the sad irony....you'r next A.O.Smith won't outlive that.
  8. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio
    You got that right !!!!!!!!!!!!
  9. dx

    dx General Contractor

    Messages:
    156
    Location:
    Michigan
    Thanks guys, but a new heater is not gonna happen. And yes, all replacement parts are available.

    Dubldare, thanks for taking the time and effort. Your sequence of operation is same as shown in their service manual.

    There is no flame rod, so that simplifies things. It's a simple ionization detector. When it's done sparking, it sends a voltage to the spark electrodes and measures the current. If the space is ionized (flame), the current is much higher then if there is no flame.

    The pilot flame is nice shape/color and stays nice. Main burner flame is perfect. Burner runs perfectly until shutting off (reaching temp). Heater has great recovery and does not short cycle. With the thermostat at 130F I can run 3 showers forever while doing laundry.

    Spark gap is specified at 0.090-0.150 and it's right around 0.100. I can't see the spark, but sounds fine. I'll have to get a dentist mirror or something to get a visual. Excellent idea. Thanks.

    He he he, I do see why most people would sell'em a new one. I couldn't afford me if I had to pay myself for all this troubleshooting either :)

    dx
  10. dubldare

    dubldare Plumber/Gasfitter

    Messages:
    286
    Location:
    MN/ND

    My bad, it's a microamp signal we're looking for here. The ignitor is also the flame rod in your case. A little googling on 'Flame rectification' can probably help you better than I have.
  11. dx

    dx General Contractor

    Messages:
    156
    Location:
    Michigan
    Yes. Unfortunately I can't check the flame rectification current. I do have a microamp meter but I'm not about to stick it in a circuit that's going to see several kilovolts when it fires :) I'll take a close visual look at the spark tonight.

    dx
  12. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    I reiterate to investigate the pressure switch.
  13. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,641
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    heater

    Maybe you will be lucky and it will start leaking tomorrow so the problem will be solved. Or at least not just after you spend a couple of hundred dollars trying to fix a ghost problem.
  14. dx

    dx General Contractor

    Messages:
    156
    Location:
    Michigan
    hj,
    Did you have a bad week bud, or are you just an unhappy fellow? You remind me of Eeyore.


    Jimbo,
    I did look at the pressure switch. Works fine and clean contacts. I ordered a new one anyway, they're cheap enough. Thanks.

    dx
  15. GrumpyPlumber

    GrumpyPlumber Licensed Grump

    Messages:
    1,404
    Location:
    Licensed Grump
    15 years old.
    a Mustang you restore.
    A yacht sure.
    a 15 year old water heater you xcome home one day wondering why you didn't get a new one 6 months ago when the basement is flooded.
    He offers you the best advice I've seen on this thread...you insult him.
    Maybe you should just request a refund.
  16. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    Did I miss something?
  17. just let him beat his braines out



    This man is having a fight wth the water heater and he wants to win.........man vs 15 yr old heater......

    its a guy thing....
    so logic and common sense does not come into play here....

    I hear it every day, why wont you come out (for free)
    and look at the leak on my 15 year old water heater....
    how do you claim you jsut KNOW I need a new one...

    then they call someone else and pay through the nose for a diagnostic evaluation...($125)
    and then cry like babies when they hear the same conclusion they got from me...
    and the other fellow is 400 bucks higher too...

    some call me back, and I install anew one for them
    and some have too much pride to admit I was
    telling them the straight truth over the phone......

    I had one fellow that actually had to burn the hair off both
    hands and fore-arms fooling with a Smith 92 power vent heater
    before I got to change it out...



    but on the bright side ---I am sure he will get a good education on the
    workings of a defunct model Smith Power vent heater..






    Last edited: Jul 15, 2007
  18. vtlandlord

    vtlandlord New Member

    Messages:
    5
    I got a gas fired draft induced unit from sears. Had a similar problem except this doesn't have a spark to light the gas but what appears to be a glow rod. It ran fine for about two years and then started having the same problem. (Intermittent and all.) I called the 800 number and they said to try using a light abrasive like a fine steel wool to clean off the temperature sensor. I thought they were nuts becuase it looked fine to me. What the heck, I'll clean it!! I said. 6 months later not one problem.
  19. I'm a chicken

    so I just farm out any calls relating to PowerVents. I'm not going to put $1000's of dollars of inventory on the truck taking up space for 50 calls a year.

    I fear the repair in the cost of $100's, followed by the tank eventually leaking which in turn makes the customer look at me like I'm the bad guy "even though" I tried to convince them to replace, not repair.

    I send these calls to someone who is the authorized rep for the 3 mfgs. of heaters and his truck is loaded down with everything he needs. That's all he does day in and day out.

    Customer satisfaction is top notch after he's been there and the referral chain links back to my recommendation.
  20. GrumpyPlumber

    GrumpyPlumber Licensed Grump

    Messages:
    1,404
    Location:
    Licensed Grump

    Thats exactly what I'm saying.
    It's 15 years old, likey had a ten yr warranty at best.
    Why put hour after hour into it, pay out for parts and come home 6 months later to a basement flood?
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