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Thread: Help with my hot water tank, please

  1. #1
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    Default Help with my hot water tank, please

    My 1-year old hot water tank started to have issues today. It is a John Woods ProLine Commercial Grade XE, either 70 or 75 GAL but I don't think that matters. It is one of those more modern sealed tanks with the vent fan on top.

    Here is what happens:

    - The tank calls for heat (as confirmed by the status light and me turning up the tank heat to force the event), so the top exhaust vent fan fires up, but the tank does not actually light (nor does it seem to try), and when the vent fan realizes nothing is happening (~15 seconds), it turns itself off. A few seconds later after the vent fan turns off, the tank once again realizes it needs to try heat itself (status light changes to "call for heat"), and the cycle repeats indefinitely with the vent fan running for 15 seconds expecting heat, and turning off for ~3 seconds after realizing there is no heat. The fan repeats this cycle of roughly 3 seconds off, 15 seconds on, indefinitely until I turn the tank off or set it to vacation mode. Any time the tank is not calling for heat, the status light reports "no faults, normal operation" and is in normal standby mode. While the tank is calling for heat, the status light also says "no faults" despite the fact that it isn't lighting. So, in either scenario, the status light on the gas controller thinks the tank is working as it should. Looking through the window at the bottom of the tank, it usually doesn't even try, but sometimes the wire glows and it tries to light, but doesn't. Most of the time though it doesn't even try (wire does not glow).

    Basically, it behaves like a furnace with a bad flame sensor, if that helps.

    Here is what I know:

    - The tank does not have a pilot light, it has an electric starter (resistance wire) and normally it would light itself each time it is called upon to heat. I got it to work once after turning the tank off for 10 minutes and turning it back on, at which time I was able to clearly observe how everything worked through the little window at the bottom of the tank. It functioned until someone took a shower, at which point it reverted back to the on/off loop described above with the fan cycling and the tank failing to light.
    - There is no ignition switch to light the tank, no thermostat to reset, etc. The only controls available to me that I can see are an on/off switch and a temperature dial (Vacay, low, hot, A,B,C, very hot - you get the point) - calling for heat automatically attempts to light the tank electrically via the resistance wire.
    - There is a second piece of metal positioned in the flame (in addition to the resistance wire lighter), presumably a flame or temperature sensor.

    Here is what I've tried:

    - Checked exterior exhaust vent, no obstructions and warm air can clearly be felt when the tank fan kicks in
    - Inspected all connections, wires, gas lines, ball valves, etc. Nothing looks abnormal or loose, and nobody touches it anyway.
    - Inspected area around the tank, nothing is obstructed and nobody has been near the area
    - Status lights both during (attempted) operation and while in standby show "normal operation, no faults", even when the tank isn't lighting and is repeating the cycle described above indefinitely
    - Confirmed I have gas going to my house (furnace & stove working 100% fine)
    - Turned the unit off for 10 minutes then back on, at which point I got it to light once, and it appeared to work for a little while but reverted back to the on/off cycle described above after I took a shower (not sure if that is a cause or coincidence)
    - Watched some YouTube videos but everything on there has a pilot light and more things accessible to the homeowner, so nothing was able to help me
    - I removed the cladding and insulation at the bottom to reveal the window to check ignition, and I was expecting to find more things there like perhaps a thermostat reset, but there is nothing
    - Looked through the installation manuals and read all labels on the tank


    I'd rather not pay a plumber weekend rates to flick a switch or something, so is there anything I might be missing before calling the pros?

    tl:dr: Hot water tank tries to light, vent fan turns on, after 15 seconds the vent fan realizes there is no heat and turns off. 3 seconds later the tank tries to call for heat again, vent fan fires up, and 15 seconds later after the tank doesn't light it turns off for 3 seconds. This continues indefinitely until I turn the tank off or put it in a state that is does not call for heat. The only reason I knew this was happening is the vent fan is pretty loud, so when it was turning on/off so frequently I went to check it out.

    Thanks in advance.
    Last edited by Mitsu3000gt; 02-13-2021 at 11:02 PM.

  2. #2
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    I only read the first sentence or so. But your vent is plugged with ice outside and that's the real reason your vent fan is shutting off.
    Go outside and check.

    I read more and you say you did, but check again. Bring a coat hanger to ream it out. The extreme cold weather doubles the chance that this is your issue.

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    Coat hanger trick definitely works if there is a blockage there. If not I'm sure you know a guy who knows something more about this then any of us do.

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    air intake or thremocouple. Always.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ThePenIsMightier View Post
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    I only read the first sentence or so. But your vent is plugged with ice outside and that's the real reason your vent fan is shutting off.
    Go outside and check.

    I read more and you say you did, but check again. Bring a coat hanger to ream it out. The extreme cold weather doubles the chance that this is your issue.
    Sorry I know that was long and boring, I just thought more info is better than less to reduce the follow up questions.

    I just stuck my arm in as far as it would go (the exhaust is about 4" diameter), I didn't use a coat hanger though. The airflow coming out was strong and warm so I assumed no clogs as it seemed like more than enough exhaust was getting out (feels the same as it does in the warmer months). I will try the coat hanger idea regardless tomorrow, who knows what might be in there.

    I've watched it go through the cycle a bunch more times now, and I think the gas control valve isn't opening up. That's what it seems like anyway, because everything else works (the fan and the igniter wire). If that were true though, you'd think it would throw an error code which it does not. It tries to light itself, the wire glows red, but I don't think it gets any gas. If I try again right away the wire doesn't glow, but if I let it sit 5 minutes or so, it will try to light again if I make it call for heat. I get the impression the fan is working fine because it is more than happy to kick in, but after a few seconds of not detecting a flame, the ignition wire shuts off and the cycle repeats. Not sure if this could be caused by a clog or not but I will ram a coat hanger in the vent tomorrow to make sure.

    Thanks for the suggestion.
    Last edited by Mitsu3000gt; 02-14-2021 at 02:32 AM.

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    These exact symptoms can definitely be caused by a clogged exhaust, but I've always had a hard time believing the clog can be anywhere but right at the end of the pipe.

    It's not taking combustion air in front outside, right? On furnaces, that intake can be your main clog point because they are often too near the exhaust and they suck in the steam, which freezes and clogs the intake.

    I just know I've heard the precise same symptoms (fan cycling, failure to launch) very recently and it was clogged exhaust.

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    I suspect it is your overly expensive and problematic Honeywell Smart Valve gas valve, but I am assuming you have one of these on your tank. It should still be under warranty for the part alone.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffh View Post
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    I suspect it is your overly expensive and problematic Honeywell Smart Valve gas valve, but I am assuming you have one of these on your tank. It should still be under warranty for the part alone.
    Ah, this is likely good advice.

    "Honeywell, where all good troubleshooting should start."

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    Quote Originally Posted by ThePenIsMightier View Post
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    Ah, this is likely good advice.

    "Honeywell, where all good troubleshooting should start."
    The only brand of thermostat I've ever had break are Honeywell. Electronic and a manual. The manual one the mercury bulb broke. Thanks Honeywell.

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    Thanks guys.

    I am 99% sure the exhaust is not clogged, I am getting plenty of air flow during the 15 second period the vent fan runs and I got my arm in all the way up to my elbow and there was no blockage that I could detect. I guess it's still possible there is something in there.

    Turns out I have an extra year of new home warranty on "distribution systems" so I'm going to see if my builder will cover the plumber visit.

    I suspect the gas valve as well, at least based on my observation so far. Scary that Honeywell also makes a lot of aircraft avionics haha.

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    I think I fixed it.

    So apparently I also have a separate tank intake, in addition to the exhaust. That intake looks exactly like the exhaust on the exterior of my house (unlike my furnace intake which looks completely different), and I had always thought it was my furnace exhaust. When I checked it yesterday it was clear, which is probably why I got the tank to light once, but while in use it must have developed some frost inside. There was an extremely thin layer of light snow in the intake this morning, not enough that I would think would cause any problems, but I cleared it out and I got the tank to light. Maybe it's super sensitive. Fingers crossed that was the issue and I didn't just get lucky.

    So thanks for everyone's help, and today I learned my hot water tank also has an intake on the exterior of the house. I've only ever owned the super basic open vent type tanks before so this is all new to me.

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    High efficiency direct vent appliances suck. Old fashioned chimney type are best.

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    I popped outside to check on mine and realized it also has cold air intake that I must have forgotten about. It was a bit frosty, as well, but I still haven't had an issue.

    Didn't realize my house was so baller with the aftermarket bolt-ons. When it warms up, I'll need to check and see if it's a K&N FIPK, Injen or maybe Megan Racing. Fingers crossed that it's a legit ARC straight from Japan!

    Be right back after I check to see if I have a catch can or a plenum spacer!
    Last edited by ThePenIsMightier; 02-14-2021 at 01:25 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ExtraSlow View Post
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    High efficiency direct vent appliances suck. Old fashioned chimney type are best.
    Yeah all new appliances seem to suck. If I get 5 years out of any of them I will be thrilled. They definitely aren't made like they used to be and often simple is better. That is probably a $2000 tank too so I don't look forward to the day I have to replace it.


    Quote Originally Posted by ThePenIsMightier View Post
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    I popped outside to check on mine and realized it also has cold air intake that I must have forgotten about. It was a bit frosty, as well, but I still haven't had an issue.

    Didn't realize my house was so baller with the aftermarket bolt-ons. When it warms up, I'll need to check and see if it's a K&N FIPK, Injen or maybe Megan Racing. Fingers crossed that it's a legit ARC straight from Japan!

    Be right back after I check to see if I have a catch can or a plenum spacer!
    Haha yeah I had no idea it had an intake, but in hindsight it should have been obvious because my tank has two 4" pipes coming off of it that match the colors on the exterior of the house. Duh. On the plus side that CAI is no doubt increasing the performance of my hot water tank.

    The amount of snow/frost I found in mine was pretty minor as well, and was not blocking the whole diameter of the pipe, but I guess the sensors are really sensitive to airflow on the intake side. The exhaust side I am not sure how that would ever get clogged unless there was a physical obstruction from a snow bank or animal or something, since the hot air would presumably melt anything in it's path.
    Last edited by Mitsu3000gt; 02-14-2021 at 01:36 PM.

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    You need to throw a turbo on the pipes outside the house then tune it for boost with a Microsquirt. Make hot water more hotter. You’re already burning 130 octane gas.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mitsu3000gt View Post
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    Thanks guys.

    I am 99% sure the exhaust is not clogged, I am getting plenty of air flow during the 15 second period the vent fan runs and I got my arm in all the way up to my elbow and there was no blockage that I could detect. I guess it's still possible there is something in there.

    Turns out I have an extra year of new home warranty on "distribution systems" so I'm going to see if my builder will cover the plumber visit.

    I suspect the gas valve as well, at least based on my observation so far. Scary that Honeywell also makes a lot of aircraft avionics haha.
    Sounds like you had an arm stuck in the pipe.

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    Heat gun in the intake for a bit on cold days.
    Done. There's some good cordless ones too now.
    https://www.amazon.ca/DEWALT-DCE530B.../dp/B07RJDRS6Y


    But I also only run mid efficient stuff. Got the last generation of them so they're hopefully lasting decades.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darell_n View Post
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    You need to throw a turbo on the pipes outside the house then tune it for boost with a Microsquirt. Make hot water more hotter. You’re already burning 130 octane gas.
    NOx for the win..... TOO SOON JUNIOR

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr2mike View Post
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    Heat gun in the intake for a bit on cold days.
    Done. There's some good cordless ones too now.
    https://www.amazon.ca/DEWALT-DCE530B.../dp/B07RJDRS6Y


    But I also only run mid efficient stuff. Got the last generation of them so they're hopefully lasting decades.
    I feel like I bought a corded Princess auto one for like 16 dollars haha
    Originally posted by Thales of Miletus

    If you think I have been trying to present myself as intellectually superior, then you truly are a dimwit.
    Originally posted by Toma
    fact.

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    Quote Originally Posted by killramos View Post
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    I feel like I bought a corded Princess auto one for like 16 dollars haha
    I also have a corded PA one.

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