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Propane Water Heater

Q: Our gas water heater is three years old, installed on a propane system in an old house in Cripple Creek, CO, elev 9,500 feet. We experienced pilot snuffing out when the weather turned cold. I think I associated the flameouts when the weather turned sharply colder, and/or when we had a lot of wind. I believe condensation was forming inside the flue walls, dripping and splattering inside, and sometimes snuffing the pilot.

We're now having to relight the pilot several times a day, however. This may coincide with a recent conversion to natural gas, but the gas guy has been out twice and finds nothing wrong from his end. A pressure regulator was installed between the furnace and the water heater. The heater shares the same flue as the furnace, and both were professionally installed. Is it time to replace the heater? Are we better off switching to an electric heater, or is this problem one that can be fixed? Your advice is greatly appreciated.

A: We see a few opportunities for trouble here. When the gas was switched from propane to natural gas, were the control and burner changed or altered for the switch? With furnace and water heater using the same vent, one may be causing an imbalance in the other such as preventing proper draft in the water heater and choking out the pilot.

Has any soot built up in the combustion chamber or flue? That could impede draft. If the vent is oversized or if it is masonry, it may be difficult to get adequate draft, especially in cold weather. Has the heater been derated to compensate for the altitude? If not, excessive condensation could be a result. A 3-year-old heater should not need replacement. Also, gas is usually much more economical than electric for heating. Another question: does this heater run out of hot water often when it is working? If so, it may be too small and that could be an added cause of condensation. -- Larry (1995-2000)

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