Air Intake Problem

The Tank Air Intake Problem

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  • #9653

    Thank you for your website. This is my first time here and I have already added to my do-it-yourselfer knowledge base. But I do not see my problem covered in a brief check of previously posted topics.

    We installed a 40 gallon LP water heater about four years ago (Richmond, which I believe is a Rheem offshoot,) in an old country home with well water and a tiny poor-excuse-for-a-basement. This heater has been flooded four or five times in the past two years. That issue was resolved when I installed a sump pump. But the damage has already been done.

    The burner assembly is in good shape, considering this abuse. The pilot light starts easily, but it has to be manually lit with a lighter as the sparking device is worn out.

    The problem is that there is no air getting to the burner through the bottom. Today I removed the burner assembly. There is a sort of screen or grate under the burner. Sticking out of the screen is a short metal rod. When the rod is pushed I can hear and feel some kind of door open up underneath, but I can’t see it. I assume this opens the air intake and if I could push down on this while the burner was active I would have no problems, other than third degree burns on my hand.

    Details, details.

    The only way I can keep the burner active is to loosen the assembly from its seating and let air in around the screws. Yes, I can see you reeling in horror. I don’t much like it myself. But right now I’m between jobs and can’t afford to replace the heater or bring in a highly paid professional.

    My instinct is to pick a day where I can afford to cut of LP to the house (as I said, it’s an old house and the cutoff valves are not especially well placed,) drain the heater, lay it down and do whatever I have to in order to clean the intake.

    When I finish I should either get an additional pan or raise the heater to keep it above the floor.

    Any suggestions on how I can do this smarter? Would it be best to get a replacement heater assembly for efficiency or safety?

    Thanks for your help. I have bookmarked this site for the future. I had planned to install a tankless water heater when I begin my project of installing a sediment filter, water softener and PEX tubing later this winter. But you have saved me the trouble and heartache of a tankless job. I want to save the current patient.

    Randy Schuyler

    It sounds like a Rheem/Ruud/Richmond/GE water heater and it may not be possible to fix it. Perhaps one of the other contributors to this board will have an idea on how to jury-rig the trapdoor to stay open.

    Anyway, that is part of the flame retardation system. On those water heaters, a glass vial breaks when the system is activated and it pops shut the piece you’re describing. Usually, that’s the end of the heater.

    Randy Schuyler

    Larry Weingarten

    Hello: How much it flooded is a concern. If the gas control got wet, it needs to be replaced. No other safe choice there. Mold is a concern with wetted insulation, but that likely has dried. Effects of flooding on a flame safety system should prolly be answered by a Rheem technician on the phone, just to make sure nothing seriously whacky gets done 😎

    Yours, Larry

    ps. Raising up the heater sounds like a grand idea!

    pps. It can be a tough call, but being safe can be FAR less expensive (no matter how you measure) than band-aiding potentially dangerous equipment.


    Thank you for the feedback. What you describe regarding the trap door makes sense.

    Hmmmm. Sounds like replacement is the best option. At least I now have this resource to enable me to take better care of it!


    Thanks. I don’t think the gas control got submerged, but at the time I was more concerned with the water itself than its effects on the heater.

    Well, looks like 2 votes to none to seriously consider replacement. I think that’s what I’ll do.


    If you can move the “rod” up and down then your TRD (Thermal Release Devise) is broken. Most likely you will find small grains of glass the size of sand in the bottom. This most likely broke when the air passage way, 1″ from the bottom, became blocked by your flooded conditions causing the burner chamber to over heat and tripping the TRD. I’m afraid warranty doesn’t cover this kind of flooding and your heater will have to be replaced. Some home owner policies will cover flooding.

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