Soot Issues

Q:Hello everybody. My issue is with my Dad’s water heater. It is a Richmond water heater and is about 10 to 15 years old. The issue I am having in repairing it is that it has a large orange flame and is putting oput alot of black soot, so much that it was built up inside of the combustion chamber and all over the heating element where the propane burns. What could cause this problem? I vacuumed out all or the soot in the chamber and in/on the heating element. After I cleaned and declogged everything it still has an orange flame and the black soot. PLEASE HELP!!
A:Also vacuum under the tank. But you may need to get a plumber out to clean the burner and flue. It might just be that stuff got sucked into the burner from the floor, or there might be a blockage in the vent pipe going up through the roof. Other possibilities are lack of oxygen. Where is the heater located? Tell us more about the installation. — Randy
Q1:The heater is located on the side of his trailer home with the access door on the outside of the trailer. I vacuumed all around and under the burner. I even removed the burner to get at all of the built up soot. Tommorrow I will look down the vent pipe to see if there is any blockage. Thanks for the info.
A1:A gas flame should routinely be blue. A yellow or orange flame is indicative of unburned carbon. Gas pressure, orifice size, and air restriction plates all must be right for a blue flame. — David
Can the pressure be increased on the water heater or on the regulator on the home? I cleaned out the vent pipe and relit the heater and it still has an orange flame.
A2:Just to cloud the waters, there is more to consider. Are you on a well? If so, that equipment could be putting air in the lines. Did you do the test I suggested earlier and what were the results? If the heater is new or recent, the anode is probably not in need of replacement. It still might not be a bad idea to take it out, just so you can wrap its threads with teflon tape. This will make it easier to check in future. The rule for replacement is six inches of bare core wire, or if the anode is thinned down to about half of its original diameter. Do let me know about that test. If the water remains cloudy after sitting in a clear glass, we’re on the wrong track. — Randy (5/8/07)

Q:I have a 3 year old house. New problem over the last few months, soot and orange flames from my State 50gal, 6year unit. I have cleaned out the unit with resolution for about a month at a time. My “propane guy” has helped me clean out the unit and check the vent (which was fine). He also replaced the propane regulator coming into the house and checked the propane pressure (also OK). The installing plumber was cluelless but more than willing to look at it for $300. After ‘sooting’ the basement several times now, I am wanting this problem fixed. My home is a tight new construction. Do I need a new unit? Do I need a power vent unit? How do I find someone who knows how to work on propane units? Your help is appreciated. Thank you.
A:Sooting can be caused by unit not burning properly. Have some check the flame. Also check the draft. Not sure what you mean by flames coming out. Out of the access door, if so could be a back draft condition. Does this happen when it’s windy?. — Lakota
A1:Consider a “direct vent” heater. This is a non-electric unit that takes air from the outside and deposits exhaust gasses outside as well. The method is sometimes called “balanced flue.” It disconnects the air the heater uses from house air. In a tight house, it is particularly important to keep the possibility of indoor air contamination to a minimum. Something as unlikely as running a bath exhaust fan can cause a normal atmospheric vented heater to backdraft. This is bad. Are you SURE your heater is built for propane and not natural gas? That mistake is all too common. — Larry
Q1:The problem seems to come on very slowly. Over about a month or so. Once it is cleaned, the flame is nice and blue. Again, my ‘propane guy’ said that the flame looked good once the unit was cleaned. I have not noticed a change with wind, fans, etc. At its worst, flames are orange/yellow at the burner, sooting up the side of the unit. My home is ICF (thick concrete with rebar) and I’m not excited about needing to punch a hole sideways for venting. I also have some restrictions due to the furnace vents and a fresh air exchanger. I was hoping to run the exhaust out the existing vertical vent pipe.
A2:ICF or SIPS homes can be VERY snug. This makes clean indoor air a concern, especially with any atmospheric venting appliances. If you cannot move this heater to an attached closet out of the house, how about bringing combustion air directly to it? Also, please get a carbon monoxide (CO) detector ASAP. Your heater is certainly adding CO to the air in the house… Is an electric heater out of the question?… Venting and air quality are critical issues with new, efficient, tight homes. Anyone working in the field should know about They have a lot of good info that you need to know right now. I’m concerned for your safety! — Larry (1/16/07)
Water Heater Rescue

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