Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hot Water ... Again

Let's see, when did we buy this water heater?   Looks like April, 2003.  ~10 years ago.

It's been a bit of a saga.

This is our tankless, continuous, on-demand water heater, a Seisco RA-28.  When it works, (which it has just fine except when it has sprung leaks) it works well.  The problem has been the leaks. The plastic has been prone to hairline cracks after 3 or so years.  And the circuit board is not protected from leaks.  When it's not working it doesn't just not work a little.  You need to shut it off to protect it.  And the danged thing cost $600+ in 2003, and it's $800- $1000 to replace today.

The plastic is something Microtherm developed with DuPont specifically for this application.  It's a special kind of nylon that is supposed to stand up to the rapid temperature fluctuations inherent in a unit like this.  But a while back they apparently had some quality control problems with the plastic.  It was being formed outside the country and imported.  Last I talked to them they said they built their own manufacturing facility right in their back yard in Texas and that those problems had gone away.

We had a leak in May 2006, Jan 2007, and I want to say again in 2009, when I replaced both two-cylinder chambers with new plastic.

The worst of it was in February of 2007 (read, COLD in Missouri), when we were without hot water for about three weeks.  We'd had a leak, I got a new part, installed it, and one ... single ... solitary drip dripped onto the circuit board and *BANG*.. so I had to order a new circuit board.

Now the service department was very responsive, and shipped stuff fast ... except the circuit board came in four days later than expected (not sure why that was), and warrantied the parts.  I just paid for shipping on most of it.  They even put me in their database as a tech, so I get to real live people who know stuff when I call.  As of 2007, I was the only guy within 150 miles who had any experience with them.

When I replaced the circuit board, I slipped a Ziplock bag around it and screwed it back on to it's mounting point, with small holes to run the wires through ... to help protect it against future leaks.

Well last Friday I got a call at work.  Vicki said there was a strange buzzing noise coming from the water heater.  I knew right away.  It was the leak sensor alarm.  Dashed home, and there was a fine mist spraying out of the output pipe, which, other than the input pipe which isn't subject to the wild temperature fluctuations the rest of the plastic is subject to -- is probably the oldest part in the unit. Hairline crack. Just like the previous problems I'd had.

I tried patching it with Sugru, but it didn't stick well enough to the plastic to stop the leak.  I ended up wrapping a washcloth around the output pipe to catch the leak and force it to drip to the floor and into the floor drain in the furnace room instead of spraying on the wall.  Or the circuit board.  But I leave it turned off except for when we need it.  Called Seisco and ordered a new output pipe.  $50 plus shipping.  Ouch.  Since then the leak has gotten much worse, but it's still controlled.  I'm wondering why that output pipe can't be copper.

I've been thinking about just having some parts laying around so I can fix things as they come up with minimal outage time, but I haven't ordered parts.  So I thought ... hey, let's just see if there are any parts, or maybe used units out there.

Checked Ebay.   A store in Arizona had had five NEW RA-28's, and was clearancing them out for half price.  $400.  I bit the bullet and ordered the second to last one.

I've been turning the water heater on only when needed, and even shutting the water to it off.

This morning, the water didn't get very hot.  There is water leaking onto the output temperature sensor wire on cylinder 4 (or the input temperature wire on the output pipe.  Don't know if that's the problem.  But clearly it's not a happy unit.  The error code on the unit is "135", which the trouble-shooting manual is reserved for "future use", but also says bad heating element in circuit #2.

So I'll put the new pipe in when it comes, hopefully today.  When the new unit comes next week, I'll install it and keep the old one for parts.  That way I should have a new unit under manufacturer warranty, to boot.

So ... it hasn't been as stable as a traditional tank heater, and it's certainly been more expensive.  However, it is the best solution for our house.  We don't really have room for a traditional water heater anywhere, and we do like the continuous hot water.  It also saves on energy.  Hopefully this new one will have well-formed plastic and last us many years.


  1. We bought a home with a Seisco RA-18 tankless water heater and also a gas conventional water heater. Guess which water heater keeps going out and has cost us$$$$$ ?
    We are through with tankless water heaters--expensive, fussy, and inevitably problematic.

    1. We ended up going with another company that has metal cylinders ... Ecosmart, I think. Had to re-wire the sub panel as it only has 3 elements. Works pretty well though.

      We kinda have to have one as we don't have room for a conventional one.

      They make good water heaters (with tanks) that are pretty efficient at holding heat.

  2. Phil, Your experience with the SEISCO on demand product is exactly like mine! As a builder I installed one of these in my home as well as a few homes I built for others. They work great..when they work but they are not very reliable and cost more than the other on demand water heaters on the market. I also just developed a leak in the tube that I replaced a few years back and they still want the $50 plus for replacing their defective product! I will bite the bullet and replace the entire unit with a Ecosmart unit that is about 40% less.

  3. purchased the RA-32, supposedly the better model. I have had it for a year and two months and have had nothing but problems from day 1. One month after having it installed ($800 for the unit, plus $3500 to have the power run and installation) it went out spontaneously. I called tech support, she said she would be sending me a new control panel. Never came. I had a lot going on at the time so I just let it be. I was able to get the hot water to come on again when it tripped by flipping the breakers on and off. This happened atleast twice a week for almost six months before I decided to call back. They sent me another control panel and then stopped responding to emails when I asked about warranty compensation and what local techs are able to swap out the control panel. Their manager Sarah Thompson is the one who stopped replying to simple questions over email. That was a week and 5 days ago when it was last repaired. Now the unit is out again. I was told to "keep an eye on it", as if that's going to fix it. Oh, and Sarah is conveniently gone on vacation now. So... I asked for Sarah's supervisor at A.O. Smith (the owners of Seisco). They refused to give me his info saying they have to check with Sarah first to see if it's ok. I finally got the guy's name, Augustine Baik. No way to contact other than email. Btw, my wife is 2 weeks overdue pregnant and extremely uncomfortable. I tried making a warm bath for her last night and couldn't do it because the water heater went out again. DO NOT BUY FROM SEISCO! I'm warning you.

  4. Seisco heaters are well known for these issues and what's even worse is the fact that they don't back up their product.

    Mine went out last Friday. I was able to identify the issue with the unit and when I contacted warranty support, they made me pay for a new unit because I couldn't find my original receipt, even though the serial number clearly showed it was manufactured in 2014, less than 3 years ago. They look for loop holes to avoid standing by the product and doing the right thing. I still went ahead and made the order. I was told I would have confirmation of the sale and tracking info by wed. No call, no email. The unit did not come friday as promised. I called to inquire and was told that it was back ordered with no idea when I would get it. Said they were supposed to have called me, but didn't...I've found out in the mean time that the leak prone unit has been a known issue from day one on these units. I've also found out that Seisco's policy of charging people for replacement parts and units that should be warrantied is also a very well known issue. My last phone call with them, I was promised to receive a call back within 30 min. 2 hrs later, no call..... This is the definition of bad business.

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