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PostPosted: June 11th, 2017, 8:21 am 
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Okay, decided it was time to install the Camco Hybrid 6 gallon kit. Basically it adds a 425watt electric heating rod and thermostat so you can use 110volt power to heat water instead of (or in addition to) the regular gas mode.

The reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive. People talk about saving propane while on shore power, and/or using both gas+electric to keep more warm water available for showers. So for the price, it was a no-brainer to try out.

With the three file per post limit, I'll break this up as I go. Here's what I bought from Amazon:
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and here's the installation manual:
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Downloaded 12 times

As noted in another thread, a couple of weeks ago I already installed the heating element where the drain plug is. The heating element is the brass and white Teflon tape thing on the left with the two red wires coming out. Then I refilled the hot water tank by running water until I could manually make it come out the overflow valve. This allowed me to check for leaks and be ready for testing.
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For testing, I have temporarily cheated and run the two wires inside next to the gas line, but that's not recommended, so it'll end up going in through a new hole and grommet I'll install next to the other wires at upper right. They come out by the wall under the rear of the front sofa area.
... to be continued...

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Last edited by kdarling on June 25th, 2017, 5:29 am, edited 6 times in total.

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PostPosted: June 11th, 2017, 8:38 am 
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One of the reasons I've been putting this project off is that... because of the sample installation manual diagram... I had thought I needed to unbolt my sofa seat to be able to reach the Front side of the tank, remove some insulation, and attach the new thermostat to the front side of the tank. I had figured this would mean reaching the tank front side from behind the driver's seat. So I also unscrewed and removed the sofa end piece.

Well, after removing the seat, I soon figured out that the front was the wrong tank side to use. Too curved and hard to reach. Instead, all I had to do, was look under the front of the sofa, pull out the staples holding some cardboard around the inner tank side (not the front), cut a slit up to the outlet pipe...
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...so I could lift the cardboard...
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... and put the thermostat there, on the side of the tank!
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Incredibly easier, in my case.
...to be continued...

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Last edited by kdarling on June 13th, 2017, 6:44 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: June 11th, 2017, 9:17 am 
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Then I was able to drop the cardboard back down over the new thermostat, and even bend the original huge staples to hold it in place.
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Testing...

The plan (perhaps later today) is to extend the switch wires over to the outside sink cabinet next to the stock gas mode switch. And to install a 110v outlet under the sofa also on the sink cabinet, to plug in the heating element.

But being curious to see if & how it worked so far, I temporarily plugged the heater into an extension cord from outside, and plugged the control wires together:
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Used to the speed of gas heat, I only waited 15 minutes... and nothing. Ran back inside the house and pulled up all the glowing reviews on Amazon again. Aha, unless you first do a gas boost, it takes about an hour for the electric heating element to initially warm up the tank. Okay, no problem, that's actually understandable with only about 400 watts.

So, waited an hour, and now the water coming out of the cold tap was 68 degrees, while the hot tap side was 100 degrees.

Not bad! However, I actually expected about five or ten degrees higher by then, but I also think I need to adjust the new thermostat higher, because I placed it without double-sided tape covering its sensors like most people probably do, so it might have cut out earlier than usual.

Still and all, that's a usable shower temp (tho 105-110 is considered normal). I'm going to test again after I wire up all my new wires and socket. (The new under sofa socket will also come in useful for the tank warmer pad I'm installing.)

...to be continued.. posting all this from an iPad mini, btw. slow going!

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PostPosted: June 11th, 2017, 5:30 pm 
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Well, durn. I didn't get the switch wires extended yet, but did manage to install a power outlet on the sink cabinet wall under the sofa just behind the water tank. I deliberately made the plugs themselves a lighter color than the cover, so they'd stand out whenever I look under the sofa.
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That's where I've plugged in the included water heater element plug, which easily reached that far.

In my Chinook the power distribution is under the fridge, so I used a thick power wire that I had previously run from an overhead cabinet outlet, down behind the sink-bath wall corner to a new heated floor switch on the front of the sink cabinet.

Here you can see under the sink after wiring, but before the box was screwed in from the front. Orange power coming from behind the sink pipes to the new outlet, and then new beige flexible wire up to the front heated floor switch. (I bought an air conditioner stranded heavy duty extension cord and chopped it up. Far easier to work with than that thick solid cord.)
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As such things often go, it took longer than I expected, as I really hadn't planned this out too much.

A lot of my delay was figuring out how to get under the sofa (I didn't feel like taking it out again) to access the socket wire screws after running the wires into the blue box. Then I accidentally discovered that I could put everything together from under the easy sink side, then tilt the box back to slip the completed unit through the hole, and finally straighten it back upright on the other side with its attachment ears holding it in place.

Humorously, while I was thinking about where to place the wires, I ran across other things that needed fixing and took care of them along the way. Fixed a loose drawer pull that had long bugged me, lubricated the drawer slides, pulled the carving board back into position, etc.

Reminds me that I really want to install cabinet door switches and LED lights inside the sink and stove cabinets. I hate how dark it is inside those. Should light up like the overhead cabinets do!

...to be continued with the switch next time, I hope, along eith adjusting the new thermostat for even hotter water...

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Last edited by kdarling on June 25th, 2017, 5:57 am, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: June 12th, 2017, 5:42 pm 
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Yay, finally got the new electric water heater switch where I wanted it: right below the stock gas switch. (The white crust on the sink cabinet wood ledge is from me regrouting our sink's tile top. Haven't finished cleaning up yet.)
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Just a matter of extending the three heater control wires, by using a piece of heavy duty extension cord and crimp on connectors so everything simply plugs together. Then vertically expanding the existing gas switch's cabinet hole with a jigsaw, and cobbling up a temporary dual switchplate from some 1/8" fiberboard, using a Dremel to cut the mounting holes. I'll add labels later.

Now I can easily choose between one hot water heating method, or even use both at the same time.
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Yes, that was a hard photo to catch, since the top gas switch lamp only lights for a second during ignition :D , whereas the bottom electric switch lamp stays lit when turned on.

I still need to change the thermostat setting to see how hot I can get the electric to go, and then let y'all know.

Cheers! Kev

Edit: increased the new electric heater temp a fraction and the temp went up another four degrees to 104. Tomorrow will try even higher.

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PostPosted: June 18th, 2017, 3:11 pm 
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After seeing that my water heater has no insulation at all (while pictures I've seen of other Suburban heaters have what looks like a styrofoam casing), I bought insulation and pipe covering at Ace Hardware today.
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I figure the insuation roll will help the heater, and the pipe insulation will keep the water a bit hotter on its way back to the rear. Will upload a picture after I'm done.

A while later... Okay, got a good start, Stuffed insulation all around the tank under its cardboard cover, and started covering the hot water hoses leaving the heating unit. I'm also going to add some insulation to the wall behind the kitchen sink around the outside water inlet box, which seems oddly bare.

I need to buy more pipe insulation though. It's a long curvy trip for hot water to go from the heater back to the shower!

Here's coming out of the heater. Wow, the vertical insulation around the outlet port at upper right is hard to see, it's so dark. Poor pic. For the bottom right corner, I tried notching the insulation and bending it.
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And here's going past the pump at the rear of the sofa. For this corner I simply butted two different pieces instead:
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The cold water is left uninsulated. Next I need to do the pipe under the kitchen sink and behind the spare tire compartment. Makes me wish we had access behind the bathroom driver's wall as well. Hmm. Maybe add an access panel like with the fridge on the other side? Nyah, too crazy :D

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PostPosted: June 24th, 2017, 7:47 am 
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Interesting.

I never noticed before, but Chinook had already put heavy duty insulation on both the cold and hot water pipes, from the kitchen sink, back all the way around the shower enclosure, to the rear of the body at the bath faucets.

So all I needed was enough insulation to get from the water heater to the kitchen sink. Sweet.

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Last edited by kdarling on June 25th, 2017, 5:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: June 24th, 2017, 10:43 am 
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kdarling wrote:
I never noticed before, but Chinook had already put heavy duty insulation on both the cold war and hot pipes, from the kitchen sink, back all the way around the shower enclosure, to the rear of the body at the bath faucets.


Mine's the same way (although, as you noted, the stock Suburban of my era is encased in foam insulation vs. cardboard).

Always nice when you find out you are nearly done when you thought you were only halfway along!

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PostPosted: June 24th, 2017, 2:09 pm 
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Yes sir, it was a relief to find to discover that I wouldn't have to find a way to slide insulation onto pipes going behind the bath enclosure... while of course also being a bit of a letdown not having to do something really difficult (which I often find to be fun to figure out).

--
Oh. New test after installing tank and pipe insulation: Without increasing the new electric element's thermostat, I let it heat up for two hours this time, instead of just one.

Wow, what a difference! Hot water temp at the kitchen sink increased from the previous test's 104, to 126 degrees! Probably mostly due to tank insulation and extra heating time.

I'm happy with the results. For someone who camps by pedestals, I think it beats using up propane to keep hot water around. Plus you can still use gas to augment or do a quicker recovery.
--

Total cost for my version of this project was $60 for the kit, $3 for ten feet of optional pipe cover, plus about $10 for an outlet box, outlet and cover, plus $12 for a heavy duty extension cord that I cut up to be able to put the switch back by the sink. I already had spare wire nuts, crimp on connectors, etc. And in my case, I had to replace missing tank insulation.

My AC meter says it uses about 3.5 amps, btw, when heating. Plugged into my garage's 20 amp circuit, I will have to be careful of turning on too many 120v gizmos like air conditioning, water heater, tools. I think I need to upgrade my garage circuit :)

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Last edited by kdarling on June 25th, 2017, 2:31 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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PostPosted: June 25th, 2017, 9:49 am 
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kdarling wrote:
... while of course also being a bit of a letdown not having to do something really difficult (which I often find to be fun to figure out).


Something tells me another situation will come along to fill that void :lol:

I hear you on it being easier to use electricity when available. I found a similar thing with the refrigerator. Since I can "make" my own electricity (via solar since the refrigerator doesn't draw as much as a heater or Air-con), it's much easier than driving into wherever to get propane. Not that it's super hard to get propane, but it's more of a hassle than "watching" solar panels make electricity, or pumping my own fuel (which I can't do with propane). (Or hooking up to a pedestal if you are already there.)

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