A near disaster coupled with a cautionary tale about buying a secondhand Carver Cascade Water Heater.

Things had evidently been going too well, and we were obviously due for some sort of mis-hap, or set-back, or something.This, however, could have been a real disaster.

When buying larger, expensive items for the van (such as fridge, cooker, water heater etc) we did a fair bit of research and comparisons, not to mention shopping around, to work out what to buy new and what to buy used. You could easily blow your budget buying a brand new £500+ 3-way fridge, a £3-400 cooker, £100 hob, £300 water heater, £100 water pump, £200+ flushing toilet and suchlike.

When secondhand items are so easily available on the likes of eBay, some of these things become more affordable, meaning the budget can breathe a little.

We’d been lucky with our secondhand purchases. Our fridge works 100% on all 3 power options, the cooker, grill and hob all work A-OK, the water heater worked when we tested it, and we’d bought a brand new water pump anyway so we were relieved that we’d done good.

But…

Yesterday, one of the to-do list jobs was to make sure we had all the correct fuses in the 12v system fuse board. I dug out all the relevant paperwork and matched all the fuses up to the correct places.

After that, I tested everything – every light, switch, appliance etc – on the 12v system to make sure everything worked still, and it did. I switched everything back off again and ticked it off the list as job done.

Or so I thought…

We’d been out to town and come back down to the van for a second time, doing various jobs and bits (mostly sorting seat backs but that’ll come later) around the front end of the van, when Nik noticed that the hot water was still on. The switch was about half-way on so I obviously hadn’t fully turned the switch off and the water had been on for some several hours.

Not really a problem because we’d been doing mucky work, so we figured we’d use the hot water and wash our hands (because, you know, we can!)

No water appeared from the hot tap.

Water could, however, be heard under the sofa box. Not good.

Shifted all the cushions off the sofas (because, we have cushions now!), lifted the seat box lid to find a flood. The WHOLE tank had come away from the main water heater and water was all over the van floor.

Fortunately, we were saved in 2 ways here (and later more, but I’ll clarify in a bit): firstly, the water heater is positioned above the vent holes in the side of the van and so it drained readily to the outside and secondly, we were parked on the slope so that the water couldn’t have run anywhere into the main areas of the van (such as under the kitchen, through the second sofa, to the carpeted area etc)

But it was a mess.

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Now, it became obvious what had caused the tank to fail when we saw that the tie rod that tethers the tank body to the gubbings had snapped.

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Ignore that white thing at the top for now. The brownish-coloured thing is supposed to be screwed in to the gubbings end of the tank!

Old age fail. C’est la vie. The manufacture date on the back of the water heater said 1985!

“We’ll just replace the tie rod”, we thought, but decided to check that the heater was working otherwise before doing so.

Good job we did.

That white bit at the top of the photo is the pressure relief valve and it’s melted. This gave us a huge conundrum, because there was no logical way it could have done. And this wasn’t the only inconsistency with the happenings of the day.

Oh no, there was more.

Nick remembered, when we’d gone back down to the van the second time, that he’d noticed some dust-like substance on the floor of the seat box unit, quite close to the tank. He didn’t really thing too much of it at the time (we’d been working in that area, so mess was likely anyway) until later when he inspected it and it looked like limescale.

Yet this was BEFORE we’d noticed the water leaking.

Which meant that the water had already leaked from the tank BEFORE we’d come back to it and noticed the heater was still on.

CSI-like investigations and discussions ensued (except with rather more drama and less beautiful women!)

We concluded the following:

The tank, up to temperature and presumably, through heat, pressure, had broken while we were out, dropping the entire, HOT water tank contents (9 litres), limescale and all, into the van.

By the time we had come back a couple of hours later, the water had all evaporated due to the fact that we appear to be actually getting a summer (for now).

As the tank was now empty, but the heater was still on, we concluded that after dropping its water, the tank had continued to heat fresh air, the thermostat not cutting out because it had to water to measure, and heated the gubbings up to such a temperature that it melted the pressure relief valve which is attached to it.

Very top left is where the pressure relief valve melted away from.
Very top left is where the pressure relief valve melted away from.

Because there wasn’t far for the tank to go, it wasn’t visually obvious under the seat that anything had happened (apart from the aforementioned limescale), but when we did then go to run the hot water, the pump (which we switched on to wash our hands) had then pumped fresh water through the non-existent tank area and into the van. Again, it dried up pretty quickly though as we watched it drain away.

Now, all this was quite disastrous really, but it could have been so much worse.

  1. The van could have been parked on the flat, in which case it would have done far more damage as the water could have flooded living areas then
  2. We could have been on holiday when it happened. We could have been next to it, or the dog could have been next to it: a whole tank of 70c hot water!
  3. We could have been in the van working on it when it dumped 9 litres of hot water all over. Especially if we’d been working within the seat boxes which we were ALL day!
  4. We could have been on hook up, either home or away, and the tank could have splashed water across our electrics which, due to the confined nature of a campervan, are never very far away.

I could probably go on but, while the whole incident has been unlucky, we actually consider ourselves quite the opposite.

We debated repairing it but even the electrical controls are limescale-covered and I’m certain we’ll have to replace more parts and significant cost to get it up and working again.

The morning after the day before...
The morning after the day before…You can see the limescale, water marks everywhere.
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You can see the run of limescale on the left here (between the gas rail and the divider) that gave us a hint to more going on.

So, after much deliberation (and having solved the “mystery of the week” CSI-style, we decided to buy a complete replacement water heater.

First off, we looked at a replacement Carver Cascade 2, but these have not been manufactured for many years and any replacement could have the same fate in the future.

There was no guarantee that any other Cascade water heater we purchased wouldn’t also have a corroded rod or some other problem, and you can’t disassemble it to inspect before purchase, because to do so involves breaking seals which would then need replacing.

It’s a gamble you take, like with any secondhand appliance. Maybe we could or perhaps SHOULD have had them serviced before installing them, but that’s assuming a service would involved removing seals, checking rods and replacing the seals.
Like I said, it’s a chance you take when you buy secondhand, especially ancient secondhand!

We decided not to risk it and bit the bullet, instead buying the new, updated version, the Henry GE Water Heater, brand new! It’s a direct replacement for the Carver Cascade so we can fit it in exact place of what was there (which was essential really and so limited our alternatives)

It’s 240V also, so can potentially heat water faster on gas/electric combined than the previous one  would just on gas, so it’s an evidently better unit than the one it is replacing, but it’s coming at a cost, of course.

Fortunately though, only a financial one. Not a human or canine one.

It could have been so much worse.

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