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Suburban RV furnaces s*ck!


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Apologies for the language but, just returned from a trip to southern Utah and as luck would have it our Suburban furnace would not operate yet again. This is the second time within the last couple of years however this time it would only fire up when the outside ambient temperature was around 50º or so, any colder than that and it would only start the fan which ran for 15 seconds or so then shut off. No matter how many times we turned the thermostat switch on and off we got the same results until of course the outside temps got up to 50º or so but then it's not needed at that point. 

Anyone have any ideas on what might cause this? FWIW I replaced the ignitor a couple of years ago and would not have thought to go bad so soon. Also all other gas appliances worked perfectly. We had to purchase a Mr Buddy heater for the trip otherwise no heat in some unseasonably cold weather every night. Funny that thing puts out almost as much heat in the lowest setting of 4,000 BTU as the 16,000 BTU Suburban puts out, probably due to its efficiency and the lack of with the furnace at 40% or so efficiency. 

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My first thought is a bad sail switch. Air from the fan blows on the sail switch, which tells the controller that air is moving. That in turn tells it that it's OK to start the ignitor to light the flame. After the fan starts can you hear the ignitor clicking? Fan running but no ignitor makes me suspect the sail switch.

OTOH, if you hear the ignitor clicking but no flame kick in, I'd suspect a propane problem.

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I suspected sail switch, also, but surprised when furnace worked above 50. Maybe some Utah dust finally blown away after many attempts,?

I doubt it's a low voltage issue, as I'm pretty sure @routlaw has lithium? Not sure. Cold temps affect la battery output more than lithium batteries.  

I will say, my old suburban on agm has never had these issues.  But I've seen others with control board issues,  as well, in newer trailers.  I "think" the newer suburban furnaces have a two or three year warranty.  I'd be checking in with suburban,  especially since routlaw says the fridge still runs on gas. That's usually much more sensitive to propane issues than the furnace. 

Very helpful troubleshooting,  @Steph and Dud B. Thanks.

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Here's how to check your sail switch....the outside panel of the furnace comes off with a few screws....the video shows what's inside (rotated 90 from how ours are mounted.)

Sail Switch with pet hair shown below...but could be just dirty.

 

1438370259_ScreenShot2022-04-05at2_25_40PM.thumb.png.a56e00dbe480af91f73bb518d226e01d.png

 

The video :

 

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1 hour ago, Steph and Dud B said:

My first thought is a bad sail switch. Air from the fan blows on the sail switch, which tells the controller that air is moving. That in turn tells it that it's OK to start the ignitor to light the flame. After the fan starts can you hear the ignitor clicking? Fan running but no ignitor makes me suspect the sail switch.

OTOH, if you hear the ignitor clicking but no flame kick in, I'd suspect a propane problem.

Thanks for the info and thoughts. The times that the furnace did kick on you could hear the ignitor, then the flame kick on, otherwise a no go. Why the colder air causes a problem is beyond me though. BTW hot water heater worked fine, as did the gas cook top. Taking these things (Suburban is a major PITA) having done this before. Atwoods are much easier to work on.

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33 minutes ago, SeaDawg said:

I suspected sail switch, also, but surprised when furnace worked above 50. Maybe some Utah dust finally blown away after many attempts,?

I doubt it's a low voltage issue, as I'm pretty sure @routlaw has lithium? Not sure. Cold temps affect la battery output more than lithium batteries.  

I will say, my old suburban on agm has never had these issues.  But I've seen others with control board issues,  as well, in newer trailers.  I "think" the newer suburban furnaces have a two or three year warranty.  I'd be checking in with suburban,  especially since routlaw says the fridge still runs on gas. That's usually much more sensitive to propane issues than the furnace. 

Very helpful troubleshooting,  @Steph and Dud B. Thanks.

Actually I still have the 4 lead acid batteries but they are all good still keeping a charge so low voltage for sure wasn't the issue. Have camped in even colder weather before not that it was balmy on this trip and furnace worked fine with the lead acid. Tried calling Suburban earlier today and their voice mail cut the phone call of once they knew I was not an authorized service tech. Apparently they don't want RV owners messing with these things any longer. Thanks.

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24 minutes ago, Galway Girl said:

Here's how to check your sail switch....the outside panel of the furnace comes off with a few screws....the video shows what's inside (rotated 90 from how ours are mounted.)

Sail Switch with pet hair shown below...but could be just dirty.

 

Wish I owned one of those Atwoods, unfortunately the Suburbans are a major PITA to work on. The entire thing has to be removed from the camper to get to anything but the ignitor. I've done this before, its an all day affair due to the limited working space. Even the compartment dividers to the storage area in the rear have to be removed. Anyway was hoping all indicators would not point to the sail switch for this reason. Regardless thanks for linking the video, it was helpful even though it is for an Atwood. 

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34 minutes ago, routlaw said:

Thanks for the info and thoughts. The times that the furnace did kick on you could hear the ignitor, then the flame kick on, otherwise a no go. Why the colder air causes a problem is beyond me though. BTW hot water heater worked fine, as did the gas cook top. Taking these things (Suburban is a major PITA) having done this before. Atwoods are much easier to work on.

Then, I would suspect over temp limits,  or control board. And, definitely,  open another ticket. 

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1 hour ago, routlaw said:

The times that the furnace did kick on you could hear the ignitor, then the flame kick on, otherwise a no go.

When you say "otherwise a no go" does this mean that, when the furnaces fails to kick on, you do not hear the the ignitor arcing? 

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1 hour ago, bhncb said:

When you say "otherwise a no go" does this mean that, when the furnaces fails to kick on, you do not hear the the ignitor arcing? 

Yes that is correct.

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Legacy Elite II #70

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3 hours ago, SeaDawg said:

Maybe some Utah dust finally blown away after many attempts

FYI, that red southern Utah dust is full of iron, 1% + iron oxide, thus the red color, it gets on printed circuit boards and unsealed butt splices and wire terminals. Add a little moisture, like in your fridge compartment, and you can get serious corrosion, if it is a bad enough layer it could actually short things.

After my trip to Canyonlands my LX450 trailer lights quit working, I opened up the split loom protecting the wires and red dust poured out, and two splices were severely corroded..They don’t mention this at the Utah or Moab visitor centers.

I live the red rock country, but not the red dust. If a bunch gets inside your Ollie you could have issues. 

John Davies

Spokane WA

 

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4 hours ago, routlaw said:

Tried calling Suburban earlier today and their voice mail cut the phone call of once they knew I was not an authorized service tech. Apparently they don't want RV owners messing with these things any longer. Thanks.

I feel your pain.

Last week, I spent almost an hour on the phone trying to reach a tech at  Franke USA, calling about my hood vent control panel for my home kitchen. Got knocked off twice. Finally spoke to a really nice guy, after 29 minutes on hold, and had a new control panel for my 2008 or 9 hood fan in two days, for less $ than I expected. 

These days, it can take time and a significant amount of patience, as everyone seems to be understaffed, and hold times are really long. I call on my cell phone, put it on speaker, and continue working on other things with my phone in my pocket. If I get knocked off the line, I just call again, and repeat. It's a bit maddening,  but eventually,  I  usually get results. 

Please keep us posted on what you find out.

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Would be nice if Oliver starts installing Truma Vario heat along with their a/c. 

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38 minutes ago, ScottyGS said:

Would be nice if Oliver starts installing Truma Vario heat along with their a/c. 

Some of us would prefer the Alde hydronic furnace/ hot water system….. it is much more compact, SIPS DC power and is completely silent. The Ollie double wall design is perfect for this! Running all the heating water lines and radiators along both sides of the trailer at the bottom of the walls would eliminate cold spots that are prone to freezing, and it would also eliminate those huge troublesome air ducts. Pleeeese!

I would do this myself in a heartbeat, but Alde will not sell parts to anybody but OEM manufacturers like nuCamp.

https://www.truckcampermagazine.com/camper-reviews/alde-hydronic-heating-system-test-and-review/

Check out some of their accessories, like heated towel racks.

https://www.alde.us/our-products/

John Davies 

Spokane WA

 

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I spoke with our local Truma office in Lakeland awhile back when the Varioheat was first introduced.  Unlike other systems from Truma, the Vario was available to end-users as a retrofit, but only with a Truma install. Price was, if I remember,  about double a Suburban or Atwood replacement,  including labor. I'll see if I can find my notes from our conversation. 

Here's a video showing the Vario in use, inside Truma's environment testing booth. It certainly is quiet.

 

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If all suggestions checked out as not being causal, I'd have to ask if the LP tank was low - too low to provide pressure beyond the first burst.

Long shot, but...

Charlie

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That's a thought, @CnC, as it kicked on when temp rose to 50. 

The stove and fridge still managed to work, though. But, they may work with less pressure available than the furnace. IDK.

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@CnC Don't think that is the issue, but this also occurred to me since we started out with a partially used tank but after several failed attempts I switched to the other tank that was absolutely full and results were the same.

Honestly at this point I would convert to one of the better heating systems like Alde or Truma in a heartbeat if they would allow end users to install. I agree with John Davies though the hot water heating system of Alde would be my preference but it would be a nightmare to retrofit an already built out Oliver. We have hot water heat in our home here in Montana and would never go back to forced air if given the option. 

Good video @SeaDawg thanks for sharing that one. I got a chuckle out of the Truma rep when he said 60% efficiency on standard RV heating systems. He might have missed that by 10 or 20 points being too optimistic. 

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19 hours ago, John E Davies said:

FYI, that red southern Utah dust is full of iron, 1% + iron oxide, thus the red color, it gets on printed circuit boards and unsealed butt splices and wire terminals. Add a little moisture, like in your fridge compartment, and you can get serious corrosion, if it is a bad enough layer it could actually short things.

After my trip to Canyonlands my LX450 trailer lights quit working, I opened up the split loom protecting the wires and red dust poured out, and two splices were severely corroded..They don’t mention this at the Utah or Moab visitor centers.

I live the red rock country, but not the red dust. If a bunch gets inside your Ollie you could have issues. 

John Davies

Spokane WA

 

John thanks for sharing this information, good stuff. The thing is our furnace did not work properly from the get go even before hitting red rock roads. Our first few nights were spent at the Nine Mile Guest Ranch with all paved roads in. Have had the Nine Mile Road on my bucket list for years to experience the abundant petroglyphs and pictographs. Regardless I will check all connections just to make sure dust and dirt is not the culprit. It was unseasonably cold down in southern Utah on this trip and we came home to near winter conditions with howling winds so have not had made the effort to get out there and start tearing things apart. Frankly I would prefer to spend the time installing a new heating system rather than continuing to repair a piece of crap furnace.

We were amazed at how well the Mr Buddy performed during the trip and had to use it every morning. It did produce some condensation on the windows which was mostly there already from two people sleeping in a cold cabin. Never noticed any smell, even far less than lighting up the cooktop actually. It was dead quiet too. Went through 1 & 1/2 bottles of propane for the entire trip. Night temps were down to the low 30's and probably a few nights sinking into the higher 20's. 

 

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3 hours ago, routlaw said:

Good video @SeaDawg thanks for sharing that one. I got a chuckle out of the Truma rep when he said 60% efficiency on standard RV heating systems. He might have missed that by 10 or 20 points being too optimistic

I know, right? Typical rv furnace is so inefficient,  you actually can feel and smell the sticky residue of unburned fuel  if you warm your hands (without gloves) at the exhaust. 

If we ever have to change up, I'll be looking at the vario.

None of the good hydronic systems are available for retrofit, to my knowledge.  Nor, would it be easy, in our older elite. 

Just my opinion. 

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Just wanted to provide a quick update on my Suburban furnace issue for those of you who have graciously helped and for others who might share an interest. Took the entire thing apart and out of the cabin today. Sail switch worked fine and measured as it should when triggered, ignitor was in good shape but cleaned it to be sure, found no debris, insects or other detritus infested within the heat chamber or furnace cabinet and in fact given some of the dusty back country roads this thing has been on the entire thing was quite clean for the most part. Blew it out anyway. I have no way testing the limit switch or the circuit control board which is about the only thing left but there was nothing that might have indicated their malfunction either. All electrical connections were tight and showed no signs of corrosion. Back to the drawing board. 

Its supposed to turn cold again here in Big Sky Country tomorrow so I'll see what happens in the morning. Leaving shore power off for the night. 

In the meantime, I have discovered our Blue Sky Solar controller boost has also died. This came out of nowhere. The good news is a quick call and email to the company Sun Force produced superior customer service. They will repair this for free, all I have to do is ship it to them. Unbelievable after 7 years of use! 

Thanks again for all the help and suggestions.

rob

 

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Legacy Elite II #70

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I think many RV owners expect our RV to operate to our home standards, but they do not, never have and probably never will, 

trainman

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On 4/9/2022 at 5:12 AM, Trainman said:

I think many RV owners expect our RV to operate to our home standards, but they do not, never have and probably never will, 

trainman

The Oliver is our third RV in over 20 years, started with a Coleman pop-up, then a T@b and now over 7 years with the Elite II. With that in mind I have no illusions, grand or not about RV's in general having the same standard as the housing market. In fact my intro subject line could have read "RV appliances s*ck" and they truly do or at least the vast majority of them. If the housing and automobile industry performed to the same standards as the RV industry there would be so many class actions lawsuits it would fill and clog up the court system. 

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Another quick update regarding furnace failure. At this point after several days of testing and analyzing the situation all indicators point to failing batteries after 7 years of use. Can't be absolutely be certain of this but the last two days we have had very cold temps overnight. This morning was 17º and yesterdaymid 20's in the morning. Both mornings even after a full charge from the previous day the batteries measured 12.7+ volts but would not start the furnace and on both of those days once plugged into shore power the furnace started up and ran for an hour ± without issue. 

What puzzles me is, when is 12.7 volts ± a fraction not really 12.7 volts. Makes no sense. Worth pointing out however with milder temps and with batteries in this SOC (state of charge)  the furnace lit up. Clearly however the battery pack simply did not have the power to run the fan fast enough to trip the sail switch under colder temps. I could replace the sail switch but from all indications it measures and seems work just fine. 

Hopefully this info will help anyone else when and if they stumble into similar issues. Would love to do the Lithium as replacements, doubt I will do lead acid again but at least AGM. Suggestions and thoughts appreciated. 

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