Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Eccotemp L5 and L10 Hot Water Heaters: A Review

We purchased an Eccotemp L5 unit back in December 2013 for $109 and were very excited. We had been living in the bus for two months with no hot water and it was starting to get chilly out so cold showers were no longer acceptable. We easily mounted the unit on the side of the bus and plumbed it into our relatively simple system of one tub and one sink. We saw other Tiny Homes using the same units in a similar way and it worked well from the very start and gave us plenty of heat, was relatively quiet and fairly efficient. During that time we were going  though a five gallon propane tank every six to seven weeks or so.

It seemed to hold up well and worked fine after several rainy or windy days and we carefully watched the temperature to ensure it was drained properly when it got below freezing (only one night this winter here in Florida). Plus it was pretty cute.








About a month ago we started noticing that every once in a while after running the hot water for a while we'd hear a "squeeeeeel poof" sound coming from outside. We tried to make it happen for a while so we could observe but it seemed to be random.

Then, one night, I heard heard an exceptionally loud whine and boom from the water heater and rushed out to see if it had completely exploded off the bus. Fortunately, it was still mounted firmly to the side (with the recommended clearances) but the top guard was glowing red from heat. We immediatly switched it to the off position and turned off the propane. The next morning we inspected it more closely and could see a very obvious black mark from the ball of flame that had erupted from it the night before. At that point we were very thankful for our steel exterior shell, which survived unscathed.



Chris took down the water heater and took it apart to see if he could figure out what went wrong. The inside was a wreck and pretty crispy. I took a bunch of photos and sent them to Eccotemp as the heater comes with a year warranty and it'd only been about six months.


Inside the front cover

A melted ball of metal, not sure where this went


The back of the water heater was all warped


The ignition

I was a little disappointed with the service from Eccotemp at first. It took four email exchanges and over a week before they actually addressed the problem. At first, they said we voided the warranty by permanently mounting the unit to which I responded with several direct quotes from the users manual indicating that the unit could be permanently mounted. For example, under the "Getting Started" section of the users manual, the manual says "Use the top tab on the unit to suspend from a screw adequate to holding 15 pounds. Place at a comfortable height without putting stress on the gas hose. If the unit is to be permanently mounted, use screws to attach the bottom tab firmly." There were also several explainations as to how to plumb the unit into a garden hose or an existing system. Additionally, the warranty said nothing about mounting the unit permanently.

I also explained that there were many raving reviews on their website about this product being used in a similar way as ours and that I felt it was a defect in something inside the unit that went wrong, not an issue with quality of the overall unit. I also made it clear that I found direct communication via phone to be more efficient and pleasant than email.

Three days (and two more cold showers) later I got a call from Mike at Eccotemp. They use an internet phone service there and his call was dropped three times during our conversation. That was pretty frustrating. At first Mike was a little defensive, he made it clear they would not be replacing our unit and apologized that the manual was misleading and said they would be rewriting it.

Mike suggested that the Eccotemp L10 would be a better model for us as it is made to be mounted permanently outside and had a rain guard. I agreed that we should upgrade to the L10 for our next unit and fortunately, they were willing to work with us on the price. They essentially gave us the price of the L5 off of the L10, normally $260. They also covered the cost of shipping and shipped out the new unit that day. Mike became much more pleasant to work with and talk to after we decided on this resolution; he was actually a really nice guy.




Yesterday, we mounted the new unit. It's 8" taller than the first plus it has a flue at the top. It worked right away and seems to be doing just fine. We are able to run it at a much lower gas to water flow ratio than the L5 and the hot water gets to our faucet in under a minute. I'll write an update on our experience with the L10 in a few months, but for now we're satisfied.

We chose the L5 originally because of the size, the fact that it had a battery start and the excellent price. We never had any issues with it as far as leaks or traveling, though I wish we had gone with the L10 from the start to avoid this whole experience. I know of several people who have been living with the L5 for years with no problem so this experience may just be an exception, not the rule.

Overall, Eccotemp puts out a great product for the price that meets the unique needs of many tiny home dwellers. However, in the event that you do have an issue and need to contact them with something you need to be diligent and firm otherwise it may not be resolved in a timely manner. No one has time for cold showers.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this review. We will be finishing up our bus in a little less than a month, and we were planning on going with the L5, we may need to rethink that now.

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  2. go to amazon. check 1 star reviews. 2 other burners there. one other thing do you flush the unit? every other tankless that i see has a scheduled flush. they lime up. that will not cause them to burn up. it will ruin them faster and burn needless fuel. i'm a master plumber. i have never worked on an eccotemp.

    i wondered if it is listed by by any standards agency. the regulator (for lp connection) is but apparently nothing else. is it lead free? don't make tea with water from it. there is probably a reason it is 1/4 the price of the next cheapest heater. flushing or descaling the heat exchanger. very important.

    i wish you well. raz

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  3. This product is worthless! Read the warranty before you buy it! Our unit failed after about a month and a half, and the company would not replace it or refund our money. Their warranty covers parts only, not labor. I have worked with their tech support for over two months, and the unit still does not work. I am stuck with a non-functioning piece of junk.

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  4. Thanks for another great 'real life experience' post. This made me go with a much more expensive European heater that my builder recommended, (Rinnai V53eP) because I have cedar siding that will burn nicely in case of a fire. Your experience scared me a lot. So good to know.
    You are doing a great service for all of us. Thank you!
    jane

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