My interest in all-things-tiny-and-old started at 12 years old when I became fascinated with a tiny abandoned farm house near my parent’s home...and I've been sketching floor plans ever since. My Tiny Houses are the culmination of a life spent dreaming of a tiny reclaimed space, all my own.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2018
Hot Water, Guaranteed! Installing My Eccotemp Externally Vented Heater
When I originally envisioned My Tiny Empty Nest, I decided that since I wouldn’t really know where I’d be parking it; I wanted to design it so it would be easy for a potential land owner to say “yes” when I asked for them to host me. I may have mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating: By design I only need a 20 amp circuit, a 110V extension cord, and a garden hose to “run” my first tiny house and now….My Tiny Perch as well.
And HOW I do this is by using as many propane heating appliances, as possible.
On demand hot water heaters are quite complex.
So, before I go a moment further let me say:
Do NOT install one yourself!
There are some things you can do to PREP for one but the installation itself involves water AND electricity AND propane gas. Seriously. Things can go horribly wrong (KA BOOM!) if not done by a professional.
I install all my own plumbing lines and fixtures. Sometimes I have help and sometimes I don’t but in the end, the buck stops with me. I do this because it’s a great way to save money and there is virtually NO risk of injury or damage if I don’t do something correctly. I pressure test the lines before I close the walls and if they leak (but they never have) I fix them.
Getting the water lines in is the easy part. Designing a tiny house that will accommodate an externally mounted and vented hot water heater, is the hard part. And, when I say “accommodate”, it means you have to have enough gap space from the closest window opening and the eaves, and enough wall space for the propane gas lines and the unit itself.
Behind the wall, inside the house, the cold water source line will pass through the wall.
I prefer externally vented hot water heaters because they free up the interior space needed for this important appliance, and they typically have a better service record and capacity than their smaller cousins meant more for recreation than full time living.
My Tiny Perch’s propane gas needs are VERY simple. I need a gas line for the hot water heater and one for the stovetop in the kitchen, just inside the front wall. Normally, I wouldn’t advise installing black gas pipe yourself either but I happen to have a pressure meter, bubbly water (to test for leaks) and the design was so simple I simply couldn’t justify spending $700 to have it installed.
I read the installation guide for the heater to determine the size of pipe I’d need, drew the plan on paper, measured the lengths I would need, made a shopping list of parts (“T”’s and “Corners” and “Caps”, etc….) and then had Home Depot cut everything to size. And, to be safe, I did have some help with this project, someone who was there to bounce ideas off of. (or bring me to my senses, if need be)
Black Pipe Installed? Check!
Once the lines were installed, and the test valve was installed at the entry point, I applied air pressure via the compressor and…..the lines held! No pressure was lost. (Caps were placed on all the ends at this point)
Electricity freaks me out. Although it is likely that, for my next build, I’ll be pulling the lines myself rather than just designing the system and directing the install; electricity also needs a professional installation or inspection. In order to save money, I have been hiring people who know what to do; and then hiring licensed pros to inspect the work that was done. And, this has worked well. As a matter of fact, except for one incident involving someone I hired who installed some fixtures incorrectly, this “plan” was perfect.
When moving short distances, no protection is required for the heater.
And fear, for the record, is a very very good thing. Fear makes sure that you either 1) don’t do that stupid thing you shouldn’t, or 2) that you take a looong time to consider the consequences and train yourself thoroughly, or 3) that you hire someone else, or 4) that you don’t do it at all.
For me, my fear meant I did both 2 AND 3.
Due to a boom in construction right now; finding someone to install a hot water heater takes a long time. Luckily, I have “a guy” who did my last one (and still returns my calls) but even he took over 6 weeks to find a spot in his schedule for my 30 minute install.
The vent outlet is as far from the window, and eaves, as possible!
Cost wise, it also cost MORE for the installation than the heater itself but I also asked him to add a source line heater to ensure that the hot water heater does not freeze and burst in freezing temps. This is an affordable way to prevent a LOT of heartache and has already proven to be a perfect way to protect my investment for my first one.
There is also one thing I don’t do during the installation that I do need to comment on. Yes, I know that hot water heaters are not pretty. Yes, I know they take away from the esthetic of your cute, little, tiny house. But don’t, please, try to build them in a box and then try to figure out how to vent them. Mine are not designed to be vented through a vent pipe, and my installer said ALL of the problems he has seen with external models similar to mine are caused by someone who built them into a box.
FINAL ADJUSTMENTS TO THE SYSTEM
With so many contributing factors, turning on the hot water for the first time may not result in the hot shower you envisioned. When we finally got all of the ducks in a row, once all lines were leak tested, and once the tiny house was moved, and the local water lines were installed; my first test resulted in barely warm water. Ugh!
I love this entry view.
After hearing mix reviews of the Eccotemp heater I chose, I was nervous. I assumed that the dissatisfaction that others had experienced was due to improper product selection (not enough gallons per minute flowing) or improper installation. (Gas leaks, crossed wires, DIY install, problematic gas regulator, etc….) And, in the end, I was right.
My shower faucet has a small disc that sits on the inside of the handle assembly and can be adjusted to provide more or less hot water for the shower. Once I quietly considered all that could go wrong, and discovered then adjusted the faucet, the only-warm-water-problem was fixed and all my nervous energy and time and investment and optimism was rewarded!
Now THAT is a beatiful hot water delivery set up!
The Eccotemp Model 45-H really was the perfect choice for this build. It’s an affordable and reliable provider of endless streams of hot water that will only run out if your propane does. It has an adjustable thermostat, and an easy-to-understand operations manual.
I may not have looked any further than my “externally vented hot water heater” internet source would take me, but I’m VERY glad I found such an efficient solution. I highly recommend Eccotemp heaters and, specifically, externally vented models for tiny houses.
Whenever I see a social media post about hot water heaters, it makes my heart proud to tell my story about how BOTH of mine are awesome AND freeze proof!