A Cautionary Tale...... - Fiberglass RV


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Old 07-24-2013, 06:18 PM   #1
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A Cautionary Tale......

Less than a month ago we swung north around Williston, North Dakota, ably guided by our in-house travel nanny, Ludmilla Andropov. The place is a madhouse of drilling and related activity, so we headed north and then east on a secondary road, stopping for the night at a reservoir campground above the tiny town of McGregor.

We found a nice spot, open to the water, and enjoyed the mild breeze flowing across the reservoir. Planning to stay one night, we hooked up to the power and prepared for dinner.

I was sitting on the lee side of the trailer as Kathy prepared some food. She was cooking something, and I happened to look up and noticed grayish-white smoke coming from the upper refrigerator vent. Something was afoot, so I asked the cook to shut down the burner and the propane.

The smoke kept coming, so I grabbed a Phillips and undid the 14 screws holding the vent cover. Looking in we saw glowing embers under the cook top and above the refrigerator. The smoke kept coming, so I picked up the fire extinguisher and gave a squirt toward the parts which glowed the most.

The cook top came off, and the pan underneath came off. I was prepared for something to flare up with the easier access to fresh air, but the fire seemed stable in a couple of the wooden edge supports surrounding the pan. A couple of wet paper towels were then draped on the embers which squelched the glowing parts.

With the TV still hooked up the possibilities for total disaster were quite clear, so I started looking at what had happened: First, the pan had at least a half-dozen holes in it, 3 round ones for the propane hose and a couple of square ones for some unknown purpose. The wood supports around the pan (not touching the pan) were scorched for something like 30 percent of the circumference and in the worst area was reduced to half thickness.

Our usual practice when cooking is to run the exhaust fan at low speed, but this time the pressure from the wind coming into the trailer through the screen door provided plenty of positive pressure into the trailer. The flames on the burner, instead of licking up to do the cooking, were being bent down and driven through the holes and exhausted through the frig vent, setting the supports on fire.

After the scorched parts started to cool down I grabbed the Atwood installation guide and started reading. In the fine print there was a reference to the holes in the pan being sealed up and the whole space under the cooktop also being sealed up. When I installed the replacement counter top years agoI had carelessly duplicated the setup I found originally, thinking nothing of it, and none of that had been considered or modified.

Over the refrigerator top (under the cook top) was a one and a half inch thick Styrofoam panel for insulation. About 80% of that had disappeared, strangely without any black scorching (melting and sublimation?) and that contributed to the open flow over the refrigerator and out.

After doing a fairly haphazard job of covering the cold embers and the holes in the pan with the aluminized tape I always carry with me I felt it might be safe to use the burner on low heat while watching that the flames always angled up and were not drawn underneath.

It had not occurred to me to try to understand the difference between "sealed" and "not sealed" burners, but this episode got my attention. "Sealed" burners have no air path to the underside of the cook top, and as you can see from the pictures, the Atwood has plenty of space around the orifices for air, gas, or flames to be drawn down.

These burners are probably mostly safe IF there is no path for air, etc. to be drawn down, but it means that the pan and the space below must be completely sealed so that no positive pressure can force flames down, a tall order considering the reputation some installers have for ignoring the cautions from the manufacturers. Creating negative pressure inside is likely a prudent idea.

Cook top replacement was a ways down on my priority list, given that the burners seemed to work pretty well. From one of the pictures you will see how the edge of the counter top looks scorched along the front edge, and this has been the case for many years. I attributed this to food stains, but when I consider what I found it seems obvious that this was not the first time this scorching had happened but in fact a process over many years. The nice breeze straight through the screen door apparently brought the fire to a new level of intensity.

A new cook top seemed in order, so I now have one with sealed burners almost installed, and I plan to use some amorphous silicate fabric lining (used in automotive heat shielding applications and available from Amazon, et al) for extra insurance this time.

Considering the possibly disastrous outcome of this episode I would suggest that if you have a cook top that is not sealed and could have an air path through the unit to the outside to run a quick test: close all the windows and vents, turn on a burner, then watch how the flames behave when you close the door quickly. If they suddenly bend down it may be time to consider some remedial work.
Attached Thumbnails
Atwood cooktop.jpg   Atwood burner placement.jpg  

Atwood cooktop pan.jpg   Cooktop scorching.jpg  

New stove top.jpg  
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Old 07-24-2013, 07:01 PM   #2
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Wow, Per, that's quite a story. Chalk up an A+ for quick Senior thinking and great detective work. New two-burner looking good.
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Old 07-24-2013, 07:08 PM   #3
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Glad it's a learning curve and not a disastrous episode.
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Old 07-24-2013, 07:16 PM   #4
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A cautionary tale indeed. Anyone who knows Per or has seen his Burro nows how meticulous he is, and what a gem of an egg he has created. If this can happen to someone as well-versed and particular as Per, then the rest of us need to pay particular attention. I think I'll be pulling out a cooktop very, very soon.
Thank you Per and I am so glad you and yours are still well.
cheers
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Old 07-24-2013, 07:44 PM   #5
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Your quick thinking (and actions) averted what could easily have been a total disaster. Happy to hear that all is well now and that more days of camping are on the horizon.
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Old 07-24-2013, 08:03 PM   #6
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OMG, OMG Ian is positively correct. I know few people who pay as much attention to maintenance issues as Per. For him to post this info...

PAY ATTENTION!

A couple of minutes maintenace work may save you a whole lot of headaches... or more.
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Old 07-24-2013, 08:09 PM   #7
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I couldn't say it any better than Myron and Ian.

Also, I note that if the refrigerator enclosure were done correctly, the lack of sealing of the stove (which would still be incorrect) would not have been such a problem. The fire has revealed this additional issue with that refrigerator enclosure: the propane combustion fumes from the refrigerator have had a path to the trailer interior.

Thanks, Per!
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Old 07-24-2013, 08:26 PM   #8
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A while back we drove by a house with yellow siding.
I always notice this house when we do drive by........
That day my wife and I both noticed that the yellow siding was
all curled up. And I could not figure out what would have caused
it to curl up as it did. I was going to take a picture and post it but
never could remember my camera. Then I noticed they had stripped
the siding down to the bare wood.

Then I spotted the cause. There was a motorhome parked in front of the house.
Well, let me say what used to be a motorhome. It had caught fire and burned to
a (less than crisp). There was nothing left by charred metal outline to show it was
a motorhome. It was the heat from the burning motorhome that curled the siding.

When I finally remember to take my camera, the motorhome had been hauled off.
I was really concerned to what could have happened or may have happened. I think
it was "for sale" so think that it was just a loss of property. Hopefully.

We don't need to live in fear, but we need to be aware.
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Old 07-24-2013, 09:03 PM   #9
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I no longer have the pine nailers and the wood grain paste board partitions in the galley area on mine. The Dometic 2202 is also not there as replaced with a 120VAC dorm fridge. I had a good look at my three burner cooktop from the underside when I installed the riser for the replacement fridge. The pan appeared continuous except for the mouse hole for the propane line.

Much as I like our Burro, the proximity of flammable partitioning to both range top and the burner chimney of the 3-way fridge was not acceptable. It's OK to say that as the company is defunct. To say the same of a trailer currently in production could possibly be taken as letting down the side, fear-mongering, etc. and I won't go there. Please do take a little time out from romancing the egg to soberly examine your trailer for potentially hazardous installations.

jack
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Old 07-24-2013, 10:43 PM   #10
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I like that cook top, could you post some info on it's source?
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Old 07-24-2013, 11:13 PM   #11
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Thanks for those kind words, all! Brian has pointed out what may be the other elephant in the room, however, and that is that the refrigerator enclosure should be sealed from the rest of the interior.

In our case this may have contributed to my complacency, because some years ago I replaced our dying Dometic with a NovaCool 12v frig (Danfoss compressor). Therefore that source of propane or combustion is no longer present, so any lack of sealing would not result in such problems. Luckily the frig was not damaged.

Jim, the new cooktop is a "Ramblewood." Seems like an odd name to me, but I also liked the way it looks and the promise of easy cleaning. When talking to the rep in Colorado he assured me that most applications are marine and RV uses. Probably made in China, although the ID is well hidden. I'm currently preparing the compartment under it, but one thing which has to be dealt with is that the nice casting on top and the two-piece burner orifice and caps are loose on top. Some of the roads we travel on would have them flying through the interior. I have come up with two different methods for securing them, so I'll be experimenting. If I am successful and the unit lives up to expectations I will post a brief note about what I find.
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Old 07-25-2013, 12:10 AM   #12
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Ramblewood GC2-43P (LPG/Propane Gas) high efficiency 2 burner gas cooktop

Why haven't I heard of this before now? They've been out approx 2 years. This looks like something I'd want.
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Old 07-25-2013, 12:31 AM   #13
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It says it has electric ignition, 110V AC ( my recollection ).
So, I gather you have to be connected to shore power for this feature to work?

My Weber BBQ uses a AA battery.
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Old 07-25-2013, 12:44 AM   #14
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Wouldn't the inverter supply the 110vac?
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