June 8, 2010
First, please forgive all the redundant spellings and overuse of the phrase “AO Smith ProMax” in this article. I really want the search engines to pick this article up.
I moved into my new home about 4 years ago, and installed in the basement is an AO Smith ProMax hot water heater. When we purchased the house we didn’t think anything about it. Hot water heater is a hot water heater huh? They generally last about 15 years, so didn’t think much about it.
About 7 months ago we woke up to no hot water. “Oh man, did we pay the gas bill!?!” Check the stove top .. yep gas is on. “Oh man, I hope the hot water heater didn’t spring a leak.” Head to the basement. No immediate visible damage. Check the pilot light and it’s out. I figured maybe a gust of wind or something must have blown it out. I relight it and go on about my way.
Next morning. No hot water again. “Seriously?!” I check the pilot light and it out again. Ok, no way it was just a gust of wind. So I light it again and check back in about 30 minutes. It’s out again. I start googling around to see what’s up.
Lots of people immediately tell me it’s the thermocouple went bad on my AO Smith ProMax hotwater heater. I’m doubtful because the pilot light will actually light and stay lit. It’s not until sometime later during the actual heating cycle that the flame and pilot light goes out. If the thermocouple went bad, I don’t think the pilot light would even light.
I post a question on Yahoo Answers, and this super helpful guy tells me there is this screen at the bottom, under the burner assembly that gets clogged up. Clean the screen, and the problem will go away. I look, and sure enough on the AO Smith ProMax water heater, there is a mesh screen under the burner assembly. I later found out this is a flame arrestor. Anyway, evidently this thing gets clogged up with dust, dirt, particles, whatever, and restricts airflow and causes the burner to go out.
I clean the flame arrestor screen on the AO Smith Promax heater, light the pilot, and sure enough the thing stays lit for about 6 months.
Well, here we are with the SAME problem again only 6 months later. I light, relight, clean, light, clean, I do everything to make sure that thing is clean. Day after day after day of no hot water. Basically it got to the point where I had to re-light the pilot light multiple times a day. I finally just got in the habit of lighting the pilot each night before bed, and there’s usually enough hot water for a couple showers in the morning.
I even cleaned the screen with my air compressor and an attachment I bent to place the compressed air almost directly on the screen. I’m positive that screen is as clean or cleaner then the day it came of the assembly line in Mexico, or wherever AO Smith ProMax water heaters are manufactured.
Now it’s getting more and more difficult to get the pilot light lit, which makes me start to wonder, maybe it is the thermocouple. So I break down and call a plumber to come take a look. Super nice guy from Fulton Plumbers comes out and I give him the whole sordid history. He looks, and tells me the thing is still under warranty and I should contact AO Smith and make a warranty claim.
This is where they fun starts. I submit my warranty claim to www.hotwater.com .. I think their support email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first thing they do is tell me I probably cleaned the screen wrong, and they send me a cleaning kit with a specialty attachment for a vacuum to clean that screen. They also send a different, wrap around filter to supposedly keep the screen clean for longer.
No you have to consider that they knew this was a serious problem. At the drop of a hat they immediate knew what the problem was. They immediately pointed me to a website where they even made a video showing what the problem is and how to clean that screen. The AO Smith ProMax has such a substantial problem they immediatey shipped out several boxes of junk to try and fix the problem.
I of course play along and use the attachment and the new wrap around filter. Next day, pilot light is out, no hot water.
I send this email to the support email at AO Smith:
I have received the cleaning kit and the wrap around filter. I have thoroughly cleaned the flame arrestor screen using the provided attachments and brushes. I have also installed the wrap around filter, however my pilot light will still not stay lit.
Please help! I am getting very frustrated with waking up in the mornings with no hot water.
And SERIOUSLY! Get a load of the response from AO Smith:
Hello Chris, I do apologize but without having a manifold and supply gas pressure readings or millivolt readings on the Thermocouple it is difficult to determine whether a part is faulty. Pilot outages can happen due to various reasons. You could have an obstruction in the venting causing a downdraft, condensation could cause pilot outages, or there could be a lack of combustion air to satisfy the air requirements for proper combustion.
AO Smith didn’t refer any local plumbers to assist. They didn’t offer suggestions as to who to call. They didn’t offer any additional advice. AO Smith basically spews some techno babble at the customer and says “Sorry” we’re not going to do anything about the warranty.
I think if you like your water heater to actually make and keep the water HOT, you should avoid AO Smith ProMax. I’ll continue fighting this with them, simply for the principle of the matter, but their customer service is atrocious. And it would appear that AO Smith will take measures to avoid honoring their warranty. I think it’s ridiculous that less and 5 years of use and this AO Smith ProMax water heater is basically worthless and the company isn’t honoring their warranty.