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Precision Temp RV500 Review – Tankless Hot Water Heater

For a long time I have recommended the RV-500 Tankless Hot Water Heater from Precision Temp, but recently I found myself no longer being able to recommend it.   I don’t normally do product reviews, but the RV500 is one of those appliances that a lot of tiny housers use and people wanting to build are planning on installing.  So I thought I’d share my experience here.

tankless-rv500-review

To be transparent, I owned the RV550, which is very similar to the 500, the only difference is the 550 vents out the bottom via a pipe, where the 500 vents out a side panel.  While there are technical differences, they’re almost identical, save the vent method.  Most people don’t know about the 550 as its just a product variant, it’s fair to say its the same series, hence me reviewing this under the RV500 title because that’s what most people will search.

So to the review.

I purchased the unit in 2013 after doing a lot of research about the unit.  It seemed like my options where this unit or an Atwood variant that honestly didn’t look that great as an option.  I laid down the $1100 for the unit (gulp) and awaited it’s arrival.  In addition to the unit I purchased the 110V to 12V adapter, which let’s you simply plug in the unit to a standard power outlet.

When the unit arrived I was checking it out when I noticed an odd noise when picked the unit up.  At first I thought it was just a check valve or some wires jiggling, but upon further listening I became concerned.  I decided to crack open my brand new unit and I’m very glad I did.  What I found was one of the main vent hoses had come loose and the hose clamp was rattling around in the bottom of the unit.

carbon-monoxide-gas-safety

I realized that this was a pretty serious thing, because if I hadn’t investigate and just installed, it would have mean that the vent would be pushing exhaust into the interior of my house.  Very dangerous.  As a side note I later got a new unit and looking at how firmly that vent host was attached, I’m guessing that it was never connected in the first place, not just wiggled off in shipping.

It was then I asked for a replacement unit because I wasn’t sure I could fix it, plus it was brand new out of the box.  I put it right back in the box, repacking just like they sent it to me.  Called them and they sent me a new one and asked for me to send it back, the customer service was good on that call.

wrong

What wasn’t good, was later on, when they received the unit back; one of their staff sent a snide email telling me how there was nothing wrong with the unit and how scratched the unit was.  He then began telling me how I was wrong because they “test every unit before it goes out.”  The unit would have worked fine even if they test it, it just was not venting out the vent tube.  Keep in mind I sent it in the exact packaging they sent it to me in.

The email was rude, the email was petty, but more concerning was that as a layman I could figure out that the unit was not assembled correctly, but the person working for the company didn’t notice a 4 inch vent hose being so loose it wasn’t seated on the connector at all.  I was annoyed by the person’s unprofessional behavior, but ultimately I realized I had a working unit and that’s all that mattered.

I got my new unit and I immediately opened it up to check the internals, all looked in order.  I then installed the unit in my house a while later.  I had a professional plumber come in and install it because I don’t like messing with gas lines.  The install went smoothly until we had to turn the thing on.  The unit would start working, but the vent fan wouldn’t kick on.  Later on we were able to get the vent fan working, but it wouldn’t light.  Finally I gave Precision Temp a call after going round and round, he told me to un-ground the unit by disconnecting the green wire.  The unit turned on and worked instantly.

wiring

This really frustrated me because as you can see above – this is a screen shot from the install manual – you’re supposed to ground the unit.  The support person said that 12 volt is very sensitive so if it’s grounded, it can cause trouble.  This is all true, but their install guide says green goes to ground.  In the end, I didn’t care too much, I had hot water and it was great to have hot showers.

Later that year winter came and I was finding that even in the mild winters of North Carolina, the unit couldn’t get the water hot enough for my showers.  It would be solidly warm, but never hot.  I really like hot showers, one of the best things on earth, so this was disappointing.  I tempered this with the fact that the unit could only rise the water temperature so much, it was rated at around 55,000 btu and that inherently can only warm cold water so much.

I really did like how efficient the unit was, using a 20lb propane tank (like you have on your grill) I could have hot showers and cook meals on my gas range for around 4 months per tank!  That was really nice, I bought four tanks and that would allow me to shower and cook for an entire year, plus have one extra.  This meant my gas cost was $4.50 per month!

Then it all went to hell.

I was taking a shower about a month ago and once I was done, I stepped out to towel off.  I noticed that the tankless didn’t turn off, but instead kept the burner going.  I turned the water back on to see if I could trigger it to turn off, nothing.  Tried the sink, nothing.  I unplugged it, nothing.

What I didn’t know was that the safety pressure release valve had failed and the unit was building steam pressure, all a sudden the unit tore itself apart.  The unit had built up so much steam pressure that it literally ruptured the wall of one valves and tore the threads out of another.  It scared me half to death, but luckily all the steam and debris was kept within the case when it exploded.

rv500-valve-bad

Water began to pour out of the unit, propane began to bubble through into my house, in a few seconds my floor was covered with water and the air was thick with propane.  I ran outside and turned off the water and the gas.  When I turned back water was dripping out of my house from all corners.

I let the gas vent out and then I got to mopping.  This was the last straw for me, what if I hadn’t been home, the water would have flooded my entire house for hours!  What if I had pulled off the cover to inspect it with my face right there as it ruptured!

I cleaned up and called a plumber and schedule an appointment to have a different brand to be installed, I was done with the Precision Temp tankless hot water heater.  I’ll do a post soon about what I opted for in it’s place.

Final thoughts:

In my opinion the unit is way more expensive than it should be.  I was able to get a new unit for around $600 and it has three times the btu and a similarly compact vent system.

I have personally seen two manufacturing failures on two different units.  One faulty unit might be bad luck, getting two faulty units points to a larger issue in their standards and at $1100 a piece, their standards should be high.  Obviously not.

Having a safety valve fail is a really big deal.

Your Turn!

  • How are you planning to heat your water in your tiny house?

Common Mistakes & How To Solve Them – Free Webinar

I wanted to invite you to our upcoming webinar “Common Tiny House Building Mistakes & How To Avoid Them”.  I’m running this free webinar Wednesday Sept 21st at 8pm Eastern Standard Time.  Come learn about the mistakes even some of the pros make!

free-webinar

Are you wanting to build a tiny house?

When you’re building a tiny house, certain mistakes are no big deal, others can be dangerous or cost you thousands!  Having a good understanding the full picture before you swing your hammer is key.  Come learn more about the building process, how to avoid issues and fix them too.

Are you planning to buy a pre-built tiny house?

If you’re planning on buying a pre-built tiny house, you still need to know how it’s supposed to come together when you inspect the house you’re about to buy and make sure your builder won’t make these crucial mistakes.  It will also help you evaluate potential builders even before you hire them.

Seats are limited and it’s first come, first serve.  Be sure to hop on the webinar a little early if you want to make sure you have a seat.

Weds Sept 21st at 8pm EST

Get your invite here:  Click Here

Common Tiny House Questions

When you’re thinking about building a tiny house, there are a lot of questions you need to answer: Which trailer should I buy? What windows are right for me?  How does everything go together?

house-questionsThe truth is you can build almost any tiny house you can dream of and the decisions aren’t that difficult once you understand how it all goes together.  Every day I get dozens of people reaching out with a variety of questions, most often those questions demonstrate one thing: they don’t see the full picture of how the house comes together.

Once you have that foundational understanding of building a tiny house, you begin to see how design and construction interact; it brings clarity to your decisions, gives you confidence and you can evaluate options with ease.

That was my goal when I wrote How To Build A Tiny House.  I wanted to give people a solid understanding of the building process and then provide focused information on how to make the big decisions.  I cover in depth, things like:

  • How to choose a trailer & should I buy new/used?
  • What appliances are the best option for you?
  • What is the best way to anchor to a trailer?
  • Which insulation is the right choice for me?
  • How do I wire a tiny house?
  • Screws or nails, what do I use and when?
  • Where can I save money on my build?
  • What tools do I really need to buy?

 

So our new book gives you both the important information on major decisions and background knowledge to really understand the WHY behind each decision.  Once you understand the WHY, your build with be more successful, save money in key places and ensure that your house is both safe and beautiful.

Learn More:  How To Build A Tiny House
Click Here

3 Tips To Save Big On Your Tiny House Build

Understanding how a home comes together is important  when it comes to saving time and money, but really knowing how it all comes together means won’t just save you a few bucks, but thousands.  Here are 3 ways I save major cash during my build.

1. Buying materials in larger chunks

If you know how it all goes together, you can plan ahead in your material purchases.  Most big box stores will actually give sizeable discounts.  For me, I was able to save 15% on everything just because I knew how my house was going to go together.  That meant I saved $4,500!

2. Knowing how design choices impact your build

When I totaled up my total house weight, I realized that if I could shave off 100 lbs it would allow me to get a smaller trailer that was $997 cheaper.  I decided to go with a fiberglass shower pan instead of tile and save almost $1,000!

3. Design for efficient material usage

When you build a tiny house things are best done in 4 or 8 foot spans.  This is because most materials come in these dimensions.  Plywood comes in 4 x 8 foot sheets, walls are framed at 16 inch intervals, 3 x 16 = 48 (or 4 feet), etc etc.  If you work with these dimensions in mind, you can save time with less cuts and money with better material management.

 

Here’s the point: A greater understanding of building saves thousands of dollars. 

how-to-build-softcoverThat understanding is exactly why I wrote my new book: How To Build A Tiny House.  I designed this book to give you step by step instructions on how to build your own tiny house using any set of plans or your own design. I give you the background knowledge to expertly navigate the building process with confidence, avoid common mistakes, and answer your questions at every step.This guide is for the absolute beginner.

 

 

Want to learn about building, save thousands & build your dream home with confidence?

 

Learn more about How To Build A Tiny House
Click Here

 

How To Build A Tiny House – Guide Book

Today I have exciting news!  Over the past few years I’ve had people ask for a book that teaches you how to actually build a tiny house, not just a bunch of posts or websites, but one book.  A single book that takes the first time tiny home builder from beginning to end, doing a deep dive on the entire process.

how-to-build-softcoverThe truth is I’ve written a lot here on the blog, all free, but there needed to be a single resource where people could learn how to build a tiny house in an easy to read format, designed to be simple, where I could get into the nitty gritty details of the whole process. That’s what I wanted to do with my new book  How To Build A Tiny House.

This book is for those who want to build a tiny house or small home, but don’t know where to start.  I wrote this book for the absolute beginner, starting with the basics and then explaining the build process step by step.   I talk you through the tools, the materials, how to make the big decisions and avoid huge mistakes.

Check It Out Here

This is a 246 page guide gives you step by step instructions on how to build your own tiny house using any set of plans or your own design. I give you the background knowledge to expertly navigate the building process with confidence, avoid common mistakes, and answer your questions at every step.

how-to-build-a-tiny-house-book

Planning To Go Tiny
Ready To Build

Learn what questions to ask, how your design will become a reality and avoid costly mistakes.  Understanding how to build means a better design when you make the leap to living tiny.
You’re ready to start or already have, make sure you don’t miss a step and fully understand each part along the way.  There are a ton of decisions and you need to understand how it all comes together.

Check It Out Here

faq

What Does The Book Cover?

The book starts with the basics; teaching you the foundational knowledge that most experienced builders would consider common knowledge.  In this section we cover things like introduction to design, talks about the core tools you’ll need to build, and then breaks down the different materials that go into a house.  After you understand the basics, we walk you through each of main systems: trailer or foundation, floor, walls, roof.  We delve into the specifics of framing, anchoring, windows, doors, roofing, and siding; giving you step by step instructions with tips all along the way.

Is this book based on certain plans?

Nope! This book is designed to teach you the concepts that can be applied to any plans.  You can purchase someone’s plans or design your own, these plans will teach you how to build from any plans.

Does this come in a digital or print version?

You can purchase either or a bundle with both.  The print edition price includes shipping in the US only.

Check out How To Build A Tiny House, The complete guide
Click Here

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