Executive summary: Once it has detected a “water too hot” event, the gas valve will never work again — unless you know how to reset it. You can save delay and $hundreds in plumber fees by fixing the part that’s gone on strike. Be sure you first fix the problem that caused the overheating — usually you need to drain the tank (which is recommended as periodic maintenance anyway).
Abner Rhizome writes:
My Whirlpool gas water heater is giving me the dreaded “four blinks” signal. That happened (I think) because I turned the heat dial all the way up. I turned it back down but now the machine is offended or something and won’t work at all. The Whirlpool helpline says I have to replace the gas valve. The thing is still under warranty for parts, but I have to pay shipping, and wait for it to come, and pay a plumber hundreds of dollars to install the f—ing thing. This would upset me less if I had hot water meanwhile!
I have a few questions about this:
- Who came up with the dumbass design that when you turn the dial to a normal, albeit high, position, it breaks the water heater? Wouldn’t it make more sense to not let the dial go that high?
- Is the designer still alive? If so, I want him shot.
- How can this have been going on for years and not have been fixed? This is the second time I’ve had to replace the valve.
- Why doesn’t Lowes carry repair parts for the water heaters they sell?
- Isn’t there any way to tell the gas valve to quit having a hissy fit and get back to work?
- There’s a little white reset button on the plate covering the combustion chamber, but that doesn’t seem to have any effect!?!
Abner, I will handle your questions in my own order.
> Who came up with the dumbass design?
I called Honeywell, but they wouldn’t tell me the engineers’ names.
> I want him shot.
This may be why they didn’t tell me.
> Why doesn’t Lowes carry repair parts for the water heaters they sell?
Because, when they shop at Lowes (and other DIY stores), people don’t always, every time, ask them, “You carry repair parts for this, right? And you also carry repair parts for other models that are now obsolete, right?” and then refuse to buy if the answers are not “yes” and “yes.”
But, don’t buy a water heater from the DIY in any case. Get a contractor model. You’ll save money and aggravation in the long term.
> How can this have been going on for years and not have been fixed?
I speculate it’s because Honeywell sells a lot more gas valves this way. Not only that, but people return their old ones, and parts of them at least can probably be reused in new hundred-plus dollar valves. In fact, not only have they not fixed the problem, some instructions I found online lead me to believe that they deliberately introduced this “feature” after the original design. I found instructions for how to reset the status light by turning the dial to “off” for five minutes, but that no longer works.
> little white reset button … doesn’t seem to have any effect!?!
The reset button only works if the overheating occurred in the heating chamber. In that case, the pilot light will not stay lit and you do not get the four flashes. Four flashes only happens if the water overheated — different problem.
> Isn’t there any way to tell the gas valve to [reset the error condition]?
When the circuit board in the gas valve detects the water-too-hot situation, it writes something into static memory in one of its chips, and the valve will never work again unless you can manage to reset it as described below. Deliberately, maliciously, and probably under the pretense of safety.
One of the comments below, describes a way to do this by hooking a battery to a couple of connection points on the board. Search the page for “How to un-fault a controller”. It’s an excellent description, and if you don’t already have the new valve, I suggest you try that first. I’m not certain it works in all cases, but if it does, you’re all set to go.
If that didn’t work, or if you already have the new valve and prefer the slightly simpler approach, proceed as follows. First, get a new valve. If you’re under warranty this is easy though they’ll probably charge you for shipping, and extra if you want it fast.
If the new valve is basically the same model as the old one, you don’t need to pay a plumber to replace the evil valve. You can open up both the old and replacement valve, and just swap the fronts of the valves, containing the recalcitrant circuit board, leaving the back part that connects to the gas pipes in place. This does require one special tool, pictured at left. In case you haven’t seen one before, it’s called a “flat-bladed screwdriver.”
NOTE: Only do this if you’re sure that the problem that caused the overheating has been corrected. In particular, if you haven’t drained the sediment off the bottom of the tank, do that first. If it overheats again, you’ll need to order yet another valve, or it will blow up, or something else you won’t like.
To begin, address the old gas valve. Say, “I’m going to rip you open, you dirty so-and-so.” See whether the light goes back to its regular one-blink mode in response to this threat. Probably not, but it was worth a try.
Turn off the gas, just to be on the safe side, even though we’re not going to be messing with the pipes. Also turn the black dial to Off. This isn’t connected to house current, so don’t worry about touching any wires; you won’t get a shock.
Remove the ivory-colored plastic front of the gas valve from the back of the unit. As shown below, you must:
- Detach a black wire from a rectangular white plastic thingy. Pull on the wire below the thingy to separate them.
- Pull the black clips on the red and white wires straight outwards to unplug them. If you need to, stick the screwdriver in from below to lever them loose. The clips stay on the wires. There should be labels “red” and “white” on the gas valve to help you plug them back the right way. If they don’t match the actual wire colors for whatever insane reason, notice which is which.
- Unscrew one screw at the bottom of the gas valve.
- Two plastic clips at the top are holding the cover on. Press down on the plastic cover in front of the clips to release them. Depending on your levels of finger strength and determination, you might need the screwdriver to depress the tabs. Be gentle; it’s only plastic. If you need to look at the back to see how the tabs are arranged, look at the new valve.
- Pull cover straight out to remove it. It can’t flip up (actually it can if you try hard enough, but then you’ve probably broken it).
The cover is still attached to the back of the unit by a colorful ribbon of wires, with a plug at the end that connects to the circuit board. Tug gently, away from the board, to unplug the plug.
Note which color is on which side. Because of the shape of the plug, you won’t be able to plug it in backwards, but it’s quicker if you don’t have to try the wrong way to find that out.
Slide the ribbon of wires out of the clip on the housing, and the front of the gas valve is free. Free! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!
Repeat these steps with the new gas valve. Keep track of which front is which!
Reverse the above steps to mount the new front onto the old back that’s still hooked to the water heater. The result:
Make sure all the wires are connected, turn on the gas and follow the steps in your water heater owner’s manual to relight the pilot light. Set the dial to a reasonable temperature that won’t upset the finicky little thing, and you should be good to go. It may take a minute or so before the heating element comes on; be patient.