Don’t Get a Whirlpool Water Heater!

My water heater went out in May 2008.  Obviously when that happens, there’s not a lot of time to do research on what to get as a replacement.  Since my travels that day brought me closer to Lowe’s, I picked up one of their Whirlpool models they carry – a 50 gallon gas heater with a 12 year warranty.

Now, just 8 months later, the pilot light started going out.  It’s easy enough to relight, but it only stays lit long enough to heat up the tank once before going out again.  I called Whirlpool technical support and got someone from Johnson City, TN.  They said to check the thermocouple to make sure it generating at least 12 mV of current.  Mine was generating 20 mV, so no problem there.

After that, I did some research online.  It turns out that there was a class action lawsuit for those who purchased a Whirlpool gas water heater between 2000 and 2006.  Furthermore, even those who purchased Whirlpool gas water heaters after 2006 are also having problems.  Finally, there is this forum thread, with over 47,000 hits and many plumbers saying that they have spent so much time on service calls for these water heaters.

I called technical support back Thursday.  This time I got someone from India.  I indicated that the thermocouple was OK but I was still having problems.  It was obvious that I was not the first caller to have this problem.  They are overnighting a new gas valve for free and gave me an authorization number and a contact who will install the valve at no cost to me.

I received the gas valve on Friday, but too late to get a hold of the plumber to make an appointment to install.  It looked identical to the current gas valve.  From my research it appears that the root of the problem is the poor design of the air intake which gets clogged, with the only way to clean it to completely remove the gas assembly.  Maybe when the plumbers change the gas valve, they clean the air intake from the inside, which it what really solves the problem – until the intake gets clogged again.

I decided not to waste any time getting the valve replaced and so Saturday morning I called technical support.  This time again I was connected to someone in India.  I told them that I wanted to return authorization number to return the water heater to Lowe’s.  After much back and forth, and a refusal to provide a return authorization, the agent said she would transfer me to a senior technician.  I asked if he would be able to help me and I got a wishy-washy “yeah…..”  I waited on hold for five minutes for this supposed senior technician, after which I was disconnected.

I called Whirlpool support from their main website, and they said they could do nothing because they license their name on the water heaters made by American Water Heater Company and I would have to go through them.  I explained the reason I was calling Whirlpool was that I was getting nowhere with AWHC.  The only thing the Whirlpool agent could do was record my complaint.

The first priority was to restore hot water for the family, as I would be traveling on Monday.  So later that day I bought a new GE water heater from Home Depot and installed it.  I would deal with getting rid of the Whirlpool water heater later.

Sunday I went to my local Lowe’s, without the water heater and explained my situation to the lady at the returns desk.  She said if I had the water heater with me I could return it if I wasn’t satisfied with the product.  I mentioned that I had to go home and get it, so I was back with it about an hour later.  There was a different person at the returns desk when I returned.  She had to call a manager in the plumbing department to authorize the return.  The conversation went like this:

Manager: “Are you going to exchange this for a new water heater?”
Me: “No.”
Manager: “Why not?”
Me: “Because it’s a piece of crap.”
Manager: “You know, the other ones across the street (i.e., Home Depot) are the same ones made by American Water Heater Company.”
Me: “No they’re not.”
Manager: “Are you sure?”
Me: “Yes, they’re GE water heaters made by Rheem.”

At that point he said nothing else to me, turned the cashier, and authorized the return.  Finally, success!

The return process was less painful than I had expected.  I felt a bit bad for the manager because it was obvious that he knew of the problems with these water heaters, but he probably had instructions from above to do some token push back on the returns.