How to troubleshoot AO Smith condensing water heaters from 320 and 520 series using the error codes 101, 111, 121, 131 and other...
All condensing water heaters from AO Smith are self-diagnostic so if there is a problem with the unit, a 3-digit error code (i.e. 101) will show up on the electric board or remote controller (if it is installed). This article is for those who have a problem with the heater, received an error code and have the tools, knowledge, and experience to deal with the problem. I always recommend contacting the professional, but understand that some people will give a try first.
This is the reason why this troubleshooting guide exists - to help you solve the problem with water heating and save some money.
Of course, contacting a professional is recommended.
The guide will cover the most common problems found on tankless units, followed by the list of the error codes, cause, and possible solution. Also, do not hesitate to contact the AO Smith technical support for help.
I will assume that your tankless water heater was working properly before the problem occurred. Whatever the problem is, make sure to check the following:
Water heater is connected to 120 V grid and is properly grounded, has an unobstructed access to water and gas. The plumbing and gas lines are correctly sized, and the pressure is as required.
The unit uses the correct gas type.
The water heater is getting sufficient air supply.
Before explaining the error codes, problems, and solutions, lets first see how condensing and tankless water heater works.
Before the tankless unit stars, hot water tap has to be open and the water flow greater than 0.5 gallons per minute.
The fan starts.
The igniter generates the spark.
The gas valve opens.
The flame on the gas burner is lit, heating the water in the heat exchanger. In tankless water heaters, there is no storage tank, water is just passing through the exchanger and further to the fixture. The red LED light on the computer board will display, indicating that the unit is ON.
Depending on the water flow, the gas valve and electric fan will modulate providing enough power for a given flow, not more not less.
Also, if for any reason, water flow drops below 0.4 GPM the water heater will shut down. The LED will turn off while the fan continues to spin for another minute or two.
Troubleshooting AO Smith condensing water heaters is similar to troubleshooting other brands and models. Some of the problems are common, and they do not include an error code:
Water is not hot enough or is too hot
The temperature of the exiting water fluctuates
Burner does not ignite
Long time to get hot water
These and other common issues, including the cause and repair guide can be found in the article about tankless problems.
Incorrect dipswitch setting - usually related to a gas type. Locate the switch on the computer board and check that it is in the correct position.
Improper gas combustion - check if there is an obstruction in the air flow; on the heat exchanger, venting system, fan and burner and clean it. Abnormal gas combustion might also be a result of the extreme weather conditions such as high winds or incorrect gas pressure.
Ignition failure - Check that the hi-limit switch hasn't tripped; gas supply is correct; the flame sensor is clean; ignitor generates sparks and venting system isn't blocked. Also confirm that PC board, overheat cutoff fuse and gas valve are still operating. The gas line might need to be purged due to the presence of air.
Flame loss - the same causes as for error code 111.
Output thermistor failure (located on the heat exchanger) - check the wire connections (not loose, no burns, cuts...), clean the thermistor or replace if broken.
Inlet thermistor (located inside the water inlet) - check the wire, clean the thermistor or replace if broken.
Mixing thermistor (located in water outlet) failure - the same procedure as for the inlet and output thermistors. When testing the mixing, outlet and inlet thermistors the resistance value should be about 9.0 kOHM.
Exhaust thermistor (located above the heat exchanger) failure - The resistance value should be 10.75 kOHM.
Air-fuel ratio rod (AFR) failure - check the wire connections and clean the rod. Replace if needed.
Check the flow sensor for debris, clean the inlet filter and make sure that the wires are not loose on the PC board.
Gas valve failure - check the gas pressure and connections.
Solenoid gas valve failure - check the gas pressure and connections.
Fan motor failure - check the wiring if it is loose or wet. Make sure to dry all the elements. Check the PC board, it might need replacement.
Exhaust fan motor issue - the same procedure as for error code 611.
Check the external pump connected to the PC board.
Faulty water bypass - the same procedure as for the flow adjustment valve.
The proportional gas valve doesn't work - check the wire connections and PC board. Check also the gas pressure supply.
Hi-limit switch / overheat cutoff fuse failure - inspect the connections and PC board.
If it is not the problem with the flame sensor contact the professional or tech support.
There is no communication between a remote control and water heater. Make sure that the controller is properly installed.
Miscommunication between water heaters in Easy-Link setup.
Abnormal exhaust temperature - make sure that the vent length is per specs, there is no blockage in the venting pipes, the gas pressure is OK and exhaust fan motor operates correctly.
Improper gas combustion - see the error code 101.
Keep in mind that for some error codes, you might want to reset the computer to clear the code. For detailed instructions when troubleshooting AO Smith condensing water heaters use this link, which opens in PDF.