RV Water Heaters: 10 Things You Need to Know!

It may be the little things that make an RV feel like home, but the big things are important too. For example, having hot water in your RV is practically essential, if you don’t want to live without modern conveniences (even when you’re camping out). It makes taking a shower much more enjoyable (and less chilly!), and it means you can properly wash your dishes. Ultimately, your RV water heater makes your motorhome feel like a real home.

A good RV water heater can make your camping experiences a lot more comfortable. (Wikipedia)



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As with just about every other component of your RV, it’s good to have some knowledge of what’s going on inside your RV’s sidewall. Whether you’re in the market for a new one, or are just brushing up on your RV knowledge, here are ten important things you should know about the water heater in your RV.

  1. There are three main ways to heat the water in a hot water tank for an RV: propane, electricity, or heat from the engine. Electric (or fuel with an electric ignition) is usually the most convenient, because you don’t have to worry about a pilot light going out; just switch on the heater from inside your RV, and in a short time, you’ll have hot water. However, using the heat from your engine for hot water is most economical. The engine’s going to get hot anyway when you’re driving, so it’s nice to be able to put that energy to good use. The downside is that if the engine is off for a while, you may find yourself with a tank of tepid water.
  1. RV water heater tanks vary in size. Most common are 6-gallon or 10-gallon RV water heaters, though you’ll find small 4-gallon ones up to very large 16-gallon ones. Generally, the more people who are camping, the bigger tank you’ll need. Otherwise, you run the risk of depleting your supply, before everyone’s had a chance to shower.
  1. The main manufacturers of tank-based RV water heaters are Atwood and Suburban.
  1. The tanks of RV water heaters are much smaller than those of home water heaters. A small home heater is 40 or 50 gallons, but as mentioned above, an RV water heater may be just six or ten. This means that you need to be more conservation-minded when using hot water in an RV. You really can’t linger in the shower! You’ll either need to turn off the hot water while you’re soaping and shampooing, or you’ll need to move quickly. Take too long, and that last rinse will be a chilly one.
Hot water can help with camping tasks like washing dishes. (Time)



  1. Unless you go tankless! On-demand RV water heaters use a heat exchanger rather than a storage tank. They’re made by Girard, and while they cost a bit more than a tank-based heater, the huge benefit is that you’ll never run out of hot water.
  1. If you’re going to replace the water heater in your RV, keep in mind that not all systems are the same size. Before you start shopping, you’ll need to check the size of the opening in the sidewall: the height, the width, and the depth. You may want to replace what you’ve got with a bigger tank, but if there isn’t room for one in your RV, that’s something you should know before you make your purchase.
  1. If you’ll be storing your RV for a while, you’ll want to drain the water tank before you lock the door. If you’re storing it during cold months, it’s a good idea to winterize the pipes so they don’t freeze, crack, and cause problems the first time you head back out in the spring. If your water heater has a bypass valve, use it during winter storage. Details on how to do this should be in your RV owner’s manual.
  1. Don’t forget to turn off the bypass valve when you get back in your RV, once the winter’s over. You want to make sure the tank fills back up before you head out. Heating up the tank without water in it could mean serious damage.
  1. To avoid hard-water corrosion inside the tank, install in anode rod. This way, the corrosion will eat away at the rod instead of your tank. They’re easy to install, and you’ll want to check it from time to time. When the rod looks really corroded, remove it and install a new one. Anode rods are relatively inexpensive — generally under 20 bucks — but using one could significantly extend the life of your hot water tank.
  1. If your RV water heater is hooked up and working, but you can’t get water hotter than lukewarm to come out of your shower or faucet, check to make sure that the hot and cold faucets to your outside shower or water line are off. Leaving them on can cause the hot and cold water to mingle, and can prevent truly hot water from running inside the RV.

You don’t have to be your own mechanic, but there’s a lot to be said for knowing about the inner workings of your RV. Your RV’s water heater is an important appliance; it makes your camping experiences more comfortable, and it makes your camper feel more like a home. Knowing these ten bits of info will help you stay informed and could even save you some hassle when you’re out on the road.

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