How To Set Up RV Water Heater

September 12, 2023

After a long afternoon of road trips or wilderness exploration, there's nothing quite as satisfying as stepping into your RV's bathroom for a comforting, warm shower. One of the key perks of RV camping over tent camping is the privilege of having your own private shower to conclude your day. While the amenities may not match those of a hotel, it's certainly a superior alternative to trekking through the woods to communal restrooms at a campground. A functional and well-maintained RV water heater is essential to experience that revitalizing stream of hot water in your bathroom.

Every RV owner must comprehend the workings of their water heater. This entails understanding how to fill and drain the unit, grasp the functionality of the electrical controls, and be adept at replacing primary components, among other considerations.

While certain specifics may vary based on your water heater's particular brand and style, many fundamental principles remain consistent across nearly all RV water heaters.

Whether you're a new RV owner, have upgraded to a more recent model, or are encountering challenges with your current water heater, you'll discover all the essential information right here.

What Is An RV Water Heater?

The RV water heater furnishes hot water for sinks and showers. Multiple water heater alternatives exist for RVs, ensuring access to hot water whether connected to the grid or engaged in off-grid camping:

Options encompass propane, electric, combined propane-and-electric, and even engine-heated choices (suitable for vans). A selection can be made between a tank water heater, available in 6-10 gallon capacities, or a tankless water heater, delivering continuous on-demand hot water.

‍RV Water Heater Location

In contemporary RVs, water heaters are usually situated on the vehicle's side, accessible by opening a panel revealing the ignition system's compartment.

The power switch's location varies based on RV type. This switch is conveniently positioned indoors in most modern RVs, simplifying water heater activation.

The physical tank of the hot water heater is connected to the ignition system's end. Manufacturers commonly conceal the tank to maintain its discreet appearance, often locating it beneath a seating compartment in most RVs.

Do RV Water Heaters Start Automatically?

Almost all RV water heaters necessitate manual initiation to safeguard the heater's element from burning out due to a lack of water in the tank—a common concern.

Designs of RV water heaters can vary, each type entailing a slightly distinct process for activating the system. In modern RVs, convenience reigns, as numerous contemporary models are equipped with an indoor panel housing a solitary switch for effortlessly igniting the hot water system. This setup closely mimics the experience of an automatic water heater. In contrast, standard RVs generally feature an external panel switch for manual activation, requiring engagement each time you require hot water. However, older RV models necessitate manual ignition of the water heater system using a lighter.

How To Set Up RV Water Heater

Below is a comprehensive step-by-step guide for installing your fresh camper water heater. Keep in mind that this guide should be implemented along with the manufacturer's manual.

Step #1. Cut Off the Power

Before starting, it's important to disconnect the power. Turn off your water heater and all sources feeding into the existing RV water heater. This includes shutting off the water connection, ceasing the gas and/or electricity supply, and disconnecting the 110V power. If necessary, allow the water to cool down before progressing to the subsequent step.

Step #2. Drain the Water Heater

Next, empty the RV water heater tank by unfastening the drain plug. Keep a bucket or pan ready to capture the residual water that's likely to remain in the tank even after draining. Ensure that the water has cooled down before executing this step.

Step #3. Disconnect the Inside Connections

Before detaching any connections, acquaint yourself with the interior of your unit. Inside the old water heater, you'll locate a high-temperature switch triggered by excessive heat and often accompanied by a pressure relief valve.

Ensure propane is off at the bottles and secure your RV water heater. Typically, the propane line passes through a grommet-sealed hole. Remove the sealant using a utility knife and pliers, then cut and remove the grommet. With propane turned off, proceed to disconnect the gas line.

Next, detach water lines from the rear of the now-empty RV water heater. Start by removing plumbing fasteners (top and bottom ones). Loosen these slightly to aid unthreading, as they can be reused for your new water heater. Given that these lines tend to retain water, use a drip pan to catch any potential leakage during disconnection.

Step #4. Remove the Old Unit

Unfasten the screws to secure the old RV water heater case to the RV body. After removal, gently pull the old unit forward, allowing the gas line to pass through.

Proceed to disconnect the electrical lines within the junction box. Before removal, note or photograph which colored wires on the water heater match the RV's for easier connection of the new unit. Note that wire colors from the RV might differ from those of the RV water heater.

Confirm disconnection of the 110V connection located on the tank's rear. You can now remove the old camper water heater with all components safely disconnected.

Step #5. Prep to Install the New Unit

A minor preparatory step is required before you handle your new RV water heater. Utilize a pair of channel lock pliers to bend up the edges of the opening's frame by 90 degrees around its entire perimeter. This creates the necessary space for your new unit.

Step #6. Connect Your New RV Water Heater

After unwrapping your new unit, slide the water heater partially into the opening. Having an extra set of hands will be helpful.

Proceed to thread the propane line through the aperture. Simultaneously, reconnect the electrical wires, ensuring stability using clips, wire nuts, or electrical tape for enduring dependability.

Next, use caulk or sealant to secure the case to the RV body, and then proceed to fully insert the new RV water heater into its designated space. It's advised not to fully tighten the perimeter screws at this point.

You may also want to inquire about your unit's appropriate water heater element socket size when considering your new installation.

Step #7. Seal the Gas Line

Once you've threaded the gas line through the line hole, trim one side of the new grommet and slide it over the gas line. This is necessary as the line has already been flared, preventing the grommet from fitting over it as is.

Following the reconnection of the gas line, apply a rubber/silicone sealant to coat and seal the grommet. This step prevents any potential gas leaks from infiltrating the RV's interior. Opt for an auto/marine sealant rated for both fuel and petroleum products.

Step #9. Check for Water Leaks and Finish Up

With your power and gas lines in place and water lines connected, you might think you're finished. However, there's one more essential step: examining your new unit for leaks.

If no leaks are evident, press the water heater's ignite button, take a step back, and appreciate your accomplishment. You've completed the process!

Take Away

Here's our final tip: Regularly examine your water heater after each relocation. This practice can identify issues like black marks due to improper air/fuel mixture, debris in the vent, burner residue, and other potential concerns.

Implementing these tips lets you relish numerous hot showers during your cross-country journey. Enjoy the experience!


Urban Splatter

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