RV Water Heater : 3 Easy Things to Know to Make the Best Use of it

RV Water Heater 3 Easy Things to Know to Make the Best Use of it

Coming back to your RV after a long day of adventuring outside certainly makes taking a long shower sound nice to refresh yourself before hitting the sack for the night. You pull the curtains of your shower open, turn on the water, and dial it until it’s the perfect temperature. 

Those first few moments that you’re under the water are glorious. The sweat and dirt from the day’s activities melt away and are swept down the drain. But that blissful feeling doesn’t last for long. 

Shortly after you enter the shower, one of the most dreaded feelings in the world begins to creep across your body. The water is cooling down at an alarming rate! You try to fix the issue by closing off the cold-water valve and turning up the hot water valve, but no matter how much you twist that knob the water gets cooler and cooler until it’s ice cold! 

Running out of hot water is a terrible feeling to have when you’re in the middle of a shower. But how do you make sure that doesn’t happen to you? Well, the first thing you need to know about making the best use out of your RV’s water heater is to take shorter showers! It’s a simple solution that will help you from having to rinse off with icy water. But outside of that, how else can you make sure that you have plenty of hot water in your RV? Well, take a look at these 3 easy tips to keep your hot water ready to go for when you need it!

1. Make Sure That You Give Your RV’s Water Heater Plenty Of Time To Heat Up.

1. Make sure that you give your RV’s water heater plenty of time to heat up.

Much like a house water heater, RV water heaters take some time to warm up if they haven’t been in use for a while. Most RVs have 6 gallon or 10 gallon tanks that house hot water, which takes some time to heat up.

When you’re traveling, it’s very important that you keep your water heater turned off. This is because you run the risk of causing a serious fire or explosion while you are driving with a lit water heater. 

This is because most water heaters work very similarly to house water heaters. Pilot lights need to be lit and allow for extra gas to be burned to heat the water inside of the tank. While you are driving, you need to turn that pilot light off in order to prevent accidental fires or explosions while driving. 

So, with that in mind, you’ll need to start your pilot light when you arrive at your campsite. The length of time that it takes for your hot water to heat up is going to depend heavily on the size of water tank that your RV has. 

For 6-gallon tanks, they generally take about 20 minutes to heat up. 10-gallon tanks usually take at least 33 minutes to heat up. The longer that you allow your water heater to warm up, the more hot water will be available!

So, whenever you pull into a campsite, be sure to take time to light your pilot light and allow the hot water tank to thoroughly heat up. 

But what if you are staying at a campsite for an extended period of time and you don’t need to move for a while? Is it ok to leave your water heater on for extended periods of time?

2. Leaving Your Water Heater On For Extended Periods Of Time Is Ok! Most Of The Time.

2. Leaving your water heater on for extended periods of time is ok! Most of the time.

You can absolutely leave your water heater on for extended periods of time. While there are some benefits to doing this, you also need to consider the potential down sides of doing it as well. 

Some of the benefits of leaving your RV’s water heater on all day are:

  • You have hot water on demand when you need it.
  • You don’t need to wait very long for hot water to arrive at your showerhead or sink faucet.

There’s really only one major downside of letting your RV’s water heater run all day and that can be summarized in 1 word: cost. Depending on the size of your RV’s hot water tank and the size of its propane tanks, you could conceivably run your water heater for about 22 hours before the propane runs out.

While that doesn’t seem like too terrible of a consequence, if you aren’t connected to a large propane tank at a permanently parked RV, that means you’ll have to continuously go and have your propane tanks refilled. This cost can add up over time, which really eats into the money you could be using on food, games, and other awesome camping supplies.

So, in order to get the most out of your RV’s water heater while you’re using it, be sure to turn it on when you need it and turn it off when you don’t need it.

If you’re in need of a small amount of hot water and you’ve turned off your water heater, save yourself some time and energy by just heating up the amount of hot water you need on your stove. Or you can use a campfire to heat up a small amount of water! In either case, you won’t have to wait for very long to get a small amount of water ready to use. 

3. Take Care Of Your Water Heater So That It Can Work Reliably And Efficiently For Years To Come.

3. Take care of your water heater so that it can work reliably and efficiently for years to come.

After taking shorter showers, allowing for your water heater to come to temperature, and deciding on how long to let your water heater run, it’s important to take good care of it so that it lasts for many years to come.

Thankfully, proper water heater maintenance is pretty easy and only needs to be done every so often. You want to be sure that you take time at the beginning of the RV season and at the end of it to go through the following preventative maintenance steps.

Before you begin opening up your hot water heater, be sure to turn off your RV’s water pump, the electricity, and the gas for your RV. This will ensure a couple of things:

  1. It’ll keep you safe from getting shocked or starting a fire.
  2. It’ll keep your hot water tank from being suctioned by the water pump when it’s empty, which would cause damage to your RV.

After you have completely turned off the power sources that could cause more hot water to be created, it’s time to drain the hot water tank. You have two ways to do this as well.

  1. You can turn on the faucets in your sinks and allow the hot water to drain down into your grey tank. 
  2. You can use the extra hot water to take a shower! This option is the most enjoyable of the two.

After you have completely drained the tank, go out to where your water comes into your RV and turn off where the water comes into the RV. This will help keep water from getting into your system when you’re trying to empty it. This is especially important during post season maintenance as the next thing you’ll want to do is winterize your RV with anti-freeze!

An additional step that you’ll want to take if you’re trying to maintain your water heater for the post RV season is to open up all of the hot water valves inside of your RV. If you’re not getting ready to put your RV away for the season, it’s ok to only open the hot water valve on the faucet that is closest to the hot water tank.

After you’ve done that, you need to go to your water heater and open the pressure relief valve to help the rest of the water inside of your system to exit the RV.

Now that the pressure relief valve has been opened, you’ll need to find the plug for your RV’s water heater and unscrew it from the heater to completely empty water from the hot water system. Be sure to not stand in front of the plug, because there will be a decent amount of water that will come out!

Once the water flow from the drain plug has completely stopped, you’ll want to clean out the inside of your water tank. Using a long brush, you can insert the bristle end inside of the drain plug to begin scrubbing away any debris that might have accumulated inside of your water heater tank over the course of the season.

For a faster and more effective way of clearing out the debris, turn the water supply back on to allow fresh water to come through your system and flush out any debris inside of your tank. This is an important step to getting the best use out of your RV’s water heater, because if debris clogs up your water system, you’ll end up having reduced output in your RV’s hot water or you’ll likely end up having to replace your water heater as large amounts of debris can damage the inner workings of the water heater.

You’ll know that your tank has been thoroughly flushed once the water coming out of where the drain plug was runs clear. It might feel like a long time to let the water run, but it’s an important step to thoroughly cleaning out your hot water heater. Simply removing the drain plug doesn’t get all of the debris, because there is a small level of water that will always sit at the bottom of the tank. By flushing water through the system, it allows for the debris that has settled at the bottom of the tank to become stirred up enough to get pushed out of the system.

Best Camping Shower Tents To BuyOnce your hot water heater has been thoroughly flushed and is showing clear water running out of it, turn the water connection back to the off position. 

With the water connection turned off, it’s time to replace the drain plug into its proper position. Be sure to reseal your drain plug properly by coating the threads of the plug with a drain plug sealant. If you are unsure of what sort of sealant to use on your drain plug, be sure to consult your RV’s owner’s manual. 

If you don’t have an owner’s manual, a good sealant to use on your RV’s drain plug is Loctite 592. This is a necessary step because it will keep your drain plug from leaking, becoming loose from vibrations, and it eases the tightening of your drain plug.

Now, depending on whether or not you’re putting the RV away for the season or not will determine on whether you have extra steps to take for hot water heater maintenance. If you’re done RVing for the year, you’re done! But if you use your RV all year round, keep reading.

With your drain plug reinstalled, go ahead and turn the water supply back on. You’ll want to fill your RV up completely. The way you know that it’s full is when water begins to come out of the pressure relief valve. Once that happens, go ahead and turn the water supply back off. 

You’ll notice that even when the water supply is turned off, that water will still be pouring out of your pressure relief valve. This is completely normal! Let it continue to pour out of your pressure relief valve until it stops. Once water isn’t coming out of it, you can close the pressure relief valve. By doing that, you’ll set up what is called the “air gap” at the top of the tank. By doing this, you ensure that you’re not over filling your hot water tank, which could result in it becoming damaged, especially when hot water is in the system.

Once the pressure relief valve is closed again, turn the water supply back on and go back into your RV to check the faucets that are still open. You want to clear out all of the air that has been introduced into the system since you began working. You’ll see and hear air being pushed out of your water system, which might be alarming at first, but is totally fine. Keep the faucet open until you have a steady stream of water coming out of the faucet.

Check all of your faucets to ensure that all of them have cleared out all of the air in the system. Each faucet should only have clear water coming out of them and no air burping out of the system. After you’re sure that all of the air is out of your water system, turn all of your faucets off and go back out to check the water heater for leaks. 

The two places to look for leaks is the pressure relief valve and the drain plug. If neither of those are leaking, go ahead and fire up your water heater and let it come up to temperature. Leave it for about an hour or so to be sure that all of the water has thoroughly been heated before checking for leaks again. 

If you don’t see any leaks, you’re done! You’ve properly maintained your water heater! If you do see leaks, be sure to tighten up your drain plug a little more. If that still doesn’t solve the problem, you might need to replace is as it has likely cracked.

Living out of an RV full-time makes this process a monthly chore to do to get long life out of your water heater. Be sure that you follow each of these steps to get the most out of it!

Final Thoughts

Camping shower tent womanRV water heaters allow you to get out into the outdoors and still enjoy the luxuries of having hot water on demand. While they work very similarly to water heaters that are installed inside of homes, they don’t provide a limitless amount of hot water and take a bit more maintenance.

Be sure to limit how much hot water you use at a time by taking shorter showers or filling up a bucket of hot water to wash dishes in. If you’re traveling from place to place, be sure to turn off your propane and pilot light to be safe and allow for plenty of time for your water to come to temperature before using it. If you’re staying in one area for a while, weigh out the pros and cons of leaving your water heater on the entire time you’re camping. And always be sure to properly care for your water heater so that it lasts for years and years to come.

By doing each of those small things, you can be sure that you’ll get a ton of use and value out of your RV’s water heater!

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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