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A major advantage of the RV (Recreational Vehicle) is its versatile use. It can combine the modern-day comforts of home with the adventures of the road and make it an enjoyable experience, or even lifestyle! A particularly enjoyable comfort is having the luxury of accessing hot water. Your RV’s water heater is very important in order to provide this amenity and it is useful to understand how this works before you take your RV on the road.
Water heaters in RVs have three (3) main sources of heat:
- Propane-based: In the case of these heaters, the higher the level of propane used, the hotter the water. This is, however, an expensive source of heat.
- Heat from the RV’s engine: This method is very efficient in getting water hot and also a great energy conservator. However, if you do not use your engine a lot, the water temperature will not be maintained and it will drop.
- Electric: This is actually easiest to use. It just requires the water heater to be turned on and the tank water will be heated. The only disadvantage is that it may seem like a long time before the water heats up.
Note: Many RV’s may, in fact, have water heaters installed that will run off of either propane or electricity. I know my fifth wheel did and it would be considered older now. This dual source allows for “dry camping” where you may not have electric hookups for example. Or you simply may prefer one or the other source at different times.
Types of RV Water Heaters
Conventional tank: the typical capacity of a conventional water heater tank for an RV is six (6) or ten (10) gallons of water. However, you may find a four (4) gallon or a sixteen (16) gallon tank installed in your unit. The placement of these tanks is either under the kitchen sink or close to the engine compartment, especially if the source of heat is the engine.
These water heaters tend to be cost-effective. Their major disadvantage is their size: they are rather small and this means that only a limited supply of water is available at any time for use. Utilization of the “navy shower” (aka sea shower) method is highly recommended.
Another type of the RV water heater is the tankless or on-demand system. It is usually located in the side wall panel of the RV. They supply water on-demand which means that you do not need to wait for a period of time before you can get hot water. Once it is installed you simply turn it on when you need unlimited hot water.
The tankless RV water heater works by using the same pipes that run through the RV from the water source to any of the water faucets. As the water flows through the pipes, a sensor is triggered and this activates the water heating mechanism which ensures that you get hot water as soon as you turn on the faucet and it continues until you are finished. These tend to be more expensive to purchase and install but are usually more efficient, energy saving and money saving as time goes on.
Tips for Purchasing Your RV Water Heater
As you are considering which water heater would be best for your RV and your hot water needs, there are a couple things that you should keep in mind. First, consider your hot water needs. Do you use or want a high amount of hot water frequently? If so then you should think about using the tankless water heater.
However, if you do not use lots and lots of water, you should go for the conventional water heater. The new unit will certainly be more efficient than what you are used to.
Thinking of buying your first RV? Check out this guide.
Maintenance Tips for Your RV Water Heater
As your water heater does at home, the RV’s water heater needs regular maintenance. It should have a minimum of one cleaning per year. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s schedule that accompanies it. It should also be examined by a professional at least once a year for the longest life and best return on your investment.
Before storing your RV for a long period of time, completely drain the heater of water and do not expose it to humid conditions. Storing water in the tank for a long time can lead to corrosion and rust. If your tank or heater has a bypass valve, it should be utilized during storage. Before heading out, be sure to turn on the bypass valve and fill the water tank. I typically fill and drain (flush) the tank, then re-fill before using it the first time after storage. Keep your RV water heater in good working condition and it will consistently supply you hot water – ahh, the comforts of home while on the road.
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