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Expert Tips: How to Troubleshoot an RV Water Heater

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  • Post last modified:August 27, 2023

If you’re planning to hit the road with your RV, ensuring that your water heater is functioning properly is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable trip. However, RV water heaters are prone to various issues that may affect their efficiency and performance.

In this section, I will provide you with expert tips on how to troubleshoot an RV water heater, including common issues that may arise, initial steps to take, and the importance of regular maintenance for optimal functioning.

Key Takeaways:

  • Knowing how to troubleshoot an RV water heater can save you time and money while on the road.
  • Common RV water heater problems include no hot water, insufficient hot water, and strange noises.
  • Regular maintenance, including flushing and cleaning the tank, can prevent many issues and prolong the lifespan of your RV water heater.

Understanding the Basics of an RV Water Heater

Before troubleshooting an RV water heater, it is important to understand its basic components. Most RV water heaters are either gas or electric, with some models featuring both options. A gas water heater will usually use propane gas, while an electric water heater relies on electricity.

The main components of an RV water heater include a heating element, thermostat, and temperature and pressure relief valve. The heating element is responsible for heating the water, while the thermostat controls the temperature of the water. The temperature and pressure relief valve is a safety feature that releases pressure when the temperature or pressure inside the tank becomes too high.

There are different types of water heaters commonly used in RVs, such as tankless or on-demand water heaters. These models do not store hot water and instead heat it as needed, conserving energy and water. However, they may have different troubleshooting and maintenance requirements than traditional tank water heaters.

Having a basic understanding of your RV water heater’s components and type will help you troubleshoot any problems and perform regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance.

Understanding the Basics of an RV Water Heater – Key Points:

  • RV water heaters can be gas or electric, or a combination of both
  • The main components include a heating element, thermostat, and temperature and pressure relief valve
  • Tankless or on-demand water heaters are becoming more popular in RVs

RV water heater

Identifying Common Issues with RV Water Heaters

RV water heaters are essential for a comfortable and convenient camping experience. However, they are susceptible to various problems that can cause frustration and inconvenience. The following are the most common issues that RV owners encounter with their water heaters:

Problem Possible Causes
No Hot Water Defective heating element, faulty thermostat, blown fuse, tripped circuit breaker, propane supply issues, sediment buildup
Insufficient Hot Water Water pressure too low, thermostat not set high enough, sediment buildup, tank size too small for demand
Strange Noises Sediment buildup, loose or damaged parts, air in the tank, improper installation

It is essential to address these issues promptly to avoid further damage and ensure your RV water heater functions correctly.

Initial Troubleshooting Steps

If you encounter any of the above problems, the following are some initial steps to troubleshoot your RV water heater:

  • Check the power supply and gas flow to the water heater.
  • Inspect the heating element and thermostat for defects or damage.
  • Flush and clean the water heater to remove sediment buildup.
  • Test the temperature and pressure relief valve.

If these steps do not resolve the issue, it may be necessary to seek professional help.

RV water heater not working

Checking for Power Supply and Gas Flow

One of the most common reasons for an RV water heater not working is a lack of power supply or gas flow. Before troubleshooting other components, it’s essential to check if these basic requirements are met.

To check the power supply, inspect the fuses and circuit breakers that connect to the water heater. Replace any blown fuses or reset any tripped breakers. If the problem persists, check the wiring and connections leading to the water heater to ensure they are not damaged or loose.

For gas-powered water heaters, verify if there is propane gas available and flowing to the water heater. Check the propane tank valve and regulator, as well as the gas line leading to the water heater. A clogged or damaged gas line can cause the water heater to malfunction.

RV water heater not working

Checking the Gas Pressure

Another issue related to gas flow is low gas pressure. A low-pressure reading on the gas regulator can prevent the water heater from working correctly. To check the gas pressure, connect a manometer to the regulator’s inlet and outlet ports and observe the pressure reading. If the pressure is low, adjust the regulator or replace it if necessary.

Inspecting the Heating Element and Thermostat

One of the most common issues with RV water heaters is the heating element or thermostat malfunctioning, leading to no hot water or insufficient hot water. Before replacing either component, it’s essential to inspect and test them to ensure they are the problem. Follow these steps:

  1. Before inspecting the heating element or thermostat, turn off the power supply and gas flow to the water heater.
  2. With a multimeter, test the heating element’s continuity by placing the probes on the two terminals. If there is no continuity, the element is faulty and needs to be replaced.
  3. If the heating element tests positive for continuity, remove the thermostat cover and test the thermostat with the multimeter on the ohms setting. If the reading is zero, the thermostat needs to be replaced.

Replacing the heating element or thermostat is a straightforward process and can save you money by avoiding a professional’s service fee. However, if you’re unfamiliar with electrical components or uncomfortable working with them, it’s best to seek professional help.

Remember to turn the power supply and gas flow back on once you’ve completed the repair.

RV water heater thermostat

Flushing and Cleaning the Water Heater

Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure the efficient operation and longevity of an RV water heater. Flushing and cleaning the tank is an essential part of this process. Over time, sediment and mineral buildup can accumulate in the tank, diminishing its performance and potentially damaging the heating element and other components.

The following steps outline how to flush and clean an RV water heater:

Step Description
1 Turn off the water heater and allow it to cool down for at least one hour.
2 Locate the drain valve at the bottom of the tank and attach a hose to it.
3 Open the pressure relief valve and the drain valve to allow the water to drain out completely. Be careful as the water may be hot.
4 Close the drain valve and refill the tank with water.
5 Add a cleaning solution specifically designed for RV water heaters to the tank. Follow the instructions provided on the product label.
6 Turn on the water heater and let it run for a few hours to allow the solution to circulate throughout the tank.
7 Turn off the water heater and drain the tank again. Rinse it thoroughly to remove any remaining cleaning solution.
8 Close the drain valve and refill the tank with water.

Flushing and cleaning an RV water heater should be done at least once a year or more frequently if the water source is known to contain high levels of minerals or other contaminants. Regular maintenance will improve the efficiency and performance of the water heater while also prolonging its lifespan.

RV water heater maintenance

Testing the Temperature and Pressure Relief Valve

The temperature and pressure relief valve is a critical safety feature in an RV water heater. It is responsible for releasing excess pressure and temperature to prevent the tank from rupturing or exploding. If the valve is faulty or malfunctioning, it can lead to dangerous situations, including scalding or fires.

It is essential to test the temperature and pressure relief valve periodically to ensure its proper functioning.

Here are the steps to test the valve:

  1. Turn off the power and gas supply to the water heater.
  2. Locate the valve on the top or side of the tank.
  3. Place a bucket or container underneath the valve to collect any water that may release.
  4. Carefully lift the valve’s lever to release some water from the tank. (This should cause a sudden burst of hot water to discharge from the valve’s outlet.)
  5. Release the lever and observe if it returns to its proper position. (The lever should return to its original position and stop the flow of water.)
  6. If the lever does not function correctly or the valve continues to leak water after testing, it may need to be replaced.

It is not recommended to attempt repairs on a faulty temperature and pressure relief valve. A qualified professional should be contacted to replace the valve and ensure your safety.

RV Water Heater Pressure Relief Valve

Inspecting the Anode Rod

Another critical aspect of RV water heater maintenance is inspecting and replacing the anode rod. This rod is made of aluminum or magnesium and serves to protect the water heater tank from rust and corrosion caused by minerals and chemicals in the water.

To inspect the anode rod, turn off the water supply and power to the water heater. Locate the anode rod on the top of the tank and remove it using a socket wrench or pliers. If the anode rod is less than half an inch thick or is heavily corroded, it should be replaced.

When replacing the anode rod, choose a new one made of the same material and thread size as the old one. Coat the threads with plumber’s tape before screwing in the new anode rod.

RV water heater maintenance

Remember to inspect and replace the anode rod at least once a year or more frequently if you frequently use hard water or stay at campsites with high mineral content in the water. This simple maintenance step can extend the life of your RV water heater and save you from costly repairs in the long run.

Consulting the Manufacturer’s Manual and Support

When troubleshooting an RV water heater, it’s important to consult the manufacturer’s manual for specific instructions and guidelines that apply to your particular model. The manual can provide valuable information on troubleshooting steps, parts replacement, and maintenance procedures to keep your water heater working optimally.

If you’re unable to resolve the issue on your own, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer’s support for assistance. They can provide further guidance and advice on how to fix your RV water heater or recommend a qualified service technician who can address the problem.

RV water heater manual

Remember, safety should always come first when troubleshooting or attempting repairs on your RV water heater. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with any step in the process, seek professional help instead.

When to Seek Professional Help

While some RV water heater issues can be resolved with basic troubleshooting and maintenance, there may be situations where professional help is necessary. Safety concerns, such as gas leaks or electrical problems, should always be addressed by a licensed professional.

In addition, if the initial troubleshooting steps do not resolve the problem or if there is damage to the water heater, seeking professional assistance can save time and money in the long run. Professionals have the expertise and specialized tools to diagnose and repair complex issues.

If in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of caution and consult with a professional RV technician. Their assistance can help ensure the safety and optimal performance of your RV water heater.

RV Water Heater Troubleshooting

RV water heater troubleshooting and repair should only be attempted by those with the appropriate knowledge and skills. When in doubt, consult with a licensed professional.

Preventive Maintenance for an RV Water Heater

Regular maintenance is crucial for ensuring that your RV water heater continues to function properly. Here are some tips for preventing issues and maintaining optimal performance:

  • Inspect the tank: Check for any signs of damage or corrosion on the outer tank. Make sure the tank is securely mounted and there are no leaks.
  • Flush the tank: To prevent sediment buildup, flush the tank at least once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer. Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for specific steps.
  • Clean the tank: Use a specialized cleaning solution or white vinegar to remove mineral buildup inside the tank. Rinse the tank thoroughly before use.
  • Test the pressure relief valve: Check the valve regularly to ensure it is functioning correctly. If the valve does not release water when the pressure builds up, it may need to be replaced.
  • Inspect the anode rod: The anode rod helps prevent corrosion by attracting minerals in the water. Check the rod regularly and replace it when it is worn down to 25% of its original size.

By following these preventive maintenance tips, you can avoid costly repairs and ensure that your RV water heater is running smoothly for your next trip.

RV Water Heater Maintenance


In conclusion, troubleshooting an RV water heater is crucial to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable trip. By following the tips and guidelines provided in this article, such as regularly maintaining the unit, inspecting the heating element and thermostat, and testing the temperature and pressure relief valve, you can resolve common issues and prevent future problems.

If you encounter more complex issues or don’t feel comfortable performing troubleshooting and repairs yourself, it’s best to seek professional help to ensure safety and expertise. Remember to consult the manufacturer’s manual and support if needed, and implement preventive maintenance to extend the lifespan of your RV water heater.

With these expert tips, you can troubleshoot an RV water heater like a pro and have peace of mind on your next adventure. Happy travels!

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