RV Water Heater Questions & Answers

Propane Water Heater

Question: I am living in my travel trailer full time. Should I turn off the hot water heater between uses or let it run? What uses more propane in the long run?

Answer: It will really depend on several factors. One would be the efficiency of your water heating system. Another is how often you use the hot water and are turning it off and on.

If you are going to be fulltiming for a while, your best bet might be to do a couple trial runs to see which uses more propane over a period of time. That way you will get the real answer for your specific setup.

Another consideration if you are have a hookup with unlimited electricity most of the time, would be to install a small electric hot water heater that will meet most of your needs. You would have to weigh the cost of buying and installing the electric hot water heater compared to any potential savings.

By the way, some propane hot water heaters also have an option to run them on electricity.


It’s true that the propane used would depend on you and how frequently you turn your water heater on and off. But if you only wash dishes and take bathes in the evenings, turning the propane on 45 minutes prior to usage you would save propane.

Also they make a electric conversion for gas-only water heaters, they are easily installed and can be installed by your favorite RV tech. Normally, depending on the conversion you choose, the cost is low.


Not sure if You can afford it but I am looking into a tankless water heater. Only uses propane when You turn the Hot Water On.
Sounds Good to Me 🙂
Have a Good Day

Comment: Another Option

When I’m at our cabin in the winter and only have hot water in the bathroom, I use a large percolator to heat water in the kitchen. It’s about a thirty cup model. It heats the water just right for washing dishes in the sink. Should be able to find one at a thrift store or such…

Replacing Atwood Water Heater in 1998 Bounder

by John (Adena, Ohio)

Question: I am trying to replace my Atwood hot water heater. Where do I find the inside access to disconnect the old water heater? My Bounder model is 34J.

Answer: We do not have specific information on your 1998 Bounder, so are unable to answer you directly. We are posting your question in case others can comment and provide any assistance.

You may also want to join the Bounder users group and ask your question. Here is the link:

You could also contact Fleetwood to see if they have operating manuals for your RV or can lend some technical assistance.

Hot Water Heater

by Ange (Rankin TX)

Question: Can I replace my hot water heater with a tankless on demand water heater. I own a Canyon Trail 5th wheel and my hot water heater will not work (2011 model). If so, what brand do I replace it with? Also, can I hook up a osmosis system to the trailer because we have hard water here and unable to drink, need to hook it up to the whole trailer at the main source of water.

Answer: Your questions cover a broad area, so it is difficult to provide a quick and easy answer. We will try to address them one at a time and with some suggestions.

First – Water heater

Why do you want to replace the water heater, why not fix it? It may still be under warranty from the water heater manufacturer. If we were in your situation we would contact the water heater manufacturer to see if they can help you diagnose and fix the problem. Here are a couple of links to the two major RV water heater manufacturers:

Suburban – http://www.rvcomfort.com/suburban/contact.php

Atwood – http://www.atwoodmobile.com/contact-us.asp

As for replacing your water heater with a tankless system, it depends on several factors. Tankless systems operate on either gas, electric or diesel, and except for the electric ones, you need to provide a flue of some kind to get rid of the exhaust fumes. Some tankless system may operate on more than once source of power, like electric/propane or electric/diesel. So you will need to determine which power source(s) are available to your specific rig. Another factor to consider is the available space for a tankless water system. For example our tankless water heater/furnace takes up one quarter of a bay.

By the way, we have a diesel system but due to the price of diesel, we installed a separate 8 gallon electric water heater in one of our bays. We felt we could do this because we are usually connected to 50 amp service. When we are not connected to 50 amp and are connected to 30 service, we have to manage our electrical draw so that we will not draw more current (amps) than the service allows or we will cause a circuit breaker to trip on the campground power pedestal. So as not to lose the use of the tankless water heater we installed the electric water heater in line with the tankless water heater. This gave us the option of operating just on the electric water heater or the tankless system or with both the tankless water heater and the electric water heater on at the same time.

Second – Osmosis System

Again this question leads to many other considerations beside whether you can install an osmosis system for your whole rig. The answer is yes you can. However, there are other considerations like how will you connect it to your rig? Will it filter just your drinking water or will it filter all your water? Will it be connected externally or will you plumb it into your existing water lines? Do you also need a UV light to further decontaminate the water? If you only need to soften the water, then there are water softening solutions available that do not require the extensive filtering system that is required by an osmosis system.

Here is a link to one company that does reverse osmosis: www.rvwaterfilterstore.com/WCRO.htm. This is not a recommendation to use or buy from this company and we do not have any involvement in their business. We only suggest going onto the site to further research what is available for an RV.

Hot Water Heater

Question: How long does it take for a 6-gallon water heater to heat hot water?

Answer: My electric hot water heater is slightly larger than yours is and it takes about 45 minutes to heat 8 gallons of water. My water heater is very efficient and relatively new and I religiously change the anode and clean the heating element every 6 months.

There may be differences in the performance of various brands and models of hot water heaters. You could probably figure out the specific recovery time for your heater by trial and error. But we suggest you look at your owners manual in the specifications section for the recovery time.

Failing that, visit the manufacturer’s website and lookup the recovery time for your specific water heater. Or contact them directly with the question. Hope this gives you a ballpark idea.

Setting Water Temperature

Question: I have a 2004 Salem RV with a 10 gallon electric and gas hot water heater. My question is how do I turn up the temperature of the water?

Answer: Not knowing the specifics of your hot water heater, we can only give some general advice.

Although many RV water heaters have a temperature control dial that allows for adjustment of the water temperature for hotter or colder water, your best bet is to look at your owners manual.

If you do not have an owners manual then here are links to Atwood and Suburban. (Atwood and Suburban are the most common water heater found in RV’s).


Another thought is that most water heaters whether they are gas or electric have to be serviced once a year. It may be that the electric heating element(electric operation) is covered in corrosion and preventing you from getting hot water. If you do get to inspect the heating element you might also want to replace the anode if so equipped. On the gas side you may need to clean the flue and adjust the flame for optimal performance.

Hot Water Heater

by Judy (Pensacola, FL)

Question: I have a 2000 Ford Adventurer, I have had the lines checked and flushed and the hot water heater comes on but produces no hot water. Any suggestions for quick fix? Or trouble shooting ideas. This occurs whether hooked to electricity or just using generator.

Answer: The first thing we suggest is that you check that you actually have power getting to the hot water heater. You can do this by using a voltmeter.

Another possibility is that the electric heating element inside the hot water heater may need to be replaced.

Also check to make sure that the water heater is not being bypassed. For instance, if you winterized your RV, you may have bypassed the water heater and left it in that setting.

Electric Water Heater

Question: My water tank is fully electric. It has 120 volts to it but won’t get hot. What do you think is wrong?

Answer: With the information you provided, we can only take a shotgun approach in an attempt to help you.

If you are positive that the electric water heater has power, then the problem must reside with the heating element or an internal connection, fuse or reset button between the heating element and the power supply.

So, assuming that you have checked that you have 120 volts at the water heater and checked the associated circuit breaker for power then you will have to take the following steps.

Bad Heating Element:

  1. Find your owners manual and determine the model number of the replacement heater element and anode if it has one.
  2. Read about the steps needed to replace the element and anode (if equipped), ie., draining and yearly maintenance etc.,
  3. Turn off power to the electric water heater
  4. Shut off fresh water supply and turn on any hot water faucet to relieve water pressure – If you are lucky enough to have a water shut off on the inlet side of the hot water heater shut that off also
  5. Release pressure from the electric water heater (via the pressure relief valve)
  6. Drain water heater – if you have a drain set up good if not screw in a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater and open the valve to drain
  7. Remove the old element and anode following your manufacturer recommendations
  8. Install the new heating element and anode if equipped following your manufacturer recommendations
  9. Refill the water heater with fresh water make sure to bleed off any trapped air in the water heater – Open a hot water tap until no air comes out of that tap. This step is critical to prevent the heating element from being exposed to air and burning out.
  10. When you are sure that no air is in the water tank turn the power back on to the water heater and wait for the hot water.

Our hot water heater (8 gallons) takes about 45 minutes to fully heat cold water.

Other problems:

If it is not your electric heating element, then you should check for power at the terminals that supply power to the element. The terminals are usually behind on access panel. If you have power at the circuit breaker but no power at the electric element terminals then you many need to push a reset button, replace an internal fuse, fix some internal wiring, replace the water heater or take the RV to a repair facility to get the problem identified and fixed. But before you take it to a repair facility check with the manufacturer, they may be able to help.

By the way some 120 volt water heaters have a 12 volt relay that controls the element and will not provide 120 volts to the element unless the relay is working and has 12 volts – again check with your manufacturer.

You did not specify if the water heater was hard wired or plugged into an outlet. If it plugs into an outlet verify that you have 120 volts at the outlet and that the cord is working properly.

Water Heater Thermostat Problem

by Ed (Stevensville, MD)

Question: I have a 2011 Rockwood Signature Ultra-Lite. I recently fired up the hot water heater after having it winterized. The hot water heater continues to run and water is coming out the overflow valve. Does anyone know if replacing a thermostat on a water heater is a big job?

Answer: Unfortunately you did not provide the name or model number of your hot water heater. However we can offer some general assistance and sources of information.

If you are referring to the Temperature Pressure Relief valve (TPR) in your water heater, then you may have a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. The major concern is that if the TPR fails in the closed position, pressure in the tank could reach a dangerous level and cause the tank to explode.

If as you describe, the TPR valve has failed in the open position then the repair is fairly simple. First try to operate the relief valve by jiggling the lever up and down a number of times. This may resolve the situation by breaking loose whatever is keeping it from closing.

If this does not resolve the situation then you will have to replace the TPR. The biggest difficulty could be in removing the valve from the tank as the TPR valve tends to freeze onto the threads of the tank. Make sure to replace the TPR with one that is the exact replacement, and wrap teflon tape around the threads of the valve.

All water heaters should be maintained on a yearly basis. Here is a link to an Atwood installation/service and owners manual. Use this as a good source for information on maintaining your hot water heater.

Here is a link to a Suburban water heater service and maintenance manual. This one has an excellent troubleshooting guide, but is designed for technicians who have a working knowledge of RV water heaters.

Atwood Hot Water Heater

by T Jones (Cleveland, GA)

Question: When using shore power, is it necessary to flip some switch to change from LP to AC? Fairly new to motor home and can’t find an answer. I have a 2007 National Seabreeze. Any help appreciated.

Answer: Based on the title of your submission, we assume you are referring to changing your water heater so it will run on AC instead of propane. First, you need to confirm that your water heater actually can use both power sources. Not all water heaters run on both. Having said that, we suggest you check your operating manuals for the water heater and/or RV. Or simply call Atwood – they should be able to help.

Your refrigerator should run on both propane and electric. There is typically a switch to make it propane, AC or to automatically switch to AC whenever you are hooked up to electricity. We have our fridge set to be automatic, so we don’t have to remember to change things over.

Your furnace may also have options to run on electric or propane. Again, checking your operating documentation and or calling the manufacturer is the way to get accurate information specific to your appliances.

Size of Hot Water Heater Tank

by Carol (Virginia)

Question: What is the size of a hot water heater tank in a Fleetwood Prowler 32 foot RV travel trailer. We need to know the size of the hot water heater. My husband tried to winterize and we think the pink stuff went into the hot water heater and not the pipes.

Answer: We are posting your question in case anyone has an answer for you. In the meantime, we suggest you call Fleetwood, or perhaps Heartland which took over the Prowler line from Fleetwood (http://www.heartlandrvs.com/index.php?site=heartlandrvs)

No Hot Water

Question: I have a 2004 5th wheel and it has a 10 gallon hot water heater. The water in the tank is hot, but all I can get throughout the trailer is cold water. Why would this be?

Answer: The first thing that comes to mind is perhaps you have a bypass switch that is set to bypass the hot water heater. If you don’t know where the bypass might be, check the operating manuals for your RV/water heater, or contact the manufacturer for help in troubleshooting why the water from the tank is not getting to the faucets in your RV. Please let us know how it turns out.

Water Heater in Fifth Wheel

Question: Where is the hot water heater generally located in 5th wheels? I have a 33′ 1996 Fleetwood Savannah, if that helps.

Answer: Since there are different configurations and floor plans across the various RV brands and models, we can’t offer any insight for your specific RV.

If it is a propane water heater, you might try looking for an exhaust vent as an indicator of its location. You might try to contact the manufacturer or a dealer for help. We are also posting your question in case others have input for your RV.

Water Heater

by John (Archdale, NC)

Question: I have a 2002 Sandpiper and the hot water is only luke warm. I have no manual and can’t figure out how to turn it up.

Answer: Why not contact the manufacturer of the RV or the hot water heater, to ask if you can adjust the temperature and how to do so. Perhaps they can provide a manual.

If your hot water heater is running on electricity, then it could be that the heating element needs to be cleaned and/or you need a new anode. If it is running on propane, then perhaps the flame needs to be adjusted. Just a few thoughts. Other comments welcome.