RV Water Heater Repair

RV water heaters are generally pretty reliable.  Under normal conditions, they’ll last a good long while with very little attention.

There are a few ways a water heater can develop a leak, though the most common is due to negligence or operator error:

  • Failure to drain the water out of the tank before the first winter freeze would rank as the most common mistake.  You can empty the water tank, drain everything else, but if you forget to take the drain plug out of the water heater it won’t drain.  After the water freezes, the aluminum tank will split wide open.

  • Another problematic time is the first time in the spring when you’re anxious to get going on that first RV trip of the season.  If your water heater is equipped with a bypass kit (hoses and valves that stop water from entering the water heater) and you forget to open the valves allowing the tank to fill, you’re in trouble. If the burner is ignited and the water heater is empty of water, the temperature in the tank will rise to dangerous levels, possibly melting a hole in the tank.

  • rv-water-heater-anode-rod.jpgOne final scenario would be corrosion inside the water heater.  This can be caused by hard water.  Over time, the water eats away at the aluminum tank and eventually it will develop a leak.  This condition can be prevented by installing an anode rod.  The corrosive reaction will eat away the anode rod and leave the tank alone.
    The anode rod is attached to a replacement drain plug, making installation as simple as removing the plug and screwing in the new plug/anode rod combination. Plus, every fall when you drain the tank, you will be able to see how well the anode rod has been working and determine whether the anode rod is still in usable condition or not.  If it has dissolved away, you will know to buy a replacement one before the next time you use your RV.

We’ve covered the most common failures of the RV water heater’s aluminum tank, now for the cure.


RV Water Heater Repair

The bad news is that replacing the aluminum tank portion of your RV’s water heater generally is a cost-effective procedure.  By the time you order a tank, and have a technician completely dismantle the water heater, you’ll have as much money involved as what it would have cost you to just replace the water heater itself and start with a brand new one.

There are a number of good reasons to just dispose of the damaged unit and buy a new water heater instead:

  • Your LP burner system and all controls will be new as well, guaranteeing a safe and well-functioning unit.
  • By installing a new water heater you will gain a 2-year warranty that will be honored at all RV dealers.
  • Providing you have sufficient space, this is an excellent opportunity to up grade to a larger capacity water heater, or go from manual to automatic controls.


How To Replace An RV Water Heater

Removal of the damaged unit and installation of a new exact replacement is a relatively easy project.

All that is involved is:

1. Shut off the propane tanks; and remove the gas line accessible from the outside panel.

2. Disconnect any control wiring that may be involved with your specific model at the outside panel.

3. From the inside, disconnect the water lines attached to the water heater.

4. Remove the screws around the perimeter of the outside access door.  These screws are what holds your water heater in place.

5. Slide the water heater out, then clean the old butyl putty tape from around the opening.  Install a fresh layer of butyl putty tape and slide the new water heater in place.

6. Reinstall the perimeter screws.  Tighten them — alternating from one side to the other to seat the water heater into the butyl putty evenly.

7. Next, reinstall the water lines being careful to hook them to the correct port.

8. Hook up the control wiring.

9. The last step: hook up the LP gas line.  After you have installed the gas line, turn on the LP tank and spray the fittings with soapy water to check for leaks.

rv-water-heater-repair.jpgNow you’re ready to turn on the water, making sure the water tank fills with water.  After you have checked for water leaks and everything looks to be correct and ready to work, turn on the gas and light the water heater.

Monitor the water heater’s operation as it heats the water the first time.  After it has run a few minutes, turn on a hot water faucet and check that the water is warming up.  If everything looks good, let it run a full cycle to make sure it shuts the burner down as it should.

That’s about it.

One final tip: If you remember to drain your water heater before the first freeze each winter, then you will most likely avoid this somewhat costly repair.



More About RV Water Heaters

RV Water Heaters (a FAQ)

Excellent Tips For DIY RV Water Heater Repair (video)

RV Water Systems (diagram & tips)

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

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Fun From Around the Web

  • greg

    When I run my heater or microwave, the breaker kicks the power off after about 5-6 minutes.
    There is a “clicking” sound from the appliance, does this mean the inverter isn’t putting out the current it should and is due for replacement?

    Thank you.


    • Curtis

      Way to broad a question Greg, are you talking water heater – the article above is about water heaters, or are you talking electrical space heater? Are you talking inverter (makes 110vac from 12vdc and only comes with high end RVs)or are you talking about a converter (makes 12vdc from 110vac and is part of most RVs).Generally if a circuit breaker pops it means the appliance is faulty or is drawing more electricity than the circuit is designed to handle. This could easily be the case with an electrical space heater if you are trying to run it off an inverter. No fault of the inverter, it just can’t handle the load.

      • bobby

        hello curtis i recently purchased a used rv it didnt have a water heater i put one in and it has electric stuff to hook up to two switches could u help me how to hook this up and maybe send me a picture of what wire go were thanks bobby

        • Curtis

          bobby, Sorry but there are many different water heaters.  I would have no idea what wire goes where.  Your best bet is to get the make and model number off the water heater and do a search for information specific to what you have.

  • Henry

    rv water heater will not stop heating when hot enough 

  • Curtis

     Henry, Sounds like a problem in the gas valve/thermostat.  As that item will cost you towards $150 (Not including installation) I’d appraise the age of the water heater and overall condition.  It might be worth your while to just install a new heater and gain the 2 yr warranty that comes with it.

  • Dkellum74

    my rv water heater has a leak and there’s an oozing sound. i shut the main water supply off and drained the faucets.  What caused the problem? 

  • Curtis

     Dkellum74, Way too little information for me to be accurate but here’s a guess.  If you mean last fall you shut off the water supply and only drained the faucets the water heater was still full of water all winter and likely the tank froze and burst.  Other possibilities if the heater is old the tank corroded through and sprung a leak.  No matter what caused the it, if the tank is split your best bet is to buy a new water heater because it isn’t cost effective to replace the tank.   

  • Curtis

    Egnors, About the only way I can think of for the water to turn from hot to cold would be emptying the hot water tank.  FEMA trailers generally were designed with the bare essentials in mind, hence you probably have a 6 gallon water heater.  If you shower with the water running continuously that 6 gallons will disappear like you say in a couple minutes.  You just don’t have the capacity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adfactor-Tyler/100003325712257 Adfactor Tyler

    Just dropped by to check the site out, I just bought an RV and it needs some repairs I think that what curtis was saying about the water tank is what is going on with mine, I am going to go outside and see how big the hot water heater is. If it is too small I will go to my  rv repair melbourne   and see if I can get a bigger tank installed!

  • Misty

    How do you begin to remove a hot water heater from a 1988 super chief winnebago motor home? Will I have to remove my cabinets.

    • Curtis

      Misty, All water heaters are removed from the outside of the RV. There is a ring of screws around the lip of the water heater that when removed the whole water heater slides right out. Of course you also need to disconnect the gas line and any electrical wiring.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ellen.wheeler.121 Ellen Wheeler

    Hello Curtis, What’s your opinion on putting a continuous water heater in an apartment bathroom, fueled by propane, like an RV ?? If you think it would work, what brands have you worked on?
    Thanks, Ellen

    • Curtis

      Ellen, By continuous I think you mean tankless water heater, the flame kicks in when water flow is sensed. I own one of these tankless water heaters: http://tiny.cc/s56gpw

      It’s suitable for outdoor use only, It works well for what it’s designed to do,but is not something you could plumb into a house. Here’s an example of one designed to be installed in a permanent structure: http://tiny.cc/z96gpw Obviously quite a bit more expensive plus don’t forget the plumber cost to install.

      Here’s an electric tankless water heater that might be practical for a small apartment if you only use a modest amount of hot water: http://tiny.cc/nd7gpw If you’re looking for the most inexpensive route, this is probably it. As to which brands I’ve worked on, sorry but I’ve never worked on any of them.

  • brenda osburn

    Hi Curtis, I live in a Keystone Bobcat 294 EBS travel trailer, and I want to hook up my 20 gal electric hot water heater, without tearing anything up. There’s nothing wrong with the HWH that is on the trailer, except that it’s only 6 gal. I had it hooked up to a 5th wheel that we had taken the old 6 gal out of, so getting to the connections was easier. Any suggestions?

    • Curtis

      Brenda Osburn, No reason why you can’t disconnect the water lines going to the gas water heater and hook them into the electric one. You’ll probably have to buy some fittings and hose material to get it done. I’d recommend shutting off the gas to the 6 gal one to make sure no one lights it. I’m assuming the electric one is 110VAC, not many places would have 220VAC available.

      • brenda osburn

        Thank you for your quick reply…..gonna get underneath the trailer, and see if there’s some way to connect underneath…..ok, here’s what I see…The underneath, is covered with some sort of vinyl, so no water lines are visible, except 2 hoses coming out of the bilge pump. If I look under the kit sink, I can see the back side of the HWH, but the hoses are soooo close to a (decorative) panel, under the oven, I don’t think I can get to them w/o taking that panel off and possibly ruining it. The HWH, sits right over the top of the tandem wheels. Do I cut the vinyl, and go in thru underneath????

        • Curtis

          Brenda Osburn, I would say no. Likely the only way you’re going to get better access to the water lines is to remove the ring of screws that hold the water heater in place from the outside. Then you can slide the water heater out enough to get better access to the fittings from the inside. The other choice would be to remove the gas water heater all together then the plumbing would be wide open..

      • brenda osburn

        Yes, the elec 20 gal is 110.

  • richard

    hello Curtis I need help on trying to fix my hot water heater plz.

    • richard

      hey Curtis r u there?

      • Curtis

        Richard, I am now…This isn’t a live forum, feel free to leave your question and I will answer as soon as I can.