Although many of us love “getting away” from it all in our RVs, very few of us like to truly “rough it”. One of the modern comforts most people like to have in their RV is warm/hot water, that’s why having an RV water heater is so popular.

The last time we went RVing, I suggested to my wife that we should heat all of our water on the camp fire. She almost made me sleep in a tent.

Let’s get into how RV water heaters work and where to find one if your RV doesn’t come with one.

Sources of Heat

There are three main sources of heat for RV water heaters and they include propane, electricity and engine-heat. None of those options come free, but electricity is one that has a known price cost.

If you have solar panels or an electrical hookup at your camp site, there is a fixed cost to those things. The fixed cost for the RV solar panels is how much your solar power setup costs. The fixed cost for an electrical hookup is how much the campground charges you for the hook up.

The other two water heating options, propane and engine-heat, have costs that keep going up as long as you use them. But the advantage is they work when you don’t have electrical hookup and when it’s cloudy and your solar panels aren’t producing enough power. That’s why many well-outfitted RVs have both electrical and fuel based water heaters.

The electrical water heaters are quite easy to use. All you need do is turn on your water heater, wait for the water to heat up and voila! Your hot water is ready for use. The main disadvantage of electricity-based water heaters is that it takes some time before your water is hot enough.

If you don’t use your RV shower (or don’t have one) and you just want hot water for coffee, tea or cooking then you can use a camp fire to heat the water or a portable grill.

Types of RV Water Heaters

The conventional RV water heater has a tank with a capacity of six to ten gallons which is located near the engine compartment (if it is engine-heated) or in the sidewall of the RV.

Although these type of water heaters are relatively economical, they are quite small which means if you have a teenager girl who likes to shower, you’ll constantly be out of hot water. Time for her to perfect the art of the “quick wash” method!

The second type of RV water heater has no tank and operates an “on-demand” system. They are often powered by electricity and are located in the sidewall of the RV.

The major advantage of these kinds of water heaters is that water is heated as often as it is used, which makes them suitable for those with heavy hot water needs. However, these can be quite pricey.

Tips for Buying an RV Water Heater

When you finally decide on buying a new water heater, there are a number of things you need to think about.

The first factor to consider is your hot water needs – Are those needs being sufficiently met by your current system? If your answer is “No”, then you might want to go tankless (if you can afford it) or consider upgrading your system to a more efficient model which meets your needs while reducing costs. Here’s a Wikipedia article about how tankless water heaters work. This article is about at home systems, but the principles are the same for RVs.

The second factor is your budget. And the third is how are you going add the water heater system to your RV? You may have to visit an RV dealer for advice on that one.

Maintenance Tips

Just like most equipment, your RV water heater needs to be properly and regularly maintained to ensure its optimal performance. It is important to adhere to the cleaning schedule as suggested by the manufacturer, but at the bare minimum, your water heater should be cleaned professionally examined at least once a year.

Storage Tips

Prior to storing your RV’s hot water tank for winter, it is necessary to drain it completely. This is to prevent corrosion and rust from damaging it more than is necessary. If your tank has a bypass valve, use it when in storage.

That means part of your spring RV setup will be filling up the water tank and making sure the bypass valve is off. Add that to your checklist!