What You Should Know About RV Water Heaters
The basic RV water heater operates on propane gas and has a 6 gallon capacity. The water heater tank is bisected with burner tube that is heated by the propane. Supply water enters into the tank at the bottom, surrounds the burner tube and is heated, then exits out the top.
An upgrade to the basic gas pilot model is the direct spark ignition (DSI) which eliminates the pilot light and allows the water heater to be turned on from inside the camper. Another upgrade is an 120v electric element which saves propane as an alternate way to heat the water. Some motor homes have water heaters with heat exchangers that pipe the water from the engine cooling system through the water heater so you have hot water while traveling.
There are two main manufacturer of the RV water heater: Atwood and Suburban. With the six and ten gallon models being typical.
These tips can you keep your RV water heater trouble free:
Always make sure your water heater is full before lighting. You can check by opening a hot water faucet and waiting until there is a steady flow.
Drain and flush your water heater at least twice a year. On Suburban models the anode rod is removed to drain the tank. Atwood models have a plug located in the bottom left corner of the water heater. Access to both these drains is from the outside water heater hatch.
Check the exterior vent and burner area regularly for mud daubers, spider webs and anything else that will obstruct the air flow.
Winterize properly. If your RV is not equipped with a by pass, install one. This will keep the antifreeze from filling your tank.
Common problem found with RV water heaters:
Foul smell - like rotten eggs. This is caused by high sulphur levels in the water. Though unpleasant, it is not harmful. Flushing water heater may help to get rid of the smell.
Dripping pressure relief valve. This happens when the air pocket at the top of the water tank is absorbed by the water. The are pocket normally allows for the expansion of the water as it is heated. When there is no air pocket the water and pressure is released through the pressure relief valve.
The fix for this is to turn off the water heater and let the water cool. Then shut off the water supply to the water heater, open a faucet inside your camper to let off the pressure, open the pressure valve on the water heater and let the water flow until it stops on its own, then snap shut the valve, close the faucet, and turn the water supply back on.
Sooting, or problems with the water heater staying lit could be signs of trouble with the gas valve or circut board, and should be checked by a qualified RV technician.