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RV Water Heaters: How to Get Hot Water in Your RV

Updated: Jan 14

How do RV water heaters work? What is the best RV water heater? and should you go tankless? Learn all about getting hot water in your RV.

rv gas electric water heater

Consistent hot water is one of the many perks of the RV lifestyle. Tent camping is a lot of fun but it has its limitations. The availability of hot water is one of them. RV camping allows you to take all the amenities of your home with you and that includes hot water showers. But how do RV hot water heaters work? What size of RV water heater do you need? and how to troubleshoot common RV water heater problems? Read on to learn more.

RV Hot Water Heater Basics

While an RV water heater works the same way as a conventional water heater in your home, it is smaller in size. Most RV water heaters have a 6-gallon or 10-gallon tank. This means you have to be careful with how much water you use. A lot of RVers are now opting for RV tankless water heaters that provide a continuous flow of hot water for showering, washing dishes, cleaning your hands, and more.

Types of RV Water Heaters

You can find many different configurations of RV water heaters in the market but there are two main types of water heaters you will find installed in a motorhome.

1. RV Holding Tank Heater

RV water heater tanks come with a 6-10 gallon holding capacity that holds all the hot water you can use. These tanks are usually made of aluminum or steel and can be encased in insulating materials like polystyrene, porcelain, and more. Water heaters made of steel also come with an RV water heater anode to prevent corrosion. The RV water heater anode rod needs to be replaced regularly to protect the heating tank.

atwood rv water heater

RV holding tanks carry all the water that needs to be heated. A sensor that is in contact with the water detects when the temperature of the water goes down. This could be due to the water sitting in the tank for long or because of prolonged use of the water. Once the sensor sends the signal to the control module, it turns the heating element on that, in turn, starts heating the water.


  • RV water heater tanks are affordable to install

  • They don't require a lot of maintenance

  • They are sturdy and reliable


  • The water temperature may not be consistent. The water coming out of the heater at the beginning will be piping hot but after heavy use, the temperature will go down

  • The heating element has difficulty keeping up with heavy use of the water

2. RV Tankless Hot Water Heater

A tankless water heater for an RV is also known as an on-demand hot water heater for RV. The 'on-demand' function means there is no water tank that holds hot water, instead the water is heated as it passes through the pipes. Once the switch for the heater is turned on, the RV water heater element is activated. As water passes through the pipes, the heating element heats it before it reaches the water outlet. When the switch for the on-demand water heater is turned off (or the hot water tap is turned off) the heating element deactivates as well.

girard rv tankless water heater


  • RV tankless hot water heater provides consistently heated water

  • In theory, it provides an almost limitless supply of hot water

  • It is more compact in size as compared to holding tank heaters

  • Tankless water heaters do not require a lot of power and are energy efficient


  • RV tankless water heater installation is tricky. There aren’t many models that can retrofit into a 10-gallon tank space

  • They are more expensive

  • They require more care and maintenance

  • You might have to invest in a low flow showerhead to allow the water more time in the pipes

How to Power RV Hot Water Heaters

Both tank and tankless hot water heaters require power to work. There are three types of RV water heaters: RV Electric Hot Water Heater, RV Propane Water Heater, and RV Combination Heaters. An electric water heater works on electricity, usually shore power. While this is the most efficient way to run a heater, you do need a consistent supply of electricity so boondocking isn't possible without an inverter.

Propane RV water heaters use gas to power the water heater. This is the most cost-effective method of powering a water heater. No dependence on electricity means you can easily dry camp or boondock while still having access to hot water.

As the name suggests, a combination RV water heater uses both propane and electricity to heat water. You have the option of using either gas or electricity as per your situation. You can also use both if you want to heat the water quickly.

RV water heaters use two types of ignition; a pilot light that has to be lit manually, often from outside the vehicle, to start the heater. Or a remote ignition option that starts the heater by just pushing a switch inside the RV.

How Does RV Hot Water Heater Work?

The number and types of RV water heater parts depend on the type of water heater you are using. But generally, each RV water heater features a heating element, a thermostat, and a switch. Below is a video explaining how a 6 gallon RV combination water heater works.

RV Water Heater Troubleshooting

RV water heaters are sensitive piece of equipment that needs regular maintenance to keep working properly. Whether you have a tank or tankless RV hot water heater, it is advised to do a deep clean and maintenance run every 6 months to make sure everything is working properly.

Before you begin, shut off the power to the hot water heater and empty out any hot water that is already inside the tank. After doing this:

  • Check and replace the anode rod

  • Clean and flush out any sediment and debris in the tank by using a flushing wand

  • Check the condition of the heating element and replace it if needed

  • Clean the electrode or igniter. Replace it if it has become too old and dirty

Here is a list of some other common RV water heater troubles and their easy solutions shared by Camper Report.

The Last Word

RV hot water heaters help make your camping trips all the more comfortable, especially if you're a full-time RVer, and camp in the winter as well. Just make sure to choose a water heater that meets your needs and check it regularly to keep ahead of any repairs that might be needed.



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