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What You May Not Know About RV Water Heaters
RVers need plenty of hot water, so we turn on our water heater and forget about it. Until there’s trouble, we’re stuck! So, this article will make understanding the functioning of an RV water heater a little easier.
A basic RV water heater is LP gas (pilot light) with a 6 gallon tank. The inner tank is bisected by a tube which is heated by a gas valve. This valve does double duty as a thermostat, heating the water to the correct temperature, and as a safety valve that shuts off the LP when the pilot goes out. The water goes into the tank at the bottom, circulates around the tube and heats up, then is released at the top. The tank will fill before the water goes through the rest of the camper’s water system.
An upgrade to the basic Gas Pilot model is DSI, or Direct Spark Ignition, which ignites from inside the camper. LP gas and electric models are also available. A heating element is added as an alternative way to heat the water. Some motor homes have water heaters with heat exchangers that pipe water through the engine compartment while traveling, so you have hot water when you stop for the night!
There are two main manufacturers of RV water heaters: Atwood and Suburban. They come in 3, 6, 10 and 12 gallon models. Here are some tips to keep your RV water heater trouble free:
Always make sure your water heater is full before lighting. You can check by opening the hot water faucet and waiting for a steady flow.
Drain and flush your water heater after each trip. On Suburban models the anode rod is removed to drain the tank. Atwood has a plug that is usually located in the bottom left corner of the water heater. Open the outer WH door and go to both of these drains.
Check outside vents and burner areas for mud daubers, cobwebs, and anything else that may be obstructing airflow.
Winter properly. If your RV is not equipped with a bypass, install one now. This will prevent antifreeze from filling your tank.
A common problem with RV water heaters is odors – like rotten eggs. This is due to high levels of sulphur. Although unpleasant, it is not harmful. Flush and disinfect the water system to get rid of odors. You can use vinegar or bleach to do this. There are water fresheners available that will disinfect without the smell of bleach. Remember to rinse with clean water after sterilization.
Another common problem is water leaking from the pressure relief valve. This is due to the common air pocket at the top of the water tank where the water is absorbed. The solution is to turn off the water heater and let the water cool down. Then turn off the water supply to the water heater, open a faucet inside your camper to relieve the pressure, open the pressure valve on the water heater and let the water flow until it stops on its own, then close the valve, turn off the faucet, and turn the water supply back on. These are not signs of a faulty water heater.
Other problems such as soot, or problems with the water heater burning may be signs of a gas valve or circuit board problem and should be checked by a certified RV technician.
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