5 Things We Learned From Replacing the Water Heater in Our RV

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The carpet in the bedroom was wet.

We initially wrote it off as a minor slide leak because we just had a rainy weather stretch. But the rain stopped, and the carpet stayed damp. So we began searching for the source.

The roof? No. Window? No. Slide? Nope.

Eventually, we chased it down to the 13-year-old water heater. Hoping it was just a loose water hose connection, we pulled out some drawers in the bedroom to investigate.

replacing rv water heater: removing bedroom drawers to access the back of the water heater
Pulling out drawers in the bedroom to access the water heater

Every connection was dry and snug, but the bottom of the compartment was wet. Well, crap. That meant the tank was leaking. The next step was to pull out the water heater and check the tank for pinholes.

And pinholes we found! Pinholes that had probably been there for a long time and were being plugged by hard water. We recently installed a water softener, so with softer water came unplugged pinholes in the water heater tank.

One of the pinholes in the tank of our water heater with a mile of leaking crud

We could have taken the tank to a welder to be patched up and continued using the old water heater. But since we had no idea how the last people who owned our RV treated it, we decided to cut our losses on the old one and purchase a replacement.

Keep reading to see how our water heater replacement went and what we learned from it!

1 | It’s not difficult

Unhooking and re-connecting propane, electric, and water lines may sound scary, but it turned out to be no big deal.

Our new water heater was a direct replacement, so it was just a matter of taking note of how things were hooked up on the old one and connecting them the same way on the new water heater.

The old, tired, leaking water heater in our RV

The only difficult part about the installation was squeezing through the drawer openings in the bedroom enough to reach the hose connections.

We made sure the water lines were connected snugly, checked the propane lines for leaks using soapy water, ensured the electrical lines were well-insulated and secure, and we were good to go.

2 | Why we never run out of hot water

When we were researching living in an RV, two things were brought up over and over again as being a big deal. One was dumping the black tank, and the other was running out of hot water in the shower.

Spoiler alert: dumping the black tank isn’t a big deal, and we’ve never run out of hot water. But until we had to replace the water heater in our RV, we didn’t know why we never ran out of hot water when others warned us it would happen.

As it turns out, our water heater has something called a mixing valve that makes its 10-gallon capacity more like 16 gallons. It mixes the water in the tank that’s too hot to use with cold water, effectively giving us more usable hot water.

If we want a super long shower, we have the option of turning on the electric in addition to the propane. This provides us with an “instantaneous-like” water heater by heating the water faster.

Mystery solved! We don’t run out of hot water because we have the Cadillac of RV water heaters.

3 | Some RV water heaters don’t have an anode rod

Home water heaters have what’s called a sacrificial anode rod. It’s a metal rod that protects the tank of the water heater from corrosion. Some RV water heaters have an anode rod as well, but we found out ours doesn’t.

Instead of an anode rod, our water heater has an aluminum tank. If flushed properly, it’s not supposed to corrode. But whoever owned our RV before us must not have flushed the tank because, well, it corroded.

We anticipate having a water softener will help cut down on potential corrosion. Still, having learned about the absence of an anode rod, we’ll be sure to do regular flushes on our new water heater.

The new water heater in all its heat-y glory

4 | Buy local

When the tank on our water heater started leaking, the first place we thought to look for a replacement was Amazon. They could have had it to us in a few days, but we didn’t want to go without hot water for that long.

We have a large camping-related store nearby, but they weren’t helpful and were more expensive than everyone else.

We eventually landed at Carl’s RV. Not only were they cheaper, but they also had our new water heater the next day. And we got to support a local business. Hooray!

5 | Replace the plastic connections

The existing water hoses in our RV had plastic threaded connections. That was fine for the cold water hose, but the hot side got brittle and started to leak after re-attaching it.

We decided to future-proof the hot water hose by replacing it with a stainless steel braided connection. It cost an additional $7, but it’s well worth the price to avoid more headaches down the road.

The steel braided connection replacement on our hot water line

The end result

While it was definitely an inconvenience and an expense we didn’t expect, replacing the water heater in our RV turned out to be a lot easier than we thought.

If you’re comfortable working with gas fittings and simple AC circuit connections, replacing the water heater in your RV is absolutely DIY-able. However, if you’re unsure, it’s best to call a repair service you trust to help you with the replacement.

If you ever have to replace the water heater in your RV, we hope that sharing our experience helps you make an informed decision to tackle it yourself or hire a professional. Thanks for reading!