How to Use an RV Water Heater

How to Use an RV Water Heater

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RVs have two types of hot water heating systems. The most common is a water tank that is heated by propane. Systems found in newer, high-end RVs are tankless. Tankless systems provide continuous hot water and their capacity is limited only by the amount of water available to the RV. The RV hot water heater should be tested fully prior to heading out on a camping trip.

Items you will need

  • RV with water heater

  • Full propane tanks

  • Fully charged RV battery

  • Access to shore electrical power

  • Hose

  • RV owner's manual

Using an RV Water Heater

Connect the RV to a city or campsite water supply. Verify that the hot water heater is off. Check to see that the RV water heater tank is full. Turn on a hot water faucet and let the water run until there is no sputtering. If no water runs out, fill the hot water heater tank before proceeding.

Turn on the propane tanks and make sure that the water heater is connected to the LP system.

Plug the RV into a shore electrical system (a house outlet or campground hookup).

Turn on the RV water heater. Newer RVs have electronic starters that are turned on by a switch in the RV main control panel. Older models may have a manual pilot light or starter. To start a manual system, open the access panel to the water heater and turn on the unit. This is usually done with a push-button starter. Higher-end motorhomes may not have a water heater. Instead they have an on-demand hot water system that does not require a hot water tank. This type of unit turns on with a switch located in the RV main control panel.

Wait for the water heater to bring the water up to the proper temperature before using it. RV water heaters are smaller than those for household use. The average RV water heater does not exceed 30 gallons, therefore the water heats up quickly.


  • Never turn on the hot water heater with an empty tank. The tank will heat up quickly and cause permanent damage to the unit.
  • Do not drive the RV while the pilot light to the water heater is lit, this creates a fire hazard.


  • RV water heaters usually run on propane but some have the option to run on 120-volt AC current. In most cases the propane option is less expensive to use than electricity. If your campground fees include unlimited electrical use, then take advantage and use the 120-volt AC feature.
  • If the pilot light will not stay lit, there may be debris clogging the gas outlet. Use a small wooden toothpick and gently poke it into the gas outlet opening to remove any blockage.
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