Should You Turn Your RV Water Heater Off When Gone?

Last Updated on November 3, 2023 by Jess

Every time you leave your RV, there’s a mental checklist of things you need to go through quickly. Turning off the lights and reaching for the keys are essential, but what about your water heater? Do you need to turn it off when you’re not in your motorhome?

This is a frequently asked question in the community. Unfortunately, some say you should and others say you shouldn’t. So, which is it?

Let’s find out!

What is a motorhome water heater?

A motorhome water heater is exactly what its name suggests: it heats the water in your motorhome. It has the same function as a household appliance. Thanks to them, you can shower, wash dishes and do anything that requires warm or hot water.

As with residential models, there are tank, tankless, propane and electric models. Many are even combination appliances that can run on both propane and electricity.

Typically, a water heater will hold between six and 12 gallons. However, many manufacturers are switching to tankless versions to save space and weight.

Should you turn off your RV’s water heater when you’re away?

This is a hot topic in the community. One side treats their RV’s water heater the same as their home’s water heater. Do you turn off your private water heater when you leave your home? Most likely not.

Others, however, turn off their appliances when they don’t need them. They turn it on 20 or 30 minutes before they shower or do the dishes. This gives them time to get their work done and the appliance is ready when they need it. So what should you do?

Leaving these devices on is generally safe and will not cause damage to your system. If you leave them on, you should make sure you have water in your system. You can destroy the heating element if you leave it on when there is no water in the tank.

Just remember that you are using electricity or fuel to keep the water warm. If you’re worried about the cost of either, turn them off. Those staying at a campground and not paying an electric bill can leave it on during their trip. Again, if you fill it with water, you shouldn’t have any problems.

How long can water stand in a motorhome water heater?

You don’t want the water to sit in your RV water heater for long periods of time. This can cause bacteria and other microorganisms to multiply over time.

If you are going on another trip soon, usually within two weeks, you can leave the water in the system. Drain the system and the rest of your plumbing if it will take longer.

Tips for protecting your water heater in your motorhome

Want your motorhome water heater to last as long as possible? Here are some things you can do to protect it and extend its life.

Read the manual

When you buy a motorhome, it comes with tons of paperwork and brochures. If you’re like most owners, these documents will sit in a drawer or cupboard in your motorhome until something breaks.

While these may not be the most exciting documents, they can be beneficial to read as they contain helpful information on the maintenance and care of various appliances. You can familiarize yourself with the specifics of your appliances to keep them in pristine condition.

Regular inspection

Even if you’re not a certified RV technician, it can be helpful to inspect your water heater. You can spot frayed wires, loose connections and other issues before they become a problem.

Look for changes that may have occurred since the last inspection.

Regular inspections can be particularly helpful if a leak develops. The sooner you find the leak, the better. Be sure to take care of the problem to avoid mold or water damage.

Remember: Should you use a separate hose for your black water flush? Let’s take a look at this!

Flush the tank

Deposits and minerals can accumulate in the appliance. It is advisable to rinse it out at the beginning and end of each camping season. To do this, switch off the heating and allow the water to cool down.

You can then loosen the pressure relief valve and remove the plug or anode rod. Allow the water to continue to drain until there is no more water in the tank.

You can now use an RV Water Heater Tank Rinser to hose down and rinse the inside of the tank. These wands connect to a garden hose and help get the inside of the tank as clean as possible.

Some motorhome owners go one step further and soak their tank with vinegar. To do this, they use a 65% vinegar to 35% water solution and pour it into the unit. Remove the pressure relief valve and pour the solution directly into the tank using a funnel.

You can also suck the solution directly into the appliance. Refer to the user manual to find out which method is easiest for your appliance.

Check the anode rod

If your mobile home has an anode rod, you will need to replace it occasionally. This rod protects your water heater from rust. When it has reached the end of its service life, it is unprotected.

Fortunately, replacing the anode rod is very easy. First, order the replacement anode rod. Flip the switch to depressurize the tank and unscrew the anode rod.

Remove the old part and prepare the new anode rod. Before inserting it, apply Teflon sealing tape to the thread. This ensures a tight connection and prevents leaks.

Winterizing

If your motorhome is going to hibernate for a long time, you need to winterize it at the end of each camping season. One step in this process is to drain the unit. Depressurize and flush the system and remove the anode rod to make sure there is no water left in the tank.

Unfortunately, we’ve heard far too many times that campers have forgotten to drain their water heater. Doing so is likely to cause cracks or significant damage.

Replacing an RV water heater can cost anywhere from $500 to $1000. Properly winterizing your entire RV usually only takes a few hours. Do yourself a favor and take the time to do it right.

Remember: This RVer winterized his caravan with vodka and the results are hilarious!

Check ventilation

If your water heater runs on propane gas, it will have an exhaust vent. Unfortunately, these vents are a favorite place for mice and other animals to build nests. Check them regularly to make sure they are not clogged or something is in the way.

We have heard of fires in these systems caused by the nests. When checking your exhaust system, remember to check your oven and refrigerator as well. This only takes a few seconds, but can provide tremendous protection.

Hire a professional if necessary

Unfortunately, there may come a time when you need to hire a professional.

There’s no shame in admitting that you don’t have the necessary skills, knowledge or tools to complete a particular task. Luckily, there are numerous service centers and mobile technicians that can get you and your RV back on the road.

Don’t make the mistake of overextending yourself. We’ve heard countless stories of owners trying to save a few bucks by doing repairs themselves.

This can make the situation worse and more expensive. Know when to call in a professional and don’t be too proud to call one.

Take care of your mobile home water heater

Can you get by without a water heater in your motorhome? Absolutely. However, you will want to take a hot shower at some point after a long hike. You can wash off the dirt and debris of the outdoors with cold water, but it’s not as relaxing.

If you take care of your water heater, it will take care of you.

Do you have any other tips for caring for an RV water heater?

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