Should I Drain My RV Water Heater After Each Use

RV camper toy

RV water heaters typically work with propane gas which is why you need to take care of its proper functioning. Accordingly, it may save the day to know the basic facts about your RV hot water tank.

Namely, knowing how to properly utilize a water heater in your RV will make it last longer and ensure you have a comfortable camping trip every time. Needless to say, you wouldn’t want to spend a fortune at a local RV repair shop. That’s why you should look for ways that will allow you to prolong the lifespan of your RV in any way you can.

If you plan to store your RV, a good idea will be to drain the water tank before you do it. In colder months, you should winterize the pipes to prevent freezing and cracking. Likewise, water left in your RV’s hot water tank can freeze causing considerable damage.

In this article, we’ll give you the basics of RV water heaters. Alon with different types and sizes and tips for getting them ready for storing. Besides, we’ll walk you through the benefits of tankless water heater technology.

Table of Contents

The Basics of RV Water Heaters

Whether you’re new to RV-ing or have extensive experience being on the road full time, it’s useful to know the basic facts about your RV’s functioning. Here are the most important things you should be knowledgeable of when it comes to your RV’s water heater.

How Can You Heat Water in a Hot Water Tank?

Water is heated using electricity, propane, or heat from the engine. Speaking of the most convenient methods, electricity is by far the most comfortable way to do it.  This is because you can forget about a pilot light going out. You just need to switch the heater on when inside your RV, and you’ll have hot water in no time.

However, if you’re more budget-oriented, using the heat from your engine is undoubtedly a cost-friendly option. The engine is getting hot while you’re driving and you can use it to heat water. Still, you need to know that if the engine is off for a while, you may not be able to enjoy the benefits of a hot shower.

The Size of RV Water Heater Tanks

RV water heaters typically come in 6-gallon or 10-gallon versions, but there are smaller (4-gallon) and bigger (16-gallon) models available in the market, as well. They are way smaller than home water heater tanks, ranging from 40-50 gallons. Basically, the more people camping, the bigger tank you’ll need.

Give the size of RV water heater tanks, you’ll need to use water sparingly. It means you should forget about long showers and turn off the hot water while you’re shampooing. Or do it quickly to avoid chilly showers.

Alternatively, you can opt for a heat exchanger rather than a storage tank, like the Girard’s. It may be a bit too pricey, but you’ll never have to think about running out of hot water again.

Replacing a Water Heater in Your RV

In case you’re thinking about replacing the water heater in your RV, you need to know that systems may vary in size. Before you pick the model, you should check the height, width, and depth of the opening in the sidewall. You may be traveling with a bigger company and think about getting a bigger tank. But you need to know whether the size of the opening in your RV allows for such an option. There’s no way you can squeeze it in!

Draining the Water Tank Before Storing

If you plan to store your RV, a good idea will be to drain the water tank before you do it. In colder months, you should winterize the pipes to prevent freezing and cracking. Likewise, water left in your RV’s hot water tank can freeze causing considerable damage. But, this doesn’t mean you should put RV antifreeze in your heater. Instead, you need to look for better solutions.

You should remember to turn off the bypass valve when you get back in your RV. This is important because you’ll want to fill the tank back up before you head out on a trip in the spring. You should not heat the tank without water as it can cause serious damage.

Avoiding Hard-Water Corrosion Inside the Tank

Installing an anode rod is a good way to prevent corrosion inside the tank because it will eat away at the rod and not the tank. You can easily install them, but don’t forget to check them occasionally and replace them once they start looking really corroded.

Anode rods cost as much as 20 bucks and represent a relatively cheap way to make your hot water tank last longer. (And RV water heaters, on the other hand, are not so affordable to replace — which we’ll get to in just a moment!)

Checking the Faucets

If all you can get is lukewarm water and your RV is working, you may need to check whether the hot and cold faucets to your outside water line are off. Hot and cold water may start mingling if you leave the faucets on which is why hot water cannot run inside the RV.

Leaving RV Water Heater On

You typically don’t turn your water heater at home on and off all the time. You can apply the same routine to your RV water heater and keep it on during your camping trip. Yet, it may be a cost-saving move to turn it off between uses.

Nevertheless, it’ll be a good idea not to power your RV water heater with the bypass valve still toggled. It can be severely damaged if the unit heats in the absence of water.

If your RV water heater is heated on propane, you should opt for the propane that is specially used for this purpose. It’s a bit on the pricey side, which is why you should turn down the heat to use less propane. This can be done easily by selecting the warm section instead of the hot one.

Make Sure Your RV Has Enough Water

To make your RV work efficiently, you should make sure it is filled up with enough water. Your water heater will automatically fill to the right amount when connected to a water source unless it is winterized or bypassed. Avoid turning on the water heater unless your RV has enough water as it may cause serious damage.

If your water heater is not connected to a water source, you can use the water pump. Just remember that the heater is filled before you turn it on.

Rv with water heater

Should You Drain Water Heater When Not in Use?

Using a water heater may seem an easy job. Well, unless it stops working and you’re left freezing instead of enjoying a hot shower. Or you can end up with water all over the floor. Luckily, a water heater is relatively easy to maintain, but you need to drain it regularly to keep it running smoothly.

It is generally considered a good idea to drain the water in the water heater when you are not using it. This will keep the water flowing right and keep it fresh. Even if it means draining it each time.

The first reason for this is that the water will start to smell awfully bad if you leave it to sit in the water heater. Because of the water-sulfur combination, you’re close to having the same situation as that of a hot spring. And you’ll surely want to avoid this!

For proper maintenance of your RV’s water heater, you need to drain the water properly. Otherwise, sediment will start building up in the bottom of a water heater and potentially lead to clogs. Draining a water heater will help you get rid of the sediment which can cause malfunction and result in considerable damage.

If you don’t drain your water heater regularly, it could also lead to pipes leaking. And this can be costly to repair. To avoid this, drain the water often, and you’ll have no problems relating to bad smells or broken pipes. Sometimes it’s all it takes to have a perfect camping trip.

How to Drain a Water Heater?

The maintenance of a water heater pretty much depends on the manufacturer’s manual. But there are certain maintenance steps you should take to keep your water heater working properly. Or, else, you can call a plumber and save yourself the trouble of doing it on your own.

  • Shut off the water supply. There is a water pipe at the top of the water heater and a shutoff valve going into the water heater. To shut off the water you need to turn the valve.
  • Turn off the power. To avoid burning out the heating elements, you need to shut off the power to your water heater. For example, if you have a gas water heater, you can turn the water heater’s thermostat to “pilot.”
  • Let the water cool off. Given that water in the water heater is very hot, you should let it cool down (at least a couple of hours) before draining it to prevent injury.
  • Attach a hose to the drain valve. After you’ve let the water heater cool off, place one end of a hose into a floor drain or directly outside. You should attach the other end to the drain valve at the bottom of the water heater.
  • Turn on a hot water tap. Open the hot water tap that is nearest to the water heater to alleviate pressure and allow the tank to drain quicker.
  • Open the drain valve. This will make the water flow out of the tank. It can take a while, especially if there’s a lot of sediment or the tank was full.
  • Turn the water supply back on. Keeping the drain valve still open, turn the cold water back on to flush any remaining sediment and repeat until the water runs clear. Turn the water valve off again.
  • Refill the tank. Once you’ve removed the hose, be sure to close the valve and turn the water supply back on to start refilling the tank. Once it’s done, turn the power supply to the water heater back on. And don’t forget to turn off the faucet you turned on when draining the tank.

How Often Should You Drain Your RV Water Heater?

Typically, you should drain your water heater at least once a year. If you have to fill your tank with hard water, you may need to drain it more often. Once again, make sure to read the manufacturer’s manual to see their recommendations.

If you properly maintain your water heater, it may last as long as a decade. Draining the tank after each use will extend your RV’s water heater lifespan and help it function effortlessly.

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