How To Turn On the Electric Water Heater In An RV

What Is An RV Water Heater?

An RV water heater provides hot water for the sinks and showers. There are several different water heater options for the RV to make sure one has hot water when connected to the grid or during offgrid camping:

There are propane, electric, propane-and-electric, as well as engine-heated (van option) choices. One can choose a tank water heater, which comes in sizes of 6-10 gallons, or a tankless water heater, which provides on-demand continuous hot water.

How To Turn On Electric Water Heater In RV BRIEF

RV Electric Water Heater Vs. Home Electric Water Heater

When comparing a residential electric water heater with an RV electric water heater, there are several similarities and several differences. For starters, the RV units are much smaller than a home unit, often 4-8 times smaller, depending on home size. (Source: )

The RV water heater is scaled down to fit into a small cavity and built to hold up the vibrations that it undergoes each time the RV travels. It is built somewhat more user-friendly, with an easy access panel and reset button, since many RV owners often trouble-shoot the unit themselves, as opposed to getting a plumber when dealing with a home water heater.

Furthermore, some RV water heaters can switch modes so that you can use either propane or electric (referred to as hybrid or combo). A home water heater is either a propane or an electric water heater.

There are electric tankless water heater options for both RVs and home use. Although they might seem a bit more pricey, the convenience of instant continuous hot water is absolutely worth it.

How Does An Electric RV Water Heater Work?

The RV water heater has a control panel that has a cover on it. To locate the on and off switch, remove the cover and look for the switch, which is typically located on the bottom left-hand side.

An electric water heater can take a bit to heat up the water:: a 10-gallon tank water heater takes about 12-30 minutes to heat up. When you have a tankless water heater, on the other hand, it offers almost instant hot water that you regulate at the mixing valve with the hot and cold levers to your preference.

How To Turn On Electric Water Heater In RV

Turning on an electric RV water heater is not complicated. Follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Make sure there is water in the hot water tank before proceeding. If you are not sure if you have water in your water tank, open the pressure-release valve to check.

Step 2: Locate your hot water heater access panel, typically on the outside of your RV, and remove it.

Step 3: Find the RV water heater “on and off” switch on the panel. It is usually located in the bottom left-hand corner of the unit.

Step 4: Flip the switch to the “on” position.


Below is also a link to a helpful overview video that explains how a water heater works and how to start it: 

RV Electric Water Heater Troubleshooting Guide

Your electric water heater might have some issues that will require troubleshooting:

  1. You might not have enough amperage to run your water heater (a water heater needs at least 12 Amp and if you are on a 30 Amp circuit and run your AC at the same time, you might be bumping into maxing out). Use a multimeter to find out whether that is an issue.
  2. Make sure your water heater has water in it before you turn it on. Many new units can blow through a new water heater due to this rookie mistake.
  3. Check your anode rod and replace it regularly when it looks like it’s in a rough shape.
  4. Make sure you have a functioning pressure relief valve. Too high of pressure in the water heater can lead to damage to the unit (cracking, leaking).
  5. Check the electric cord for damage from pinching or kinking.
  6. Check your water lines for damage or leaks, as they can also lead to water heater malfunctions.
  7. Make sure you use a pressure regulator valve at the water source to protect your water heater from damage.
  8. If your water pressure is too low, your water heater might not register the water pressure and not kick in. Use your freshwater tank and your water pump, if that’s the case, to work around the issue at that particular RV site.
  9. If needed. Reset your water heater. There is a red button on the unit that resets the water heater.

Tips On Maintaining An RV Electric Water Heater

If you want to make sure your water heater lasts as long as possible, make sure you perform regular maintenance on the unit. The biggest issue with RV water heaters is rust. That’s why there is an anode that is designed to minimize the rust damage. This anode rod should be inspected and replaced (if needed) every 6-12 months.

The water heater should also be fully drained when not used for an extended amount of time or when placed in storage. When winterizing the unit, make sure you bypass the water heater when filling the water lines with antifreeze.

How To Turn On Electric Water Heater In RV BRIEF

Recommended RV Electric Water Heater Brands

The most commonly used and best-known brands in the industry are Furrion and Rheem-these are often installed as standard units in new RVs. However, there are other brands that have been pushing their way to the top of popularity due to their performance, quality, cost and ease of use:

  • Bosch Electric Mini-Tank Water Heater.
  • EcoSmart ECO 11 Electric Tankless Water Heater.
  • GIRARD 2GWHAM Tankless Water Heater.
  • Furrion 2.4GPM Tankless RV Gas Water Heater.
  • Suburban Gallon Gas and Electric Water Heater.
  • Atwood 10 Gallon RV Water Heater.
  • GASLAND BS158N Propane Tankless Water Heater.


Here is what some RV owners say about their water heater:

Eddie purchased a “FVSTR Electric Water Heater smart RV 2.5-Gallon 8L 1.5KW US safty Plug 120V Electric water heater smart hot water heater Boiler” and loves the unit, as it doesn’t have power surges when turning on: “Fits in small area of a fifth wheel trailer home and easy temperature control it delivers plenty of hot water.” (

Another customer purchased a “Furrion 2.4GPM Tankless RV Gas Water Heater with White 16.14” x 16.14” Door – FWH09A-1-A” after doing extensive research:

“Read a LOT of mixed reviews on RV water heaters. This one seemed to have the best reviews. Installing was very simple. Took about 2 hours. Only 4 wires, gas line and 2 water lines to connect. I had to cut and shorten the pex water lines in RV to align with fittings on water heater. Only took a few minutes. This water heater works amazing! My wife was very happy that she can take showers without rushing. Temperature stays steady, no apparent fluctuations. This is installed in our mountain camper. It is hooked to water and septic tank. If you are on the fence about this heater, I highly recommend getting it! No regret here!!” (


How long do RV water heaters last?

They should last approximately 10-15 years.

Can you leave your RV water heater on?

Yes, there should be no issues in leaving your electric RV water heater on. However, a propane-fueled water heater should not be left on while traveling, as it could cause a fire or even an explosion in case of an accident.

How do you reset your RV water heater?

Locate the reset button on the water heater. It is a little red button located on the water heater unit. Hold it down for a few seconds. This should reset your water heater.

Can I run my RV water heater on gas and electric at the same time?

“You can choose to use both the propane and electric options together if you happen to have a heater with both. Doing so will cut down a bit on the time it takes to warm your water.” (Source:

Can you use an electric tankless water heater in an RV?

Yes, there are several brands that manufacture an electric tankless water heater. Keep in mind, however, that with this kind, you will not have hot water without access to electricity. That’s why folks who use their RV offgrid prefer to have the propane or propane and electric option instead.

Do you have to light an electric hot water heater?

This depends on your water heater model. Some models may come with direct spark ignition. If you have a propane and electric water heater installed in your RV, you’ll use a switch inside the RV or trailer to turn on the water heater once parked. If you use the propane-only system, you’ll need to light the pilot light of the water heater after parking and leveling your RV or trailer.

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