Quick Fixes for a Broken RV Water Heater

Quick Fixes for a Broken RV Water Heater


George Cummings
November 25, 2021

One of the most unpleasant experiences in life is having to take a cold shower in the dead of winter, especially when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

When the water heater of your RV isn’t working, this can be a common issue, but thankfully, it doesn’t always take a professional to fix.

Can you fix an RV water heater yourself? When the RV water heater isn’t working, it’s usually a simple fix of an issue like the heater not igniting or the pilot not staying lit.

Most RV owners can rectify these themselves without needing a professional, as long as they know what they’re dealing with.

If your RV water heater not working is causing you to take unwanted cold showers, you’ll be looking for a quick fix.

We’ve covered some of the more likely issues you’ll run into with your motorhome’s water heater and what you can do to rectify them fast.

Signs of a Problem With the Water Heater

Signs of a Problem With the Water Heater

Although it’s not impossible to live without hot water in your RV, nobody wants to do it. If you notice any of these signs, the problem is likely coming from the water heater, and the sooner you act, the easier the solution will be.

  • Water not heating at all
  • Not much hot water coming out
  • A rotten egg smell
  • Leaking from the relief valve
  • No sparks
  • Failing to ignite at all
  • Rotten egg smell coming from faucet

Check Issues With Supply First

Whenever you’re about to tackle a problem with your RV, the best place to start is by checking any issues with supply. For your water heater, this means going through a few of the basic systems that service it:

  • Propane: Check the propane cylinders of the RV and make sure they’re on and supplying propane to the other appliances and systems that use them.
  • Water: The pressurized fresh water that the heater uses may not be working, so make sure any water is coming out at all first.
  • Shore power: If the water heater uses an electric element, check that it’s turned on and that the 120 volts are being supplied to your RV.
  • Battery power: If your RV is running on 12 volts DC, check that it’s reaching the water heater by looking at the wiring.

Quick Fixes to Common Problems

Quick Fixes to Common Problems

The good news is, issues with RV water heaters are incredibly common, so there’s a lot of information out there that can help you troubleshoot them.

Here are the more likely issues that these heaters face and what you can do to fix them.

  • Pilot won’t stay lit: A pilot that won’t stay lit can be caused by many different things. Start by assessing the gas control magnet and thermocouple to see if they need replacing. Then, clean the orifice and U tube, checking for signs of obstruction. Realign the main burner to ensure it’s in the right place, and try lighting the pilot again.
  • Heater won’t ignite: There are a few things that can fix this problem, including replacing the cracked electrode insulation and the thermostat. You might also need to tighter loose wires on the gas valved and electrodes if needed.
  • Gas burner won’t ignite: Check the circuit board and wires of the ECO, as this could be caused by a lack of electric spark. From there, clean the burner orifice, remove any obstructions from the main burner, replace the gas control, and put the flame spreader back in the right position.
  • Rotten egg smell coming from the faucet: This can occur when the protective coating on the inside of the water tank releases hydrogen and creates a reaction with sulfur that’s present. You’ll need to flush the heater tank to get rid of it by using a vinegar and water solution that sits in the tank for a few hours before being flushed out with clean water.
  • Leaking from the relief valve: Leaking hot water is usually caused by excess pressure and if it seems to be getting worse, you can help relieve it. After turning off the water heater and water supply, let all of the water out of the heater through the relief valve. Fill it up again with cold water, and then empty it completely. Do this a few times until the pressure or air bubble has been released.

Tips for Keeping the Water Heater in Good Shape

Tips for Keeping the Water Heater in Good Shape

As one of the last parts you want to break down in your RV, it’s important to do what you can to take care of the water heater.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind that’ll ensure you get the most life out of your RV’s water heater and with minimal problems:

  • Switch to lukewarm water: Try to adjust to using moderate temperature warm water for showers while living in your RV, rather than the burning hot level you have it at home. Not only will it use less energy to heat up but you’ll be putting less pressure on your water heater so it’s guaranteed to last for longer.
  • Fill the tanks properly: Make sure you’ve filled up the RV water tanks with enough water for the journey ahead. If you’ve done any winterizing or bypassing, this will usually be an automatic process, but otherwise, you’ll need to make sure it has enough water in it to work efficiently.
  • Empty before storing: If you plan on storing the RV or taking a break from using it, drain the water out of the heater and tanks. By leaving water in the tanks, they’ll start to fester and will turn bad, leaving your RV with some serious odors. This also puts pressure on the water pipes which will ultimately affect the water heater as well, so it’s a crucial step.
  • Drain the tank regularly: Every six months, drain or flush the water heater just as you would if you had issues with a sulfur smell. This pre-emptive measure will keep the inside of the heating tank clean and make it less likely to develop a build-up over time.
  • Install an anode rod: An anode rod can be installed in the water heater tank to divert corrosion to itself rather than the tank. These are helpful investments that can increase the lifespan of your RV’s water heater exponentially, so they end up paying for themselves many times over. Better still, you can install it yourself as a simple DIY project.
  • Be water efficient: Learn how to be more frugal with your water and come up with some hot water-saving initiatives you can use in the RV. Start timing your showers, consider heating water for doing the dishes by using a campfire, and only use it when absolutely necessary. The less we rely on the RV water heater, the longer it’s going to last.

Fixing the Cold Water Blues

It’s never fun living without access to hot water, especially during the colder months when it comes time to take a shower.

Thankfully, most RV owners will have enough know-how to fix the most common issues, and at least get the onboard water heater pumping again until a professional can take a look at it.

Related Questions

Your RV is full of many moving parts and it’s common that things will need repair occasionally.

In addition to the water heater not working, there are lots of other components that’ll encounter issues that you might be able to fix yourself, so read on for a few FAQs that can help you tackle the rest of them.

Why Is My RV Fridge Not Cooling?

Sometimes the fridge of our RV can be struggling to cool, even while the freezer is working properly.

The most common cause of this is an issue with either the heating elements, thermostat, or control boards, so you’ll want to troubleshoot and look at each of them to find the culprit.

Why Is My RV AC Not Working?

Why Is My RV AC Not Working?

One of the most likely reasons an RV air conditioner isn’t working is because it no longer has a power connection.

Start by checking the circuit breakers to see if they need to be turned back on, and check the fuses for any signs of damage. Once you can be sure the power is connected, you’ll be able to troubleshoot other potential causes.

Can An RV Awning Be Repaired?

Repairing the awning on your RV is a relatively simple job, but this depends on whether it’s a portion that needs repairing or if the entire thing has to be replaced.

Either way, most people feel comfortable tackling the project themselves with just a little bit of knowledge, and the DIY approach can save hundreds of dollars.


George Cummings

George Cummings enjoys connecting with nature, meeting new people, and making friends from all over the world. RVing and camping create the perfect opportunity for [him/her] to take part in these activities. After spending several years on the road and exploring the great outdoors, George Cummings shares some of his best pieces of advice on how to make the most of your time while camping. TourTheOutdoors is his way of helping outdoorsy individuals like [him/her] start on a right footing with amazing recommendations and buying guides.