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How Long Do RV Water Heaters Last?

How Long Do RV Water Heaters Last? Let’s Find Out  

The end of COVID is in site and RVers are chomping at the bit to get on the road for the summer travel months. With travel restrictions in place since March 2020, this may be the first time in over a year that you will be unleashing your RV from storage. For many, this means the hard work of getting your rig de-winterized and road ready. 

One of the considerations after keeping your RV stored for such a long time is to make sure all major appliances are still in working order. After long periods of non-use, it’s critical to check your refrigerator, stove, generator and other major appliances before you hit the road. 

Today, we will be focusing on one of these appliances: your RV hot water heater

A question we’ve been asked more frequently as road travel gears up is: How long do RV water heaters last? The last thing you want to do is to get on the road only to find that you have to take ice cold showers or are unable to do your dishes. 

We will look at three (3) factors that will answer how long do rv water heaters last? Those factors are: 

  1. Tank vs. Tankless RV Water Heaters
  2. Brand of RV Water Heater
  3. Proper Care and Maintenance

Tank vs. Tankless RV Water Heaters

As electric tankless water heaters are becoming more and more popular in the RV world, we need to first distinguish between tank RV water heaters vs tankless water heaters when talking about longevity: 

Tank RV Water Heaters Last? 

A standard tank RV water heater ranges from 6 to 10 gallons making it significantly smaller than a residential heater. The typical gas-powered version works by igniting a spark that ignites a small flame in a heating tube. The flame then heats up the water in a tank.  

You can expect a tank RV water heater to last approximately 10-15 years. Of course, this is just an average and will vary greatly depending on brand, usage, maintenance and sheer old good (or bad) luck. 

A quick look at RV message board discussions (a great source of anecdotal information) will reveal that many RV owners have had their RV water heaters for 12, 15 and even 20+ years without an issue. One lucky owner said that he has had his Atwood water heat for 23 years and 185,000 miles without an issue. 

Tankless RV Water Heaters 

Just like you might expect, tankless rv water heaters heat up your RV water supply without the use of a tank. The tankless heater heats up the water as it moves through your pipes – meaning you’ll have an endless supply of hot water during your trip. 

According to Energy.gov most tankless water heaters can last for approximately 20 years, giving them a longer life expectancy than their tank counterparts. Tankless RV water heaters also have easily replaceable parts that can extend their way beyond their 20 year expectancy. 

Brand of RV Water Heater

Like everything else in the world, quality makes a difference when talking about the longevity of your RV hot water heater. Brands like Suburban, Atwood and Girard (tankless) are name brands to trust in the RV water heater space. 

While no brand will guarantee a certain number of years on their product, what you should do is look at the product warranty in the owner’s manual. A good warranty should cover a full replacement of parts and related services for a period of 2-3 years. 

For a quality tank water heater you can expect to pay in the range of $600-800. Tankless water heaters are a bit more expensive and will typically run in excess of $1,000. If you are looking at options significantly cheaper than this you will be in the “budget” RV water heater territory and may expect greater unreliability. 

Proper Care and Maintenance of the RV Water Heater

The leading factor for elongating the lifespan of an RV water heater is proper care and maintenance. Descaling and flushing your tank, changing the anode rod and other annual tasks can help keep your heater working for well over a decade. 

Let’s take a quick look at some maintenance protocols that will help you preserve your RV water heater:

Keep Your RV Water Heater Tank Full While Traveling

The leading cause of RV hot water tank maintenance issues is simple human error. It can be easy to forget to refill your rv water heater tank every time you run out of water.  Always make sure there is water in the tank before you turn your hot water heater on. Without water in the tank to draw the heat away from the heating element, the heating element will fry – necessitating a repair. 

Install and/or Replace the Anode Rod Annually

Many steel tank RV hot water heaters have an anode rod – which is a temporary steel core wire with magnesium, aluminum, or zinc around it.  The anode rod is specifically designed to sacrifice itself to prevent a steel water tank from eroding (how noble!).  

If you don’t have one, you can get an inexpensive anode rod on Amazon (Atwood or Suburban) and help elongate the lifespan of your RV water heater.  If you do have one, it is a good idea to replace the anode rod annually to ensure the longevity of your tank.

Descale & Drain Your RV Water Tank Annually

To ensure the longevity of your tank water heater, you should drain the heater whenever your RV isn’t in use. Over time, your RV hot water tank will build up debris and other icky “crud” on the bottom. When the bottom of your heater tank gets enough contamination so that it touches that heating element, it will overheat and burn out. 

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It is recommended that you descale and drain your hot water tank at least once a year to remove any crud that builds up over the year. To make your life a bit easier, grab a water heater tank rinser. Water tanks rinser wands are designed to spray water into the back of an empty tank to easily remove build-up that can ruin a tank. 

RVHabit offers an excellent step-by-step-guide with pictures to show you exactly how to clean, descale and flush your RV water heater. 

Conclusion 

To recap what we learned today about how long do RV water heaters last?: 

  • Tank RV water heaters can last between 10-15 years with proper maintenance; 
  • Tankless RV water heaters can last for 20+ years with proper maintenance; 
  • Always keeping your RV water heater tank full; 
  • Replace your anode rod annually; and
  • Descale and drain your RV water heat tank annually.

We hope this helps answer your question about RV water heater longevity. Questions? Comments?  We encourage our loyal readers to leave comments below. 

    Easy Travels, 

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Enjoy that story? Learn more about RV Water Heaters with “Should I Leave My RV Water Heater On All The Time Or Just When It’s Needed?” 

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