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Should I Leave My RV Water Heater On All the Time Or Just When It’s Needed?

Should I Leave My RV Water Heater On All the Time Or Just When It’s Needed?

 

A common question we get from RVers is whether or not they should leave their RV hot water heater on all the time. If you, like many others, have ever thought about this question you are probably worried about one of three things: 

  1. Is leaving my RV hot water heater on all the time safe
  2. Will leaving my RV hot water heater on all the time cost me more money
  3. Will leaving my RV hot water heater on all the time wear down my equipment? 
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Do you have questions about your RV water heater?

We’ll help you answer these three questions so you can make an informed, safe and cost-effective decision when traveling in your RV. 

Is Leaving My RV Hot Water Heater On All the Time Safe? 

When talking about the safety of leaving your RV hot water heater on all the time we have to distinguish between (a) propane water heaters, and (b) electric water heaters. 

Propane Powered RV Water Heaters

While you may find a wide range of opinions on the topic, our advice is to always turn off your propane while traveling on the road. The stress and movement from RV driving causes appliances such as the refrigerator, hot water heater and stove to shift during travel. This movement puts strain on the lines that connect the propane tank with those appliances.  

The problem? Over time, the lines can become loose or break allowing the gas in your propane tank to escape. It only takes a tiny spark to ignite highly combustible propane gas –  which can mean an explosion or fire in case of accident. 

The simple and safe answer that you should not leave your RV hot water heater on all the time if it is propane powered. Yes, it may be easier to leave the propane on 24/7, but the convenience is not worth the potential disaster should things go wrong.   

Electric Powered RV Water Heaters

Just like in your home, it is safe to leave your electric powered RV water heater on all the time whether stationary or on the road. There are other downsides such as cost and environmental impact of fuel consumption – but safety should not be a concern. 

Will Leaving My RV Hot Water Heater On All the Time Cost Me More Money? 

The second big question about leaving your RV hot water on all the time is about cost. If you leave your hot water heater on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it will cost you more money in fuel expenses than turning it on/off when needed. However, due to the smaller size of the RV water heater (typically between 6-10 gallons), additional costs of leaving the heater on 24/7 are not exorbitant. 

Whether you are running your RV hot water heater on propane or generator electricity, leaving it on all the time will consume more gas/power and therefore lead to higher fueling costs. If you are staying at an RV park where you can connect to shore power, then the RV park will absorb your electricity costs, lessening your burden. 

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Expect an increase in fuel costs leaving your RV hot water heater on 24/7 

If you find that you are using hot water consistently throughout the day then you may find that leaving your RV hot water heater on 24/7 is more cost efficient than constantly turning the unit off and back on – however, this is typically not the case. 

*Pro Tip* One cost-saving measure to consider is turning your RV hot water heater off after you do the dishes at night and then turning it on shortly after waking up in the morning. If you finish dinner at 8PM and wake up at 7AM, you will save 11 hours of energy. This will mean you may have to wait 30-minutes in the morning for a hot shower, but it will help cut down on costs. 

Will Leaving My RV Hot Water Heater On All the Time Wear Down My Equipment?

Leaving your RV hot water heater on all the time should not cause additional wear-and-tear to your unit compared to turning it consistently switching it on and off. Since there are no “moving parts” to the RV water heater, leaving it on should not cause any degradation outside the typical 10+ year lifespan of the unit.

 

Your main concern with your RV water heater is proper maintenance. With normal use, RV water heaters require very little care except for semi-annual maintenance. Following these simple steps will help you prolong the lifespan of your RV water heater and avoid costly repairs or replacements: 

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  1. Keep your water tank full while traveling: Always make sure there is water in the tank before you turn your hot water heater on. Without the water in the tank to draw the heat away from the heating element, the heating element will burn out. 
  2. Install and/or Replace the Anode Rod Annually: Many RV hot water heaters have an anode rod that is designed to sacrifice itself to prevent a steel water tank from eroding. If you don’t have one, you can grab a high quality pair of anode rods for under $20 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.
  3. Flush Your RV Hot Water Tank Every Six Months: Over time, the 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, the element will overheat and burn out. 

It is recommended that you wash out and flush your hot water tank every six months to remove any crud that builds up over the year. RVHabit offers a good step-by-step description and video on how to flush out your RV hot water tank. 

This Camco RV water heater cleaner will get the job done.

You can have this flushing out process done professionally, but for under $30 you can perform these tasks yourself on the cheap. The Camco Water Heater Tank Rinser is a cheap and relatively straightforward option for cleaning out your tank. You can couple that with the Camco Hot Water Tank Bypass Kit and can effectively maintain your water heater during the winter season. 

Pros and Cons of Leaving Your RV Hot Water Heater on All the Time

If you are still asking yourself “Should I leave my RV hot water heater on all the time?” here are a few pros and cons to help make your decision a bit easier: 

Pros of Leaving RV Hot Water Heater On All the Time

  • Ready availability of hot water; 
  • One less thing to worry about with your RV; 
  • Cost is not substantially higher than turning off-and-on
  • Less risk of burnout of heating element

Cons of Leaving RV Hot Water Heater On All the Time

  • Must remember to turn propane hot water tank off when traveling and entering gas stations; 
  • Added fuel costs; 
  • Higher fuel use is worse for the environment; 

Final Thoughts on Leaving Your RV Water Heater On

You will find two schools of thought on leaving your RV hot water heater on 24/7 – and neither is wrong. So long as you remember to turn your propane off while traveling, leaving your RV hot water heater on consistently should pose no greater safety risk or degradation to your system. 

The downsides to a constantly running RV hot water water is cost and impact on the environment. While its not substantial, you will likely incur additional costs leaving your fuel source on 24/7. 

While the small amount of extra fuel consumed by constantly running your water heater will not adversely impact the environment. However, if you think of the collective impact over hundreds of thousands of RVers you may feel uneasy about burning fuel unnecessarily. As RVers, we need to consider the impact we are having on future generations! 

Thank you so much for stopping by to learn something today. Please share any comments or questions you have in the comments below. 

      Easy Travels, 

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Did you find this article helpful? Check out “How To Safely Identify and Respond to a Propane Leak

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