RVs are like homes – they have a multitude of systems to tend to, such as plumbing and electrical systems. When something isn’t working properly, for example when there’s no hot water in your RV, the troubleshooting process begins. Sometimes we find that some part of the system has failed, but other times we find that we’ve simply made a mistake.
Particularly when you’re new to RVing (as we were nearly two decades ago), you can accidentally do something that you don’t realize can cause what appears to be a system failure, when really you’ve just made a newbie mistake that caused the issue you’re now troubleshooting.
That happened to us when we were newbies (and occasionally still does!), and we like to share those experiences for the benefit of newcomers to the RV world who might encounter similar situations.
So, today we’re looking at how you get hot water in your RV, what might be happening if the water stops running hot, and (hopefully) how to fix it.
How Do You Get Hot Water in Your RV?
Like a house, an RV has a water heater. The heater could run on propane or a combination of propane and electricity like ours, it can be a tankless hot water heater, or you could have a hydronic system that is diesel or propane-fueled and provides both heat and hot water.
When your RV’s hot water system is working properly, you have all the hot water you desire, within the limits of the water heater tank size.
There are a number of informative RV water heater tips that are important to know about, and that will almost certainly be helpful to you in some way. But let’s take a look at what happened to us back when we were newbies, in hopes of sparing you a similar fate!
Why Was There No Hot Water in Our RV?
One day when we were new RVers traveling and living in our 2002 Fleetwood Bounder Diesel, we found that the water running in our kitchen sink wasn’t getting hot. It was just lukewarm, which was very unusual.
So, we set about troubleshooting the issue of no hot water in our RV by checking all of the obvious possible issues. First, we checked the main power switch on the water heater – and it was on.
Next, we checked to see if the water heater circuit breaker was tripped. Nope – not the issue.
We noticed that when the propane heating was turned on the ignition light didn’t illuminate. Hmmm…
We checked to make sure the propane was turned all the way on at the tank. Perfect. We checked the propane level as well. Plenty of propane.
Being new to the business of RVing, we had investigated the issue of no hot water in our RV as thoroughly as we could, so we drove our rig to an RV repair person who quickly diagnosed our issue – and the mistake we’d made that caused that issue!
It turns out, it was entirely our own fault! 🙈 We had run the outside shower using both the hot and cold water, and while using it, we had turned the water off using the control on the showerhead, but we’d left the hot and cold faucets turned on.
In our particular system (and from what we’ve heard from MANY others), leaving both the hot and cold faucets on opens a connection between the hot and cold sides of the water system, allowing the cold and hot water to mix.
The reason the water heater wouldn’t fire up using propane was simple – the water in the water heater was already hot!
With the outside shower’s hot and cold faucets properly shut off, the temperature of our water was about 124 degrees. But with both faucets open, the temperature of the water was lukewarm, at around 102 degrees. And THAT’S what had made us think the water heater wasn’t working properly.
No Hot Water In Your RV? Watch This Video First!
If you find that your water is running lukewarm, check to make sure you haven’t made our newbie mistake. If you’ve ruled that out, then we have some additional suggestions for your troubleshooting list.
What Else Could Be Wrong With Your RV’s Water Heater?
Depending on the make, model, and type of water heater you have in your RV, all the following suggestions may or may not apply. But the following RV water heater troubleshooting tips offer some great steps to follow when you’re investigating the issue of no hot water in an RV.
Refer to Your Water Heater Manual
Yeah, we know – this one should be obvious, but we had to include it because it’s always the first step when troubleshooting any issue. Often your owner’s manual will have a list of troubleshooting steps that are particular to your brand and model, so this is always a great place to start.
If you don’t have the manual for your water heater, it should be available online. Just Google the make & model like this: “Suburban SW12DE owner’s manual”
In that vein, we always suggest printing/downloading a copy of owner’s manuals that you don’t have for any appliances or equipment in your RV so that if you’re in a remote location and can’t access the internet, you’ll have what you need on hand (and, of course, you’ll have trouble and need the manual when you’re in a remote location without access to the internet… late on a Friday… of a holiday weekend 🤦♂️).
Check to see if your hi-limit/emergency cut-off switch (which is the fail-safe to shut the water heater off if the thermostat fails to keep the temperature below a set high limit point) needs to be reset. The switch can trip, and simply pushing the button back in can reset it and have you on your way to a nice hot shower.
However, if the switch trips repeatedly, then your thermostat needs to be replaced. (We’ll touch on this one later.)
Propane/electric RV water heaters will have two hi-limit/E.C.O. switches – one for the electric heater and one for the propane heater.
The thermostat(s) and their hi-limit/emergency cut-off switches sit under a cover that looks like this one, located behind the outside cover to the water heater itself.
All you need to do is press the circular, rubber button(s) on the cover to reset each of your hi-limit/E.C.O. switch(es), just like that. If you feel the reset button click back into place, that was your trouble. If, however, you push on each reset button you have and they don’t move/click… they hadn’t tripped… and that WASN’T your problem.
FYI, the thermostats themselves look like this, and that little gray cylindrical piece you see at the top of this thermostat is the actuator for resetting the hi-limit/E.C.O. switch. That’s what you’re pressing on when you push on the circular rubber button.
Check Bypass Valves
If you’ve sanitized your water system, or if you’ve winterized your RV for the season, you’ve likely closed the water heater bypass valves to allow the water heater to be bypassed during the process.
Be sure to check these valves to make sure they’re in the correct position(s) to give you hot water! It’s very easy to forget the bypass valves, so when troubleshooting an issue of no hot water in your RV, this is one of the first things we recommend checking.
Check Your Propane Levels
Another easy troubleshooting step if there’s no hot water in your RV is to check your propane levels. If your propane tank is empty, or even if it’s very low, and you’re trying to heat your water using propane, you won’t get hot water. Fortunately, there are easy ways to check your propane level.
The first, of course, is to simply read your tank’s gauge. But even if you don’t have a gauge, checking the level of propane in your tank is easy. There are a couple of different ways you can do this.
If you have a propane stove, you can simply light one of the burners to check for a constant, full flame. If the stove lights and stays lit with a normal flame, you’ve got propane in your tank. If you use this method, however, be sure not to leave your stove running for too long – just long enough to perform this check. And as always, never walk away from a stove that’s lit!
If you’d prefer to use another method to check on the propane level in your tank without a gauge, check out this post where we lead you step-by-step through this very simple method using nothing but some hot tap water. Of course, since you’re not getting hot water in your RV, you may need to obtain it from some other source, like the bathroom at the campground!
Check the Electric Heating Element
If you have an electric water heater, check the electric heating element. These can corrode over time and can even melt if the water heater is left on with no water in it.
Replacing your electric heating element is not a difficult process. You’ll likely access the heating element from the outside of your RV, and you’ll need a simple heating element wrench like this one:
- ✅Product size:One end size 1-1/2" hex and Another end size 1-1/16" hex compatible removing all Anode Rod 3/4" NPT.
- ✅Fit Brands:Camco, GE, Rheem, Rudd, Richmond, Montgomery Ward, Sears/ Ken more, State, Norge, Westinghouse, Reliance, Noland, A.O. Smith, Bradford...
And you can pick up replacement heating elements for your water heater at any local RV parts supply… or online:
- Pilot Water Heater Replacement Part
- 110 VAC Element/Gasket Kit
If you’ve got no hot water in your RV, another possible culprit is a faulty thermostat. If your thermostat needs to be replaced, this is generally something you can do yourself, should you feel so inclined.
You can see how to check for a faulty thermostat using a multimeter in this video, and if you find you need to replace your thermostat, it’s one of the easiest DIY projects you can do, especially if you watch our step-by-step tutorial video, below.
Again, you can likely pick up a replacement thermostat for your RV’s water heater at a local RV parts supply shop… or you can get them online:
Suburban 120V Thermostat (#232306):
Suburban 12V/Propane Thermostat (#232282):
- Package Dimensions: 6.35 H x 0.508 L x 2.286 W (cm)
- Country of Origin : China
Atwood ECO Thermostat Assembly (#91447 – for gas/electric water heaters):
- Water heater repair parts for RV, Motor, Home,etc.Easy installation, if follow our installation instructions
- Fits Models:GCH6-4E, GCH6-6E, GCH6-7E, GC6A-7E, GH6-6E, GH6-7E, GH6-8E, G6A-6E, G6A-7E, G6A-8E, GCH6A-7E, GCH6A-8E, GCG6A-9E, GC6AA-7E, GC6AA-8E,...
RV Water Heater Check Valve Malfunction
If you’ve got low pressure at your hot water sources – if your water is flowing at a trickle, for example – you may have a water heater check valve malfunction.
The check valve exists to ensure that hot water only flows in one direction (out of the water heater) and prevents the backflow of cold water. If you have low pressure – or no pressure – flowing from your hot water faucets, that’s a fair indication that you may have a problem with the check valve.
To replace the check valve, you’ll need to drain your hot water tank, unscrew and pull off the old check valve (which you’ll do from behind the water heater where all the water connections are located… depending on your RV’s construction, you may have access to this from inside your RV), and replace it with a new one.
Hopefully, after following these troubleshooting tips, you discovered that the issue causing you to have no hot water in your RV was solved as simply as ours was, and you’ve been able to enjoy a nice hot shower.
If not, be sure to check out the links and videos posted above in this article for more detailed information that will (hopefully) lead to an easy resolution, bringing the luxury of hot water back into your RV.
Geek Out with Us Every Week
Join our newsletter to learn about all things RV-related. Every week we offer free tips, tricks, product reviews, and more to our online community of RVers. So, whether this is your first time on the road or you’re a seasoned expert, we’d love for you to geek out with us!