Wednesday, September 27, 2023


RV 120-volt/LP water heater: Check the heating element yearly!

Dear Dave,
Ever since my sister had to replace all the faucets in her RV because the anode rod in the water heater had totally disintegrated, I’ve replaced the rod in mine every season. But there’s another item that should be considered: the electric heating element.

We stay in state parks with hookups, so we pretty much always use the electric heater for our hot water needs. There were some bad smells from the hot water on our last trip so I decided to see if the element had failed. We were still getting hot water but with a bad smell. The picture below shows what it looked like after four years of use. Even though it is a more complex job to change it out, your readers may want to consider changing the element as well as the anode rod. —George, 2019 Forest River Micro Lite 21FBRS

Dear George,
Thanks for the tip and photo. Yes, if you have an electric/liquid propane model water heater, you should also check the heating element each year as well as the anode rod in Suburban models. Atwood does not have an anode rod but does have the heating element in the 120-volt models.

If heating rod goes bad

Another issue with a heating rod is if it does go bad, the element can short out and ruin your water heater. So, it is a good idea to remove the heating element and the anode rod each year and inspect them for wear and any separation or an open circuit, which means there is a break in the metal.

 You might also enjoy this from Dave 

RV’s water heater doesn’t get water hot on LP but does on 120 volts. Why?

Dear Dave,
My Suburban water heater (16 gallons) works, but when it uses propane, the hot water isn’t nearly as hot as it is when heated using 120 volts. Is there a way to increase the water temperature when using propane? Thank you in advance. —Terry, 2018 Arctic Fox 29-5T

Read Dave’s answer.

Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

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Dave Solberg
Dave Solberg
Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club. He has been in the RV Industry since 1983 and conducts over 15 seminars at RV shows throughout the country.


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Tommy Molnar
14 days ago

Gee, I’ve never thought about the actual heating element. We have two filters and a water softener in the hose line coming into our trailer, and change out the anode rod every year whether it looks bad or not. I never checked the heating element in our last trailer which we had for 16 years, nor the one in our current 11 year old trailer. Maybe I should . . .

Jim Johnson
14 days ago

Another reason for the bad smell in hot water is bacteria from a non-chlorinated water source – for example, the well water in many RV parks. This bacteria is not harmful, but will smell in hot water. Soak your hot water tank overnight with a 50-50 white vinegar/water solution – with the heater on. Flush the tank well before regular use. The hot vinegar solution also does the same thing as it does in coffee makers – it will dissolve calcium (lime) build up including on your hot water tank electric heating element.

Do not drain this acidic solution on grass (I learned the hard way). Catch it in a bucket. Grass prefers a slightly alkaline soil and the vinegar will likely kill it.

Rodney lacy
14 days ago
Reply to  Jim Johnson

Vinegar is also a good weed killer. Spread it on weeds.

14 days ago
Reply to  Jim Johnson

We have an aqua-hot and I also use a water softener, and two water filters. However once a year I do the same thing except I pump it through the whole water system including the ice maker and washer. I am always amazed at how much junk, calcium, and etc I collect in the plastic tote when I drain it and do a rinse.

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